'House of Cards' Composer Jeff Beal Premieres Symphony Suite Before Cast Members at Kennedy Center

Jeff Beal performs the House of Cards soundtrack
Yassine El Mansouri

Jeff Beal and the National Symphony Orchestra perform the music from House of Cards at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC on July 14, 2016.

On the day that House of Cards received 13 Emmy nods, outstanding supporting actor nominee Michael Kelly happily shared the credit. “There would probably be a lot less Emmy nominations without this guy,” he said, pointing to the show’s composer, Jeff Beal.

The recognition came Thursday night immediately after Beal had conducted the National Symphony Orchestra through the world premiere of House of Cards In Concert -- appropriately enough for the biting, deeply cynical show about U.S. politics -- at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center.

“My heart is exploding,” said Beal at the sold-out concert’s start. “The opportunity to premiere this music in Washington, D.C. feels like perfect synchronicity.”

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Beal, who snagged an Emmy for his work on House of Cards last year, divided his expansive, expressive score into 10 thematic movements as scenes from the Netflix series unspooled behind the 72-piece orchestra. The jazzy-noir, tension-filled “Betrayal” played as footage showed lead character Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) undergoing one humiliation after another on his path to the White House. The swirling, buzzy “New Deal” was performed against a backdrop of not only House of Card scenes, but images of FDR and American workers during the WPA in the ‘30s.

Perhaps the most meaningful for Beal was “Russia,” inspired by Season 3, much of which took part in Moscow. As a youth, “playing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring made me want to be a composer,” Beal said, adding that the dramatic piece allowed him to channel such influences as Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Shostakovich. The most moving marriage of sound and image came during the elegiac waltz, “Dignity,” which played against the death scene of Claire Underwood’s mother, beautifully portrayed by Ellen Burstyn (who received an Emmy nomination for outstanding guest actress for the part on Thursday).

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For Beal, the concert was a family affair: his wife— and fellow Eastman School of Music grad— soprano Joan Sapiro Beal joined the orchestra for several numbers (Beal dubbed her “spooky opera lady”), while their son, Henry, played electric bass. Beal took a break from conducting to play a mournful trumpet on three passages.

Though no actual politicians were spotted in the audience, there were plenty of actors who play them on TV. In addition to Kelly (Doug Stamper), among the other House of Cards cast members present were Michael Gill (President Garrett Walker), Jayne Atkinson (Catherine Durant), Durant), Rachel Brosnahan (Rachel Posner), and Boris McGiver (Tom Hammerschmidt). They were joined by Beal, Lord Michael Dobbs, author of the original House of Cards book and creator of the U.K. series upon which the U.S. series is based, and Beau Willimon, creator of the U.S. series, for a panel discussion following the concert. They then posed with members of the audience for numerous group and individual selfies, showing a playful side never expressed by their serious characters. 

Beal will take House of Cards In Concert to the Netherlands for two shows next spring.