As world-renowned maestro Kirill Karabits prepares to make his conducting debut with the National Symphony Orchestra this weekend, he speaks of a very strong, personal connection to each of the pieces that will be performed in the program. There is a palpable attachment to the opening composition, Silvestrov's "Elegy for Strings," which also marks the NSO's first performances of any of Silvestrov's works.

"Silvestrov started composition with my father, who was also a composer," said the Ukrainian conductor, with a near-flawless command of the English language. "When my father died in 2002, he left a sketch of what he was writing during the last weeks and days of his life. [Silvestrov] picked up some of the melody from ... the unfinished lines, and called it 'Elegy.' This makes the program very special for me."

Karabits spoke of the importance of adding personal elements into a conductor's program pieces, remarking, "Otherwise, it looks like mainstream repertoire."

The National Symphony Orchestra
» What: Kirill Karabits, conductor and Sergey Khachatryan, violin
» When: 7 pm, Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday
» Where: Kennedy Center Concert Hall
» Info: $20 to $85, 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324,

Of the program's second piece, Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 2, Op. 39, and the featured guest violinist, Sergey Khachatryan, the maestro makes another interesting parallel, noting that the first time either of the artists performed the work, it was together in France, seven years ago.

"Sergey is a fantastic player," Karabits continued. "He has [since] played this piece many times with great conductors and great orchestras. This is only my second time."

Still, for the young Sergey Khachatryan, it is the here and now that is of consequence.

"You see many of today's artists go out onstage and you can tell they're there because it's their 'job' -- I'm afraid of that word. Every time I go out onstage, I want to be in a special state, to create a special atmosphere," he told music critic Hugh Montgomery in the London newspaper the Independent not too long ago.

In the program's final piece, Sibelius' Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op.39, Karabits reveals his last connection while showing his playful, humorous side.

"Sibelius was 33 when he wrote his symphony and I am 33 now," he said with a hearty laugh. "Well actually I just turned 34, but you can say 33, if you like."

As the conversation turns a bit more serious, Karabits speaks of particular challenges in the pieces, such as creating atmosphere in the first, allowing the soloist as much freedom as he can in the second and, finally, with the Sibelius, capturing the freshness of a composer's first symphony.

"The most important and difficult thing is that you remain yourself," he said. "Be honest with the music and say whatever you have to say. It's all about meeting people and making music for them. And that's what we'll be doing."