David Hardy, principal cello of the National Symphony Orchestra, grew up admiring and listening to recordings by Mstislav Rostropovich. In honor of his hero, he will perform Henri Dutilleux's "Tout un monde lointain" ("A whole world distant") composed for Rostropovich and premiered by him in 1970. Rostropovich loved the piece so much that, after becoming the NSO music director, he performed it twice with the NSO in the Kennedy Center and once in Carnegie Hall. Hardy's choice of this work seems prophetic: Dutilleux died just three weeks ago at the age of 97.

"This is a very difficult piece and so worth it," Hardy said. "Maestro Eschenbach and I had been talking about what I might do. Rostropovich and I discussed the work many times. Of all those he commissioned, he thought this was the best. When I think back about his years at NSO, he was a giant. As a cellist who had listened to all his recordings, being appointed by him to join the NSO was remarkable. He was a great teacher and we had a great connection."

Hardy grew up in Baltimore and has remained close to his hometown throughout his life. He began studying the cello there at age 8 and was on center stage by 16 when he made his solo debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Following graduation from the Peabody Conservatory of Music, he was named the NSO associate principal cello by Rostropovich, a position he held until Leonard Slatkin, the next music director, named him principal cello.

During his years with NSO, Hardy has been a soloist frequently. On one notable occasion with Slatkin conducting, he gave the world premiere performance in 2004 of Stephen Jaffe's Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, a commission by the John and June Hechinger Fund. The concerto was created with Hardy's virtuosity in mind, as well as the versatility of the orchestra. It calls for an enormous family of just about every percussion instrument known to a symphony orchestra, even a lion's roar.

The National Symphony Orchestra
» Where: Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 2700 F St. NW
» When: 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
» Info: $10 to $85; 202-467-4600, 800-444-1324; kennedy-center.org

"I'd done a lot of Steve's chamber music with the 21st Century Consort and was very impressed by his work, so I approached him," Hardy said. "After he signed on, we went back and forth for nine or 10 months. I sent him recordings I'd done, and he sent me drafts of what he thought was possible. We followed the premiere in the Kennedy Center in 2004 with the European premiere of the concerto recorded by Bridge Records in 2007 with the Odense Symphony of Denmark."

In 1996, Hardy's solo performance with the NSO of John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1 won the Grammy award for Best Classical Album. His easy segue from contemporary to classical is represented by his collaboration with Lambert Orkis, the NSO principal keyboard, on "Beethoven Past and Present." They performed that recording of Beethoven's eight works for piano and cello on both modern and period instruments.

Hardy regrets that his responsibilities of teaching at Peabody conflicted with his 21st Century Consort appearances, but he is still involved in a variety of musical ventures, including the Kennedy Center Chamber Players and the Opus 3 Trio.

"When I started teaching at Peabody, something had to give," he said. "Playing in the orchestra is one thing, but it's important to get out and do many different things. When our NSO at Wolf Trap schedule ends, I'll play in chamber music festivals in Colorado and West Virginia, then take it easy until we start back at the Kennedy Center in September. This week, however, I want the audience to enjoy the Dutilleux work and understand why it has become standard repertoire for cellists. There are eight or 10 recordings out already and it's one of the choices cellists have at major competitions, so it's well worth hearing."