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Gary Liam Scott

Music history is full of surprises. This past weekend the St. Louis Symphony juxtaposed the “Six Pieces for Orchestra” by Anton Webern (1883-1945) with the “Four Last Songs” of Richard Strauss (1864-1949) and the “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). It was astonishing to realize that the atonal, “avant-garde” pieces by Webern were written nearly 40 years before the lushly romantic songs of Strauss. Moreover, the Webern pieces were composed more than 100 years ago, even though today they still sound brash and innovative.

The Classical period in music, which can very roughly be said to have spanned the 18th century—and arguably ended with the French Revolution in 1789—was a time that seemed to value elegance and symmetry more than the individuality, inventiveness and stirring drama that characterized the Romantic period that was to follow.

Currently in only its fourth season, the Metropolitan Orchestra of St. Louis has already emerged as one of the most significant new voices in the St. Louis arts scene. Since its founding by Allen Carl Larson, now designated as Conductor Laureate, the orchestra has demonstrated solid professional growth, characterized by a bold yet lyrical and smooth tone, with careful phrasing and impeccable intonation.

Perhaps success is the best revenge. The August 22 Gesher Music Festival performance at the 560 Music Center amply demonstrated the remarkable accomplishment of “degenerate” composers who fled Nazism yet achieved success in Hollywood.

Chamber music today is one of the most innovative and diverse of all musical art forms.  In only five years, the Gesher Music Festival—from the Hebrew “bridge”—has established itself as a leader both locally and beyond as a creative hub for the cross currents of Jewish and all forms of chamber music.

In its 68-year history the Artist Presentation Society has helped launch the careers of a vast array of instrumentalists and singers, yet not until the current season has a harpist been selected as a recipient of its coveted sponsorship. Memphis-born Molly O’Roark, an alumna of Eastman and a graduate student at the University of Illinois, mounted a program showcasing the wide diversity of styles and techniques of this ancient instrument whose evolution harkens back almost to the dawn of human history.

Few composers have generated as much fascination as Richard Wagner (1820-1883)--or as much controversy. Even today his music continues to impact film scores, writers and visionaries.

Russian composers have always painted with bold strokes on broad canvases. This weekend the St. Louis Symphony, under the direction of the distinguished Austrian conductor Hans Graf, exhibited a kaleidoscopic display of a small portion of the magnificence of the Russian repertoire.

The rush of winter winds, the clap of thunder, the pounding of rain, the buzzing of insects, the barking of a dog, the slipperiness of ice, the languor of summer, the singing of not just one bird, but multiple species—all these were engraved into Antonio Vivaldi’s remarkable set of violin concertos dating from 1725, “The Four Seasons.” Today we take them for granted, and even the least musically educated among us know them, but in their day these four short concertos brought the Baroque period to a higher level of innovation and creativity.

Arguably today more than ever, the voice of the cello is impacting music of all styles, from classical to jazz to alternative rock. Its strength and humanity, as well as its remarkable range, move the soul of the listener from deep within. One of the principal exponents of the cello today is Daniel Lee, the brilliant young Korean-American musician who has made St. Louis his home since assuming the post of Principal Cello of the St. Louis Symphony in 2005.

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