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Gary Scott

What is it about the music of Richard Wagner—a composer admittedly stained by insularity, prejudice, bitterness and resentment—that continues to tug at every fiber of the human heart?

To criticize Andre Previn, the German-born American composer, pianist, conductor and jazz performer, would seem the height of folly.

Although both Jean Sibelius and Dmitry Shostakovich are both products of the early and mid-20th century, many differences separate the two. Sibelius was more oriented towards traditional harmony and melody, whereas Shostakovich tilted at times to the atonality and abruptness that eventually became a tradition of its own by the end of the 20th century, and perhaps a trite one at that.

Currently in its 67th season, the Artist Presentation Society has included two flutists on its roster this year, of whom one is a member of a husband and wife team. Flutist Jennifer Toro Mazzoni and pianist Matthew Mazzoni first met when Matthew was proctoring a graduate entrance exam at Indiana University. Now expecting their third child, the couple has forged a formidable musical partnership as well, all the while balancing family and teaching obligations, along with Matthew’s responsibilities as Director of Liturgical Music at Mary Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Webster Groves.  

One of the miracles of an ensemble that works as tirelessly as the St. Louis Symphony is its ability to perform not just in the classical mode, but in a plethora of genres.  This was demonstrated once again on December 14-15 when the Symphony presented a “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas”, immediately on the heels of the “Gospel Messiah” and the Bach “Christmas Oratorio”.  The ability of these musicians to continually don new musical garb, so to speak, is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Powell Hall generated enough heat to light up the entire city December 12-13 with performances of “Too Hot to Handel:  The Gospel Messiah”, invigorated by the combined talents of soprano Cynthia Renee Saffron, mezzo La Tanya Hall, tenor Thomas Young, the St. Louis Symphony and the SLSO IN UNISON Chorus, guided by the hands of Kevin McBeth.

Now in its 67th year of showcasing brilliant young performers from our region, the Artist Presentation Society continues to dazzle local audiences with the diversity and depth of talent nurtured here in the Midwest.  The current season opened on Sunday, November 10, featuring Kansas City-based flutist (flautist? ) Karen Hauge, accompanied by pianist Daniel Velicer.

So how does one make the standard piano concerto format more innovative?  By adding a second solo instrument, of course.  That is precisely how Dmitry Shostakovich emboldened his Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor.  The result is a neo-classically inspired work that is at once brash and refined, carefully laid out yet unpredictable.

When the German drama and Romanticism of Beethoven and Richard Strauss are infused with the Gallic charm of guest conductor Stephane Deneve, combined with the work of young American composer Patrick Harlin, the result is a remarkable audience appeal that not only endeared the composers and performers to listeners, but enhanced their appreciation and understanding.

Throughout its history, the Catholic Mass has inspired composers from every conceivable background, Catholic or not, including Johann Sebastian Bach, who was Lutheran, Leonard Bernstein, a Jew, and even Andrew Lloyd Webber.  On May 18, the Cathedral Concerts series capped its 2012-2013 season with a rousing performance of Anton Bruckner’s monumental "Mass in F Minor" at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

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