For over 200 years audiences have been captivated by the piano, and with good reason. A skilled performer can transform the instrument into a veritable orchestral palette of color, range, special effects and dynamics. Such was the case with the brilliant Chinese-born pianist Wuna Meng, a 2012 competition winner of the Artist Presentation Society, who performed on March 17 at the Ethical Society.
Although themed as “The Virtuoso Orchestra,” opening weekend for the St. Louis Symphony on September 28-30 brought listeners much more than virtuosity—although artistic skill reigned throughout the evening. The orchestra, under the helm of Music Director David Robertson, whisked the audience on a wide journey not just of sound, but of vibrant images culled from nature, history and the inner visions of great composers.
Every artist has his or her “greatest hit” – a work with which he or she is uniquely identified. Think of Bogart’s Sam Spade, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, or Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C-Sharp Minor”. The Russian composer’s “Isle of the Dead” – an impassioned performance of which opened this weekend’s St. Louis Symphony concerts - never made it to “greatest hit” status (the Symphony hasn’t performed it since 1976), but the painting that inspired it almost certainly was the most popular thing created by the Swiss Symbolist artist Arnold Böcklin. The stark landscape of an island necropolis towards which a white-robed figure is being rowed apparently struck a sympathetic chord over a century ago and is still compelling today. Böcklin painted five different versions of it (one of which was destroyed in World War II) in the 1880s, and reproductions were apparently common in an early 20th century Europe still reeling from war and influenza.