As it has every Christmas season since 1951, the Bach Society of St. Louis presented its "Candlelight Concert" last night. It's a local tradition grounded in fine musicianship and intelligent programming, and marred only by the fact that it lasts but one night.
As I noted in one of my symphony preview posts a few days ago, it's far from clear exactly what set of historical accidents turned George Frederick Handel's 1741 oratorio "The Messiah" into a Christmas tradition here in the USA. But traditional it is, and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, under the direction of early music specialist Bernard Labadie, are observing it in fine style this weekend.
In a recent post I looked at the way Handel's "Messiah" got moved from Easter to Christmas. This time I'd like to take a look at an even more puzzling question: Why does everyone stand during the "Hallelujah" chorus that concludes Part 2?
The Christmas season in upon us. For those of us keeping track of the entertainment scene, that means an inevitable encounter with at least one performance of all of the following: a stage adaptation of Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" (probably with music), Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker," and Handel's "Messiah". The latter is coming our way this weekend, in fact, from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the baton of early music specialist Bernard Labadie.
Opening night of Michael Tilson Thomas's remarkable "visualization" of Beethoven's towering "Missa Solemnis" with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, soloists, and the Pacific Boychoir last weekend (June 11-13, 2015) stirred up some real passion among us members of the Music Critics Association of North America, who were in town for our annual conference. Not all of it was positive.
This weekend two of the three works on the St. Louis Symphony program are making their first appearances on the Powell Hall Stage. That's not exactly news; the SLSO has given local audiences a good many local and even world premieres over the years. What's remarkable is that this time the local premieres are by Beethoven.
The St. Louis Symphony has a long history with Carl Orff's 1936 “scenic cantata" "Carmina Burana," from its first performance back in 1961 with Edouard Van Remoortel on the podium to David Robertson's nicely balanced performance back in May of 2011. There's even a fine 1994 recording with Leonard Slatkin and an all-star lineup of soloists that is apparently still available both in disc form and as an MP3 download from amazon.com.
The text of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass, with its apocalyptic images of death and redemption, has inspired composers to produce some of their most profound and idiosyncratic work. The Italian operatic master Giuseppe Verdi, while so indifferent to religion that he was effectively an agnostic, was no exception. His 1874 "Messa da Requiem," inspired by the deaths of Rossini and the Italian poet and patriot Alessandro Manzoni, overflows with brilliantly theatrical moments, from the hair-raising Dies Irae to the heartfelt Recordare and epic Libera Me. A good performance should not spare the drama.
There's only one work on the St. Louis Symphony program this weekend, but it's a big one: the "Messa da Requiem" (Requiem Mass) by that giant of Italian opera, Giuseppe Verdi.
It was cold and snowy outside Powell Hall this weekend, but inside it was all warmth and light as David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus unwrapped an early Christmas present in the form of the first three cantatas from Bach's "Christmas Oratorio."