This weekend's St. Louis symphony concerts feature (to borrow a phrase from the baseball diamond) a pair of heavy hitters—on both the stage and the page.
In his "Concord Hymn" Ralph Waldo Emerson describes the first shot of the American Revolutionary War as "the shot heard round the world." The same phrase has been applied to the shot that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914. This weekend the St. Louis symphony will be playing the musical equivalent of "the shot heard round the world." Let's call it "the chord heard round the world." Its effect was less violent, but no less revolutionary in its own way.
This weekend David Robertson conducts the symphony in three "American" works. Granted, only one was written by an American; but all three were composed here and one even had its premiere in St. Louis.
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.
This weekend at the symphony, BBC Chief Conductor Juanjo Mena is on the podium for a series of variations on the theme of the theme and variations. Which is not as confusing as it looks. All three of the works on the program are examples of the "theme and variations" form, in which a single melodic thread is used to spin a complex tapestry of music.
Unless you've been holed up on the dark side of the moon lately, you've probably noticed that 2014 is the 250th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis. As a glance at the STL250 web site clearly shows, local celebrations of the event are popping up all over. This weekend the St. Louis Symphony is doing its part with a program that includes works composed between 1763 and 1792, including a Haydn symphony that's almost exactly the same age as our fair city.
When guest conductor Bernard Labadie takes the podium this weekend, he'll be leading a noticeably downsized St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. But never fear; nobody has been sacked. It's just that he's conducting a program of music written between 1763 and 1792, back when both orchestras and the halls in which they played were substantially smaller than they are now.
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra guest conductor (and fellow Rice University alum) James Gaffigan gave us a highly dramatic and immensely satisfying Mendelssohn "Symphony No. 3 in A minor," op. 56 ("Scottish"), Friday morning, along with an equally impassioned Brahms "Concerto in A minor for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra (Double Concerto)," op. 102. Symphony Concertmaster David Halen and Principal Cello Daniel Lee were the soloists in the Brahms, demonstrating that you don't have to fly in stars to get stellar performances.