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.
The OnMusic Dictionary (at dictionary.onmusic.org) defines attacca as "a musical directive for the performer to begin the next movement (or section) of a composition immediately and without pause." Lately the symphony has been experimenting with playing compositions by different composers attacca as a way of highlighting similarities between the pieces. This weekend's bit of attacca might be the boldest yet, following the prelude to Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" (first performed in 1859) with Arnold Schoenberg's neurasthenic 1909 "monodrama" "Erwartung" ("Expectation").
Highlighting this weekend's St. Louis Symphony concerts is a pair impressive performances of works written right here in the good old USA (including one premiered in St. Louis) by visitors from abroad: Erich Wolfgang Korngold's 1945 "Violin Concerto" and Dvořák's 1893 "Symphony No. 9" ("From the New World").
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.
"Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful." So runs Sammy Cahn's lyric for the 1945 holiday favorite "Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!" Substitute "music" for "fire" and you have a good summary of this weekend's symphony concerts.
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.
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.
It was a case of saving the best for last this weekend as the St. Louis Symphony concluded its four-week "Beethoven Festival" with stunning performances by guest conductor Jaap van Zweden of the Fifth symphonies of Beethoven and a composer who greatly admired Beethoven, Dmitri Shostakovich.
The symphony's "Beethoven Festival" continues this week with a powerful reading of Beethoven's "Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, op. 55," (the "Eroica") and brilliant performances of two new works composed by viola soloist Brett Dean, one of which is inspired by Beethoven.
This weekend the second of the symphony’s four "Beethoven Festival" concerts brings us music of Beethoven, a younger contemporary of Beethoven, and a 20th century composer who acknowledged Beethoven as a major influence—all done up by guest conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada in that dramatic, late Romantic Austro-German style I associate with the recordings of Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer that were so much a part of my youth.