David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony have a heavily lupine program for you this weekend, with Prokofiev's musical fairy tale "Peter and the Wolf" (in a collaboration with Webster University) as well as Tan Dun's new contrabass concerto, subtitled "The Wolf." There's also music from "The Snow Maiden," a fairy tale opera by Rimsky-Korsakov, along with one of Prokofiev's most popular pieces, "Symphony No. 1," Op. 25 ("Classical").
I have become quite a fan of the St. Louis Symphony's periodic "Music You Know" concerts, sponsored by the Whitaker Foundation. The series got off to a rocky start last November but quickly righted itself this past March. As David Robertson and the orchestra clearly demonstrated at this past Friday's concert, the series has settled into a very polished and pleasing groove.
Old and new, borrowed and blue--all the elements are there in the St. Louis Symphony's evening of Brett Dean's "Lost Art of Letter Writing" and Brahms' "Symphony No. 1".
If you consider his entire output, Johannes Brahms was an early bloomer. He reportedly wrote his first piano sonata at the age of 11, was touring as a pianist by 19, and was only 20 when Schumann sang of his virtues, calling him "a young man over whose cradle Graces and Heroes have stood watch". Heady stuff.
Music history is full of surprises. This past weekend the St. Louis Symphony juxtaposed the “Six Pieces for Orchestra” by Anton Webern (1883-1945) with the “Four Last Songs” of Richard Strauss (1864-1949) and the “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). It was astonishing to realize that the atonal, “avant-garde” pieces by Webern were written nearly 40 years before the lushly romantic songs of Strauss. Moreover, the Webern pieces were composed more than 100 years ago, even though today they still sound brash and innovative.
Quick question: without looking out of a window or using Google, do you know what phase the moon is in tonight? If the answer is "no," don't feel bad; thanks to the ubiquity of electric light, most of us have lost our connection to the moon and stars. Indeed, a nearly complete disconnect from the natural world is both the blessing and the curse of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
In the hands of a lesser composer, "Aida" might have been a classic potboiler—cheap yard goods written on commission and quickly forgotten. But Verdi was a thoroughgoing man of the theatre with a keen sense of what worked on stage. Moreover, by the time he wrote "Aida" in 1870 he was a mature artist with a string of hits to his credit. The result is a work, in the words of British opera scholar Julian Budden, "in which the various elements—grandeur, exotic pictorialism, and intimate poetry—are held in perfect equilibrium and from which not a single note can be cut."
You might have noticed that there's no Friday performance this weekend of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus concert version of Verdi's "Aida." That's because Friday is the last of the season's Whitaker Foundation "Music You Know" concerts. David Robertson is on the podium, SLSO cellist Alvin McCall is the soloist, and here's what you can expect.
The online version of the Oxford Dictionary defines a "potboiler" as a "book, painting, or recording produced merely to make the writer or artist a living by catering to popular taste." Verdi's 1871 opera "Aida," a concert version of which closes the St. Louis Symphony season this weekend, probably meets that definition to some extent since it started out as a purely commercial endeavor. But Verdi quickly became enthusiastic about the project, and "Aida" transcended its origins.