The late eighteenth century artistic movement known as sturm und drang (usually translated as "storm and stress") had already evolved into the pervading sensibility of the Romantic era by the time the earliest work on this weekend's St. Louis Symphony concerts—the "Piano Concerto No. 1" by Brahms—was written. But "storm and stress" of one sort or another lie at the heart of it and the other two pieces on the program.
Sturm und drang (usually translated as "storm and stress") was an early Romantic (late 18th century) movement in German literature and music that emphasized drama and conflict. Both Haydn and Mozart wrote symphonies that were seen as embodying the movement's approach.
If you're going to bring in a singer as a last-minute substitute, it's good to have one like tenor Nicholas Phan, who has clearly internalized the music and made it his own. His performance of Britten's song cycle "Les Illuminations" with David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Friday night was—well—luminous. So was Marc-André Dalbavie's ethereally lovely "La Source d'un regard," a 2007 work getting its local premiere. The evening closed with a bold and dramatic Tchaikovsky "Symphony No. 5" which was not to be missed.
The symphony closes out its regular season this week as David Robertson returns to the podium for a program that features a dramatic Tchaikovsky symphony, a hallucinatory song cycle by Britten, and a new piece by a French composer of "spectralist" music. Variety? We've got it.
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.
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.
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").
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.
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").