A bit of spring blew through St. Louis a couple of months early this weekend, and I’m not just talking about the temperatures outside. Inside Powell Hall it was unseasonably vernal, as well, as Principal Flute Mark Sparks and the St. Louis Symphony under guest conductor Stéphane Denève gave voice to Debussy’s sultry “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune” (“Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”).
The theme running through this weekend's St. Louis Symphony concerts, as Daniel Durchholz writes in his program notes, is "ecstatic expression". Specifically, "the sensual delights of Debussy, the religious rapture found in the deep devotion of [Scottish composer James] MacMillan, and Dvořák’s reveling in the country comforts of his homeland." I think he's on to something there.
The art of the solo recital lives on, and it will likely do so as long as human beings value talent, skill and personal expression. Crafting a recital devoted to the work of a single composer poses a particular challenge, but Peter Henderson’s choice of Claude Debussy (1862-1918) formed an exciting demonstration of the rich and stimulating palette from which this most visually-oriented composer gifted us.
Although Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pastoral”, is a purely instrumental work, the weekend of October 12-14 at Powell Hall it assumed a choral sheen under the baton of guest conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos that seemed to utterly transform the work.
Rebirth—the progress from darkness to light—was the theme of two of the three works on a colorful St. Louis symphony program this weekend: Debussy’s “Printemps” and the complete score of Stravinsky’s “Firebird”.
Opening night for Pelléas and Mélisande was an evening of notable firsts. It was the first local performance of Debussy and Maeterlinck’s elusive and compelling drama, the first OTSL appearance by noted bass John Cheek, and the first time (at least in my memory) that a director was loudly booed by some members of an audience that had just given a standing ovation to the conductor and singers.