In his program notes for this weekend’s concerts, Paul Schiavo suggests that the theme running through all three works is the way in which they strongly suggest visual images to the listener. Let me suggest an additional one: all three composers represented here—Glinka, Bartók, and Mussorgsky—drew heavily on folk traditions in their respective cultures. One way or another, they were all proponents of musical nationalism.
If you wanted to describe this weekend's St. Louis Symphony concert in a single word, I think that word would be joy. The joy of rock guitarist-turned-composer Steven Mackey exploiting the augmented percussion section in Turn the Key; the joy of André Watts's fluid virtuosity in the Grieg Piano Concerto; the joy Dvorak felt in the Bohemian countryside, infusing every bar of his Eighth Symphony; and the joy conductor Gilbert Varga clearly took in leading the orchestra's world-class musicians through all of it. It would take an equally world-class grouch to walk away from the final bars of Varga's Dvorak without a smile.