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.
When guest conductor Bernard Labadie takes the podium this weekend, he'll be leading a noticeably downsized St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. But never fear; nobody has been sacked. It's just that he's conducting a program of music written between 1763 and 1792, back when both orchestras and the halls in which they played were substantially smaller than they are now.
Nicholas McGegan, who is conducting the St. Louis Symphony in a program of (mostly) 18th-century classics this weekend, is clearly a man who enjoys his work. As he bounded out to the podium for this morning's Krispy Kreme Coffee Concert, his face alight with a cherubic smile, his body language was saying: "this is going to be FUN!" And so it was.
This weekend’s St. Louis Symphony concerts are a mix of the familiar and the exotic—or at least, what was seen as exotic in the 18th century.
As I wrote in a previous post, there are two St. Louis Symphony concerts this weekend: the regular concert series on Friday and Sunday with Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu on the podium and Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma as the soloist; and the annual "Red Velvet Ball" fundraiser concert on Saturday night with David Robertson conducting and celebrity cellist Yo-Yo Ma in the solo spot. Here's a preview of the latter.
When Gil Shaham stopped to tune his violin after the massive workout that is the first movement of the Beethoven concerto his brother-in-law, maestro David Robertson, turned to the audience and quipped, "it's from 1699; you’d think it would be in tune by now." That one little moment was a distillation of the easy good humor that characterized not only the concerto but the Haydn "Symphony No. 104" and the Strauss "Tales from the Vienna Woods" as well.
The St. Louis Symphony Chorus and their director Amy Kaiser covered themselves with glory Friday night with powerful performances of Schoenberg's "Friede auf Erden" ("Peace on Earth", a fiercely difficult piece for a cappella chorus from 1907) and the Mozart/Süssmayr "Requiem" under the baton of Jun Märkl. In between, Daniel Lee demonstrated once again what top-notch cello playing sounds like in Haydn's D major concerto.