"An Experiment in Modern Music" was how bandleader Paul Whiteman billed the February 12, 1924 concert by his Palais Royal Orchestra at New York's Aeolian Hall. This weekend at Powell Hall, the St. Louis Symphony will recapture some of the excitement attendant on that legendary program.
The first concert of the new symphony season was a study in contrasts, to say the least. For many music lovers, I expect, the Big Event of the evening was probably Kirill Gerstein’s surprisingly lyrical approach to the massively popular Tchaikovsky “Piano Concerto No. 1”. For me, though, Charles Ives's “Three Places in New England”—still sounding fresh and radical over a century after it was first composed—was the star of the evening.
As anyone who has ever taken a “music depreciation” course will recall, “program music” is the label applied (sometimes dismissively) to any composition either inspired by or intended to depict something non-musical. That usually means the dramatic, literary, or visual arts, although history and nature figure prominently as well.
This weekend's St. Louis Symphony concerts presented a pair of impressive local debuts by conductor Semyon Bychkov and pianist Kirill Gerstein. Much admired for both his operatic and symphonic work, Mr. Bychkov more than lived up to his reputation with winning performances of Schubert's Symphony No. 2 and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, bracketing a barn-burner of a Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2 by Mr. Gerstein. It wasn't what you'd call an adventurous program, but it was certainly an entertaining one.