"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.
Great composers are great because they have important things to say. But it takes a great conductor and great musicians to fully express the composer's ideas. Fortunately, the St. Louis Symphony delivered mightily in all three areas this weekend.
There are only two pieces on the program this Saturday and Sunday at the symphony, and even though they were written less than 60 years apart, the contrast between them is so stark that they might as well be from different worlds.
The title of this Friday's St. Louis Symphony concert says it all: "music you know." For the overwhelming majority of classical music lovers, this will be an evening with old friends.
This weekend the St. Louis Symphony presents an all-Beethoven program with violin soloists Helen Kim and Xiaoxiao Qiang (from the SLSO strings) and pianist Orli Shaham. Ms. Shaham will be performing Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 1.” I had a brief chat with her via email regarding both the upcoming concert and her new CD “American Grace,” which features the music of John Adams and Stephen Mackey.
"The Germans," observed the great violinist Joseph Joachim, "have four violin concertos. The greatest, most uncompromising, is Beethoven's. The one by Brahms vies with it in seriousness. The richest, the most seductive, was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart's jewel, is Mendelssohn's."
This weekend brought electrifying performances of a pair of 19th century classics: Max Bruch's "Violin Concerto No. 1" and Hector Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique." Rounding out the concerts was a bit of old Bach wine in new bottles by Cindy McTee, whose "Double Play" was such a delightful discovery last January.
Parking for Friday morning's all-Tchaikovsky concert by the St. Louis Symphony was an adventure, and not just because of the rain. An unusually large crowd jammed parking lots and the Powell Hall lobby. Blame the late Russian composer; his music never fails to draw a crowd.
"The overture will be very loud and noisy, but I wrote it with no warm feeling of love, and so it will have no artistic merits at all." That was Tchaikovsky complaining to his patron Nadezhda von Meck about the piece that closes St. Louis Symphony's all-Tchaikovsky concerts this weekend, "The Year 1812, festival overture in E-flat major," Op. 49.
As if the task of directing a symphony orchestra plus full chorus and soloists weren’t challenging enough, guest conductor Markus Stenz had to deal with Ferguson protestors who disrupted a performance of the Brahms “German Requiem” just as his baton lifted in the air. Stenz remained steadfast and focused, however, and quickly recaptured the audience and performers as he navigated a performance of one of the most beautiful works in the classical repertoire.