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.
This weekend’s St. Louis Symphony program, conducted by David Robertson, was brilliantly crafted to illustrate “Mortality, Memory, Mastery” (mastery in this case indicating transcendence and overcoming death). Listeners may or may not have agreed with the linking of three such disparate works on the program, but all would probably agree that the program provided much food for thought.
If you're going to bring in a singer as a last-minute substitute, it's good to have one like tenor Nicholas Phan, who has clearly internalized the music and made it his own. His performance of Britten's song cycle "Les Illuminations" with David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Friday night was—well—luminous. So was Marc-André Dalbavie's ethereally lovely "La Source d'un regard," a 2007 work getting its local premiere. The evening closed with a bold and dramatic Tchaikovsky "Symphony No. 5" which was not to be missed.
The symphony closes out its regular season this week as David Robertson returns to the podium for a program that features a dramatic Tchaikovsky symphony, a hallucinatory song cycle by Britten, and a new piece by a French composer of "spectralist" music. Variety? We've got it.
The St. Louis Symphony has a long history with Carl Orff's 1936 “scenic cantata" "Carmina Burana," from its first performance back in 1961 with Edouard Van Remoortel on the podium to David Robertson's nicely balanced performance back in May of 2011. There's even a fine 1994 recording with Leonard Slatkin and an all-star lineup of soloists that is apparently still available both in disc form and as an MP3 download from amazon.com.
The St. Louis Symphony brings its season to a close this weekend and next with a pair of concerts featuring big, audience-pleasing works.
When pianist Conrad Tao appeared with the SLSO in February of 2013—as a last-minute replacement for an ailing Markus Groh—I described him as a tremendously talented young man at the beginning of what looked like a very promising career. This weekend Mr. Tao (who is still not 20 years old) validated that judgment with a Saint-Saëns "Piano Concerto No. 2" that was a model of power and delicacy.
"There is no doubt about it—this is the greatest American symphony!" Thus (according to the 28 October 1946 issue of "Time") spake Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Serge Koussevitsky after conducting the first performance of Aaron Copland's "Symphony No. 3." Was he right?