Although the program opened with a piece entitled "Landscape" by Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991), it seemed as though the "Symphony No. 1" by Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) led the listener into an internal, uncharted landscape all its own. The energy that invigorates the works of the great Scandinavian composers exerts an uncanny ability to transport audiences as though they were on a steamer or train touring the vast mountains, forests and fjords of northern Europe.
"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’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.
It’s a mix of the first run and the familiar this weekend at Powell Hall, with music of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.
Although both Jean Sibelius and Dmitry Shostakovich are both products of the early and mid-20th century, many differences separate the two. Sibelius was more oriented towards traditional harmony and melody, whereas Shostakovich tilted at times to the atonality and abruptness that eventually became a tradition of its own by the end of the 20th century, and perhaps a trite one at that.
In case you thought music only got political in the 1960s, allow me to disabuse you of that notion. The great composers whose music fills concert halls these days were often very politically active and weren’t shy about expressing their politics in their music.
It’s every orchestra manager’s nightmare: just a few days before the scheduled performance of a virtuoso showpiece the soloist gets sick and a replacement must be found. And not just any replacement; it has to be someone who knows the piece and has the chops to pull it off.
David Robertson's on-stage introduction to Philippe Manoury's "Synapse", for violine and orchestra, made more sense than the composer's own description, which fluttered about such terms as "blocks", "formulas" and "specific grammar" without really explaining their true meaning. However, Robertson's substantial personal charisma seemed insufficient to make such a piece palatable to what was easily the sparsest audience in memory at a St. Louis Symphony concert.