The Macy's Holiday Celebration concerts with the St. Louis Symphony have, of late, fallen into a pattern that's as familiar and cozy as a bulky red woolen sweater. This year, I'm happy to report, is no exception.
The rush of winter winds, the clap of thunder, the pounding of rain, the buzzing of insects, the barking of a dog, the slipperiness of ice, the languor of summer, the singing of not just one bird, but multiple species—all these were engraved into Antonio Vivaldi’s remarkable set of violin concertos dating from 1725, “The Four Seasons.” Today we take them for granted, and even the least musically educated among us know them, but in their day these four short concertos brought the Baroque period to a higher level of innovation and creativity.
As I said in my first symphony preview post this week, the main event at the St. Louis Symphony this weekend is Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Steven Jarvi is at the podium and the violin soloists—all drawn from the symphony string section—are Jessica Cheng (“Spring”), Angie Smart (“Summer”), Jooyeon Kong (“Autumn”), and Alison Harney (“Winter”). What I left out was any mention of the other two works on the program.
Arguably today more than ever, the voice of the cello is impacting music of all styles, from classical to jazz to alternative rock. Its strength and humanity, as well as its remarkable range, move the soul of the listener from deep within. One of the principal exponents of the cello today is Daniel Lee, the brilliant young Korean-American musician who has made St. Louis his home since assuming the post of Principal Cello of the St. Louis Symphony in 2005.
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.
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.
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.
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.