For the second week in a row, Maestro David Robertson has taken a well-known piece in the standard repertoire, plugged it into a high-voltage socket, and produced a performance that crackles with electricity.
As I have noted before, Ward Stare (who completed his tenure as Resident Conductor of the symphony in 2012 and is now in demand as both and operatic and symphonic conductor) is someone to watch.
A contemporary composer conducting the symphony in a program of his own music isn’t usually the sort of thing that generates long lines, either at the box office or at the rest rooms during intermission.
When the phrase “inside baseball” pops up in the performing arts, it usually refers to a work that assumes some additional knowledge on the part of the audience in order to be fully appreciated. The jokes in many of the Hoffnung Music Festival recordings, for example, take it for granted that the audience is pretty familiar with the standard classical repertoire.
When a performance of Handel’s oratorio “Messiah” includes a countertenor among the soloists and a theorbo (a giant-sized lute with open bass strings for a fuller sound) in the orchestra, you’d be justified in expecting the results to be heavily influenced by what we now know about Baroque performance practices. And with Christopher Warren-Green’s “Messiah” at Powell Hall this weekend, you’d be right—most of the time, anyway.
The St. Louis Symphony Chorus and their director Amy Kaiser covered themselves with glory Friday night with powerful performances of Schoenberg's "Friede auf Erden" ("Peace on Earth", a fiercely difficult piece for a cappella chorus from 1907) and the Mozart/Süssmayr "Requiem" under the baton of Jun Märkl. In between, Daniel Lee demonstrated once again what top-notch cello playing sounds like in Haydn's D major concerto.
One might ask why a good Lutheran boy like J. S. Bach would choose to compose a Catholic Mass, let alone infuse it with the very essence of his genius. But more importantly, we should see the Mass in B minor not as a tribute to any one religious path, but as a monument to the spiritual yearnings of all people, regardless of their faith.
If I had a plethora of laurel wreathes (is that the right collective noun?) to throw around I’d crown the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, guest conductor Stèphane Denève, and every member of Amy Kaiser's chorus with them for their joyous performance of Ravel’s "Daphnis et Chloé" Friday night. The composer called it a "symphonie choréographique"; the choreographer Michael Folkine of the Ballets Russes, for whom it was written 100 years ago, called it a ballet; and nearly everyone since has called it Ravel’s greatest work. As performed by Mr. Denève and the orchestra, I call it a great success, with flawless solos, precise ensembles, and gorgeous sound overall.
The ranting of wealthy and powerful fundamentalists and their political and media enablers aside, there’s no getting around the fact that the central message of Christianity is one of mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and love. This weekend’s St. Louis Symphony concerts offered a pair of powerful musical reminders of that message.