This weekend the second of the symphony’s four "Beethoven Festival" concerts brings us music of Beethoven, a younger contemporary of Beethoven, and a 20th century composer who acknowledged Beethoven as a major influence—all done up by guest conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada in that dramatic, late Romantic Austro-German style I associate with the recordings of Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer that were so much a part of my youth.
The "Beethoven Festival" continues this Friday through Sunday with what is probably his grandest piano concerto—the Fifth, known as the "Emperor Concerto"—along with a concerto of a very different sort from Béla Bartók and an overture to a failed Medieval fantasy opera by Carl Maria von Weber. Andrés Orozco-Estrada conducts with piano soloist Louis Lortie.
One of the miracles of an ensemble that works as tirelessly as the St. Louis Symphony is its ability to perform not just in the classical mode, but in a plethora of genres. This was demonstrated once again on December 14-15 when the Symphony presented a “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas”, immediately on the heels of the “Gospel Messiah” and the Bach “Christmas Oratorio”. The ability of these musicians to continually don new musical garb, so to speak, is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Powell Hall generated enough heat to light up the entire city December 12-13 with performances of “Too Hot to Handel: The Gospel Messiah”, invigorated by the combined talents of soprano Cynthia Renee Saffron, mezzo La Tanya Hall, tenor Thomas Young, the St. Louis Symphony and the SLSO IN UNISON Chorus, guided by the hands of Kevin McBeth.
It was cold and snowy outside Powell Hall this weekend, but inside it was all warmth and light as David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus unwrapped an early Christmas present in the form of the first three cantatas from Bach's "Christmas Oratorio."
It has been a heavy month or so for the St. Louis Symphony Chorus. On November 16th they performed Britten 's dramatic Peter Grimes at Powell, followed by a repeat performance at Carnegie Hall on November 22nd, Britten 's centenary. At the same time they were rehearsing the first three cantatas of Bach 's 1734-35 Christmas Oratorio for concerts this Friday and Saturday (December 6 and 7) with David Robertson and the orchestra.
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.
Writing in the Larousse Encyclopedia of Music, Donald Paine notes that Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem," written for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral in 1962, "may stand as representative of his genius and of the theme that recurs throughout his work: the indictment of human folly as it shows itself both in the tragedy and wastage of war and in the corruption of human innocence."
Nicholas McGegan, who is conducting the St. Louis Symphony in a program of (mostly) 18th-century classics this weekend, is clearly a man who enjoys his work. As he bounded out to the podium for this morning's Krispy Kreme Coffee Concert, his face alight with a cherubic smile, his body language was saying: "this is going to be FUN!" And so it was.