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.
This weekend's St. Louis symphony concerts feature (to borrow a phrase from the baseball diamond) a pair of heavy hitters—on both the stage and the page.
The OnMusic Dictionary (at dictionary.onmusic.org) defines attacca as "a musical directive for the performer to begin the next movement (or section) of a composition immediately and without pause." Lately the symphony has been experimenting with playing compositions by different composers attacca as a way of highlighting similarities between the pieces. This weekend's bit of attacca might be the boldest yet, following the prelude to Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" (first performed in 1859) with Arnold Schoenberg's neurasthenic 1909 "monodrama" "Erwartung" ("Expectation").
In his "Concord Hymn" Ralph Waldo Emerson describes the first shot of the American Revolutionary War as "the shot heard round the world." The same phrase has been applied to the shot that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914. This weekend the St. Louis symphony will be playing the musical equivalent of "the shot heard round the world." Let's call it "the chord heard round the world." Its effect was less violent, but no less revolutionary in its own way.
Highlighting this weekend's St. Louis Symphony concerts is a pair impressive performances of works written right here in the good old USA (including one premiered in St. Louis) by visitors from abroad: Erich Wolfgang Korngold's 1945 "Violin Concerto" and Dvořák's 1893 "Symphony No. 9" ("From the New World").