"Beautiful" isn't a word you often hear applied to the twelve-tone music of the Second Viennese School, but I can't think of a better one to describe the performance of Alban Berg's 1935 "Violin Concerto" by soloist James Ehnes and the symphony under David Robertson Friday morning.
The score of Elgar’s 1910 "Violin Concerto" carries the Spanish preface, "Aqui está encerrada el alma de ....." ( "Herein is enshrined the soul of ....." ). Is it a secret love letter to the wife of a member of Parliament or even, as Elgar biographer Jerrold Northrup Moore suggests, a tribute to several of the composer’s closest friends? And does it really matter anyway?
“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen.” – Raymond Chandler, “Red Wind” (1938)
Radu Lupu plays a genial and low-key Beethoven 4th piano concerto and David Robertson leads the orchestra in a lush Brahms “Symphony No. 2”, and it all starts with a Gemütlichkeit-filled cruise down the “Beautiful Blue Danube” of Johann Strauss, Jr. It must be another first-class evening with the St. Louis Symphony.
Members of the St. Louis Symphony gave us two sharply contrasting insights into the romantic soul Wednesday night.
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.
In his program notes for this weekend’s concerts, Paul Schiavo suggests that the theme running through all three works is the way in which they strongly suggest visual images to the listener. Let me suggest an additional one: all three composers represented here—Glinka, Bartók, and Mussorgsky—drew heavily on folk traditions in their respective cultures. One way or another, they were all proponents of musical nationalism.
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.
If you’re a fan of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, this weekend’s showing of the first film in the series on the giant screen at Powell Hall with the St. Louis Symphony and the men of the Symphony Chorus performing the score live is an event you won’t want to miss.
The tradition of the holiday “pops” program is a well-established one with orchestras these days, and Friday night’s concert was just what you’d expect: yuletide classics, a guest performer (pop vocalist Debby Boone), and a visit from St. Nick himself. Ms. Boone, alas, was unwell, but the area high school and college students of the 138-voice Holiday Festival Chorus sounded just fine and Ward Stare led the orchestra with is usual panache.