When the German drama and Romanticism of Beethoven and Richard Strauss are infused with the Gallic charm of guest conductor Stephane Deneve, combined with the work of young American composer Patrick Harlin, the result is a remarkable audience appeal that not only endeared the composers and performers to listeners, but enhanced their appreciation and understanding.
The first concert of the new symphony season was a study in contrasts, to say the least. For many music lovers, I expect, the Big Event of the evening was probably Kirill Gerstein’s surprisingly lyrical approach to the massively popular Tchaikovsky “Piano Concerto No. 1”. For me, though, Charles Ives's “Three Places in New England”—still sounding fresh and radical over a century after it was first composed—was the star of the evening.
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.
Mozart, as they used to say over at Variety, is clearly “boffo” with St. Louis Symphony audiences. The crowd at Friday morning’s concert was larger than usual and obviously appreciative of Bernard Labadie’s vibrant readings of Mozart’s 33rd and 40th symphonies, as well as with Principal Clarinet Scott Andrew’s elegant work in the "Clarinet Concerto, K. 622".
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.
As René Spencer Saller points out in her program notes for these concerts, the legendary violinist/composer Niccolò Paganini was the early 18th century equivalent of a modern rock star, with an extravagant talent and matching lifestyle.
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.
Just as I was thinking that a concert devoted to American music would be incomplete without including a work by Samuel Barber, I arrived at Powell Hall to discover that—sadly—due to a soloist’s illness, Aaron Copland’s "Quiet City" would be replaced by Barber’s famous "Adagio for Strings". With fervent hopes for the soloist’s recovery, the inclusion of the Barber rounded out a program that was a veritable showcase of some of the many jewels of American music.
"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?