It's no doubt true, as René Spencer Saller observes in her program notes, that Richard Wagner was Beethoven's biggest fanboy, with an adoration of the latter's "Symphony No. 9" in D minor, Op. 125 ("Choral") that bordered on obsession. I'm less convinced of her statement that Wagner's last opera, "Parsifal," has "a lot in common" with Beethoven's last symphony, though.
This weekend, Union Avenue Opera concludes its 22nd season with "Götterdämmerung" ("Twilight of the Gods"), the final installment of the most ambitious project in the company's history—Wagner's mammoth operatic cycle "Der Ring des Nibelungen" ("The Ring of the Nibelung"). It's a strong production, thanks to tremendous performances by the singers and clear, focused stage direction by Karen Coe Miller.
The rush of winter winds, the clap of thunder, the pounding of rain, the buzzing of insects, the barking of a dog, the slipperiness of ice, the languor of summer, the singing of not just one bird, but multiple species—all these were engraved into Antonio Vivaldi’s remarkable set of violin concertos dating from 1725, “The Four Seasons.” Today we take them for granted, and even the least musically educated among us know them, but in their day these four short concertos brought the Baroque period to a higher level of innovation and creativity.
As I said in my first symphony preview post this week, the main event at the St. Louis Symphony this weekend is Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Steven Jarvi is at the podium and the violin soloists—all drawn from the symphony string section—are Jessica Cheng (“Spring”), Angie Smart (“Summer”), Jooyeon Kong (“Autumn”), and Alison Harney (“Winter”). What I left out was any mention of the other two works on the program.
Union Avenue Opera is nothing if not fearless, often taking on works that strain the company's space at the Union Avenue Christian Church to the limit.
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").
David Robertson's on-stage introduction to Philippe Manoury's "Synapse", for violine and orchestra, made more sense than the composer's own description, which fluttered about such terms as "blocks", "formulas" and "specific grammar" without really explaining their true meaning. However, Robertson's substantial personal charisma seemed insufficient to make such a piece palatable to what was easily the sparsest audience in memory at a St. Louis Symphony concert.