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.
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.
When you think of the music for the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz”, the first names that probably come to mind are Harold Arlen and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg. Their songs “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “If I Only Had a Brain” have been firmly ensconced in the Great American Songbook for decades.
It was a lively and entertaining evening at Powell Hall last night with a dance-infused program that included three of Dvořák’s popular “Slavonic Dances”, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, Bernstein’s still-amazing “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story”, and an appropriately hallucinatory reading of Ravel’s death knell for the 19th century, “La Valse”.
All too often the phrase “family entertainment” equates to “suitable only for preschoolers”. Not so with the symphony’s “Magical Music of Disney”.
Friday night St. Louis Symphony Resident Conductor Ward Stare had neither score nor baton but lots of panache when he stepped up to the podium to conduct an utterly captivating Schubert “Symphony No 5”.
Powell Hall was all decked out for Halloween this weekend, complete with silly hats for the ushers and spooky specials at the bar, to go along with a showing of the 1925 classic “The Phantom of the Opera”. Reaching back to Powell’s origins as a movie palace (it was originally the St. Louis Theatre, which also opened in 1925), the film was accompanied by live music. Instead of a Mighty Wurlitzer, however, we were treated to the even mightier St. Louis Symphony with Ward Stare at the podium and Rick Friend at the piano and synthesizer performing Mr. Friend’s wonderfully atmospheric score.
It has always seemed to me that one hallmark of a great orchestra is its ability to make a persuasive case not only for the standards of the repertoire but for more obscure works as well. It’s one thing to present a polished performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (as the SLSO did last weekend); it’s quite another to deliver an equally exciting reading of the less popular Concerto No. 2 and then follow it up with a compelling Scriabin Symphony No. 2, a work the symphony hasn’t done in over forty years.