It was an eventful 2017 for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s Stories from Backstage project. The television news-style videos documented the extraordinary impact the SLSO had in the St. Louis community. From free community concerts to ground-breaking work with music students, Stories from Backstage captured many of the special moments that SLSO musicians and St. Louisans shared in 2017. The video storytelling project is gearing up for another special year in 2018. Stay tuned.
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra IN UNISON Artist in Residence Brian Owens delivered a powerful performance to accused teen detainees at the Family Court of St. Louis County Detention Center on Dec. 8, 2017.
With an SLSO string quartet by his side, Owens performed hopeful music for about 30 teens.
“Hope is something that we really can thrive on,” Owens said. “It’s something that can give us meaning and purpose.”
Janet Johnson, St. Louis County Detention Center Program Specialist, said she believes the performance will “inspire” the teens.
“I think that this will open their eyes to things that they weren’t able to see before,” Johnson said. “It could change their future.”
The performance was part of the SLSO SymphonyCares program. It’s the same program that shared music with adult offenders at Missouri Eastern Correctional Center last year.
SLSO musicians Ann Fink, Wendy Plank Rosen, Alvin McCall and Leonid Gotman were a part of both performances.
This year’s concert featured nine pieces of music, including Christmas Carols.
In addition to singing, Owens shared some positive advice with the teens.
“I think it’s really important to share positive music and messages with these young people,” Owens said.
Faith*, who is eight-years-old, wanted to experience an SLSO concert.
She was born with SOX2 anophthalmia syndrome. The genetic condition left Faith blind and with limited mobility.
Faith’s mom, Bridget*, said that life or her daughter can be a “struggle,” but music has been a “great motivator.”
On October 8, SLSO musicians Melissa Brooks, Celeste Golden Boyer, Beth Guterman Chu, and Eva Kozma performed three pieces of music for Faith at St. Francis Xavier College Church. St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Artist-in-Residence Brian Owens was the featured vocalist for the concert.
“To see the string quartet and vocalist so dedicated to making this happen for her was special to us,” Bridget said.
SLSO cellist Melissa Brooks called the experience “amazing.”
“It really was it was an honor to play for her,” Brooks said.
SLSO violist Beth Guterman Chu agreed.
“Anytime we can touch anyone it is special, but to know that this was Faith’s dream, was a real high point for me,” Guterman Chu said.
Faith’s Make-A-Wish also included a private concert in her home on October 4. The musicians performed two pieces of music, including a piece by Tony Bennett.
“This was just a great opportunity to see how much Faith is loved by so many people,” Bridget said. “It was the right wish request.”
*For privacy reasons, the SLSO is not releasing the family’s last name.
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s 2017-2018 season opened with a two-week celebration of Mozart.
Pianist Emanuel Ax was the featured guest artist.
Ax played the piano with precision, poise, and passion for during the performances.
Ax split his time between playing piano concertos and meeting music students.
8-year-old Oscar Ramirez, who is a blind, spent time with Ax backstage and onstage before a performance.
“It was really cool and fun,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez dreams of becoming a concert pianist.
“We had a nice exchange,” Ax said. “He played a few notes for me, and I played a little for him.”
Ax also visited Jennings High School. He performed for the students and held a question and answer session.
James McKay, the Jennings School District orchestra teacher, helped lead the question and answer session.
“It was a really phenomenal experience to have someone who has won seven Grammys right here in our school district,” McKay said.
Ax also invited the Jennings students to Powell Hall for one of his performances.
“It’s just a pleasure to meet people that love music,” Ax said.
For a finale to remember, Ax went to a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game with SLSO staff members.
“I got to see the St. Louis Cardinals ballpark, which was very exciting,” Ax said. “It was a great stay.”
Each spring, 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders take over Powell Hall for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s Link Up concerts.
The students participate in the concerts. They play recorders and violins along with the orchestra. The students also sing and dance.
The concerts are the pay off for months of hard work that starts each fall in greater St. Louis area elementary schools.
According to 5th grade Hazelwood student Jaylah Burton, the program offers her a way to connect with her parents.
“My mom and my dad played instruments,” she said. “I wanted to play an instrument too.”
Link Up provides music educators with specialized curriculum that prepares students for the concerts.
“Studies have shown that kids that play instruments do better on tests and succeed in life,” Hazelwood Orchestra Teacher Kimberley Jackson said. “This program is very beneficial for their development.”
The curriculum comes from the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall.
The help from the SLSO and the curriculum is free.
The SLSO is searching for more schools in the region to Link Up with this school year.
For more information click here.
The job keeps the McKendree University graduate close to his passion.
“I love being around the music,” Abernathy said.
The St. Louis native dreams of becoming a conductor.
“My dream is to be called maestro one day,” Abernathy said.
In 2016, the SLSO created an IN UNISON Graduate Fellowship to help Abernathy achieve his dream. Through the fellowship, he attends rehearsals, studies music the orchestra performs, and meets one-on-one with conductors.
“It is very humbling,” he said. “Why would they do all this for me?”
The answer is simple, according to SLSO Music Director David Robertson.
“You love something and to be able to share that love with others, and to see their love affair begin with it, is really the reason to do anything,” Robertson said.
Abernathy’s connections with the SLSO run deep.
He is a former IN UNISON Scholar, Youth Orchestra alum, and his mentor is horn player Thomas Jöstlein.
Abernathy said the fellowship is another step toward his dream.
“I am learning about conducting from the inside, and I am starting with, in my opinion, the best orchestra in the world,” he said.
SLSO IN UNISON is supported by Monsanto Fund.
The SymphonyCares Heart Quartet plays music with a healthy message around the St. Louis region.
The quartet includes three St. Louis Symphony Orchestra musicians and a cardiac surgeon from Saint Louis University Hospital.
Dawn Hui, M.D., a graduate of medical school and Juilliard, is a founding member of the quartet.
“It’s a real honor and a privilege to work with these musicians,” Hui said.
Joo Kim, Xi Zhang, and Ann Fagerburg round out the quartet.
In addition to playing beautiful music, the quartet shares life-saving information with audience members during performances.
“The risk of heart disease is probably higher than people are aware of,” Hui said. “It is the number one cause of death in America, so we try to educate our audience members.”
The quartet also plays music from composers who suffered from heart disease and pieces that have some connection to heart disease.
The quartet’s last performance was at the Mackland International Senior Center. The audience included several dozen immigrants.
“Many of these people may never be reached by television, radio, and conventional means,” Hui said. “It was very special to tell them about what I see, what I do, and maybe even make a change in someone’s life.”
For more information about the SymphonyCares Heart Quartet click here.
Patriotism, pride, and percussion filled Powell Hall for the 2017 Joining Forces concert.
Musicians of the St. Louis Symphony, the 399th Army Band, and the United States Air Force Band of Mid-America joined forces to honor veterans and active duty military service members.
The musicians performed powerful pieces of music, including Lincoln Portrait and Stars and Stripes Forever
More than 2,000 people attended the free concert. Neil Cantwell, an Army veteran, attended the concert with a group of veterans.
“I was astounded by it,” Cantwell said. “They played this well.”
While the St. Louis Symphony has a history of working with both military bands, the concert marked the first joint performance at Powell Hall.
“It was quite an honor and amazing experience,” said USAF Band of Mid-America musician Quincy Garner. I think the audience appreciated the music, and I think if we had five more tunes they would’ve stayed for that.”
The concert’s conductors were Kevin McBeth of the St. Louis Symphony, Lt. Col. Michael Willen of the USAF Band of Mid-America, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Benjamin McMillan of the 399th ArmyBand, and Lt. Wilson Wiseof the USAF Band of Mid-America.
The concert was presented by Commerce Bank.
Madeline De Geest, 11, started dreaming of becoming a conductor after she saw St. Louis Symphony Resident Conductor Gemma New perform in the Fall of 2016.
“When she went on stage she had this presence,” De Geest said.
New was leading the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra.
“I could not take my eyes off her,” De Geest said.
After the performance, De Geest asked New for an autograph.
“I just really wanted her autograph.” De Geest said. “She also gave me her conducting stick, which was really amazing.”
It was a small gift, but it is inspiring a big dream.
“I want to be a conductor someday,” De Geest said.
In the Spring of 2017, New invited De Geest to a St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra rehearsal.
De Geest brought a violin, a music folder, and a desire to learn.
“She has so much energy and potential,” New said. “She reminded me of myself when I was that age.”
New’s main role with the St. Louis Symphony is to conduct concerts.
“That is how I fit in to music, and how I can best express the music that I love.”
However, New’s impact is not confined to the stage at Powell Hall.
“She inspires many people out there,” De Geest said. “She helps other people with their dreams.”
St. Louis Symphony musicians Shawn Weil, Bjorn Ranheim, and Dave DeRiso have been visiting Jennings Jr. High School to help orchestra students learn all about the joys of music.
The visits are part of the St. Louis Symphony in Your School Program. The musicians are working closely with the students to prepare them for a performance at Powell Hall.
“it’s just amazing because they could be doing so many other things,” 13-year-old Laila Woodbury said. “This is an amazing opportunity.”
James McKay Jr., the district’s orchestra teacher, said the visits help “inspire” his students.
“Having someone who does this everyday, as a profession, shows them that there really is light at the end of the tunnel,” McKay Jr. said.
The students aren’t alone in gaining inspiration from the program. Shawn Weil said “really enjoys” working with the students.
“It’s definitely something that inspires me because you see the kid light up when they catch a concept,” Weil said.
The Jennings Jr. High School students are set to perform at Powell Hall before the April 28th subscription concert.
“It’s going to be fun,” Woodbury said.