SLSO Resident Conductor inspires next generation of musicians

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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 help Jennings students prepare for Powell Hall Performance

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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.






SymphonyCares & Clowns on Call Bring Music & Comedy to Children in St. Louis Hospitals

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The St. Louis Symphony, Circus Flora, and Build-A-Bear Workshop are partnering for series of performances for children at area hospitals.

Violinist Angie Smart and Claire “the Clown” Wedemeyer from Clowns on Call provide the entertainment. The performances are a mixture of music and comedy.

Smart plays crowd favorites and Wedemeyer keeps the children laughing. It is a routine Smart and Wedemeyer have perfected. The pair have been performing at area hospitals since 2012.

In addition to the entertainment, each child receives a stuffed-animal from Build-A-Bear Workshop.

Kira Stout, 9, attended one of the performances at Mercy Children’s Hospital in 2016. Her father, David Stout, said the performance served as an entertaining escape.

“When she heard they were here (at Mercy Children’s Hospital) she got very excited and wanted to come down and see it,” Stout said. “She just loved it.”

The hospital performances are part of the SymphonyCares program.

The goal of the program is to enrich people’s lives through the power of music.


Remaining Performance Schedule:

  • St. Louis Children’s Hospital

January 24, 2017


  • Mercy Children’s Hospital

March 29, 2017


  • Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital

May 4, 2017





Youth Orchestra Violinist Shines on New Year’s Eve

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Hava Polinsky moments before her performance.

Hava Polinsky, 17, shed tears of joy when she left the stage at Powell Hall on New Year’s Eve.

“It was just so emotional,” she said while wiping tears from her eyes.

The St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra violinist was the surprise guest artist for the New Year’s Eve concert.

Polinsky joined the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra to perform Pablo de Sarasate’s “Zigeunerweisen” (Gypsy Airs).

She was poised, precise, and professional on stage.

Polinsky has been honing her skills with the Youth Orchestra for the last for six years.

However, the teenager was visibly nervous in the moments leading up to her performance.

She paced back and forth as Music Director David Robertson began her introduction.

That is when the STL Symphony’s Jack Snider took charge.

The veteran stage manager gently put his hands on Polinsky’s shoulders, looked in her eyes, and said “you look beautiful.”

Seconds later, Polinsky was dazzling a packed house at Powell Hall.

“That Polinsky was good,” one audience member said.

It was the perfect way for the STL Symphony to ring in the new year.

Hava Polinsky wipes away tears of joy after her performance.

St. Louis Symphony Quartet Shares Music in Prison

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On December 7, 2016, St. Louis Symphony musicians performed for about one hundred offenders at Missouri Eastern Correctional Center.

The concert was part of the St. Louis SymphonyCares program.

STL Symphony violinist Ann Fink said the concert was about spreading hope.

“Maybe we have made their afternoon a little brighter,” Fink said. “If it goes beyond that then that’s even better.”

Fink teamed with Wendy Plank Rosen, Leonid Gotman, and Alvin McCall for a concert that included the music of Mozart, Gershwin, and Tchaikovsky. The STL Symphony musicians performed for more than an hour.

The performance brought back memories for the concert’s special guest, Ron Boyer. He was serving time at MECC when STL Symphony musicians performed at the prison 15 years ago.

“They didn’t have to come in here,” Boyer said. “But they did, and I’ll never forget that.”

Boyer was released from prison in 2004.

“It was a little difficult coming back, but the music makes you feel so happy,” Boyer said.

Boyer returned to the prison to introduce the musicians and share words of encouragement with the offenders.

The concert also marked a return for Gotman. The veteran STL Symphony violist was part of the performance that Boyer saw at MECC 15 years ago. Over the past year, Boyer and Gotman have reconnected through concerts at Powell Hall.

“It made a difference in his life, when he heard our concert as an inmate,” Gotman said.  “For me it’s the best reward.”

It is also proof that the gift of music can enrich people’s lives anywhere.

Welcoming Sounds

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Music from Syria, Somalia, and beyond filled the SLACO Community Center in North St. Louis during a recent concert.

The Strings of Arda ensemble traveled to the community center to take more than 30 immigrants and refugees on a musical journey. The ensemble consists of six musicians from the St. Louis Symphony. Most of the people who attended the concert were from Syria and Somalia.

Many of the families spent years living in refugee camps before coming to the United States. The resiliency of the families nearly brought the leader of the ensemble, Christian Woehr, to tears.

“If I think about it I am almost overwhelmed,” Woehr said. “It’s quite moving to me.”

The concert was part of the STL Symphony’s comprehensive Music Without Boundaries program.

The goal of the concert was to help families feel welcome in St. Louis and connect on a personal level with the region through music from around the world.

“It’s always got a great groove, and it’s such a core part of what really makes a people a people,” Woehr said.

Anita Barker with International Institute of St. Louis helped organize the concert.

“For them to have an opportunity to hear a concert with world class musicians playing music that is from around the world, and including their own country, was extremely moving for the families,” Barker said.

The music is a gift that serves as a comforting connection to the families’ history, and a warm welcome to their future.

“It made them feel much less isolated than they normally do,” Barker said.

Additional STL Symphony Music Without Boundaries concerts are planned at SLPS Nahed Chapman New American Academy on March 13, Macklind International Senior Center on March 15, and at the International Institute of St. Louis later in the spring.

Music Without Boundaries also funds transportation and ticket costs for immigrants and refugees to attend concerts at Powell Hall.


Carolyn, Felicia & the Bassoon Case Cover

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Felicia Foland, Carolyn White, and a brand new case cover.

There is a new member of the St. Louis Symphony. It is an addition that almost brought bassoonist Felecia Foland to tears. “I am just so happy,” she said. “I could cry.” Felicia has a brand new custom-made bassoon case cover.

The red, black and gold cover is easy on the eye, but the process of getting the cover was hard. “I invested in a new case for my bassoon, but I could not find a cover that fit,” she said. That’s when Bassist Carolyn White jumped into action.

Carolyn spent weeks making the bassoon case cover for Felicia. Carolyn is known for her precise play with the orchestra, but her talents extend beyond the stage. She has been working on creative projects, like the bassoon case cover, since she was six. “I really enjoy it,” she said. “It is my purpose in life.”

Carolyn once made red sequins shoes for the entire orchestra to wear during a performance of the Wizard of Oz.

The cover is waterproof and will help protect Felicia’s bassoon from cold winters and hot summers. It is also equipped with zippers that Carolyn ordered from New York, and It has a special pocket for bassoon reeds and sheet music. Felicia showed off the cover backstage during a recent STL Symphony rehearsal. ‘It’s just so beautiful,” she said.

Some people might call the case a simple accessory, but for Carolyn and Felicia it is a symbol of the bond shared between STL Symphony musicians.

Dropping the Mic

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Thursday will be my last day of employment at the St. Louis Symphony. I’m moving on to a new job at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.

I’ve been with the Symphony for 13 years, blogging for 12, somewhere in there a video blog got started with a pocket-size flip cam.

When I started at the orchestra after Labor Day weekend 2003, I told my colleagues “I love being here and I love you for having me.” I still feel that. I’ve worked with some of the brightest, most talented, most passionate people I’ve ever met. Working alongside such folk, whether their business is on the stage or behind the scenes, has been a true gift for which I am most grateful.

And I’ve enjoyed connecting with the blog audience over this time. I’ve had fun doing it and I hope you’ve had some fun following along.

I have other wishes, other dreams, other passions to fulfill. The St. Louis Symphony will be a part of me always.

Self Present and Selves Past

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The blessings of the office speakers: Scott Andrews rehearsed Pierre Boulez’s Dialogue de l’ombre double (Dialogue of the Double Shadow), a piece for clarinet and live electronics, on the Powell Hall stage Friday afternoon. It’s a composition of sonic wonder. Andrews plays live along with recordings of himself. The recordings were made a few years ago, and are constant, but Andrews’ live musicianship is always changing. He told me it had the feeling of performing with past selves. His description made me think of Arthur Rimbaud’s famous phrase Je est un autre: “I is someone else.”

Principal Clarinet Scott Andrews
Principal Clarinet Scott Andrews

But for all that Dialogue of the Double Shadow may make you and I think, or marvel at the technosound strategies, it is the magic and mystery it leaves behind when it is done that is most compelling. A haunting. These sounds you’ve heard–you will never hear them again.

Eyes on the Sky

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St. Louis Symphony eyes have stayed on the sky and on the radar, and a few people with barometers for knees have been consulted, and as of mid-afternoon Wednesday systems are go for the Forest Park concert. If the skies change, check the news, check our website, check our social media. For now, it looks like a great night to listen to the Symphony under the stars–and then fireworks!

Eyes on the sky
Eyes on the sky