Guest artist plays the right notes onstage and in the community

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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.”


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My boss made music-biz news this week. Adam Crane, Vice President for External Affairs, made the Musical America list of 30 Professionals of the Year, a.k.a. the “Influencers.” MA explains the criteria: “We recently asked the MA community to nominate 30 people who are making a difference in our business, either by virtue of their position, their creativity, and/or their dedication—folks about whom you could say, ‘When they speak, we listen.”’

I’ve been listening to Adam for seven seasons now, and I continue to learn from what he has to say. But perhaps just as importantly, Adam is himself an excellent listener, and those of us who’ve worked for him and with him value his smarts, his imagination, his concern for his colleagues, friends and family, and his passion for the St. Louis Symphony.

You can read what MA has to say about him here: click.

Adam is also passionate for his hometown and its baseball team. Adam doesn’t like to smile in photographs much, but here he is on the day he got his replica 2011 World Series ring. Congratulations, Adam.

Adam World Series ring

Living Composer Live!

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Thursday night is the first On Stage at Powell concert of the season. That’s where you get to sit on stage with the musicians, making for an especially intimate concert experience and an easy concert series to name.

Samuel Adams, Photo credit: Ben Tarquin
Samuel Adams, Photo credit: Ben Tarquin

A Symphony string quartet made up of violinists Ann Fink and Helen Kim, violist Chris Tantillo and cellist Bjorn Ranheim play works by Haydn and Samuel Adams. Since Adams is the living composer, and in town, we’re putting him to use. He’ll be on stage to talk about both the Haydn quartet and his own, giving insights into how they relate. Adam Crane will be on hand to interview Adams, and I’ll be bringing around the microphone so audience members can ask questions and share responses.

Thursday, September 24 at 7pm. It’s free. It’s On Stage at Powell.

Practice Throws

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The new St. Louis Symphony president, Marie-Hélène Bernard, throws out the first pitch before the Cardinals game against the Washington Nationals at Busch Stadium on August 31.

It is not lost on the Montreal native that the Nationals were formerly the Expos, or Les Expos, as they were known by the French-speaking populace. It is also not lost on the former viola da gamba player that practice may not make perfect, but it allows oneself the best opportunity for a strong performance.

This was her first practice session, playing catch near midday in the parking lot behind Powell Hall. As you can see, Bernard possesses a pretty good throwing arm, at least when she is not laughing at the catching signals of Adam Crane, Vice President for External Affairs, who is her coach up until the big pitch.

Notice that Crane calls the last pitch a strike.

Say Yes

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My gala experience began by photographing Lang Lang’s conversation with the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra. External Affairs VP Adam Crane served as moderator at the theater in the new KDHX studios a block from Powell. The YO musicians were a rapt audience, with Lang Lang talking about his career–when an orchestra calls and asks if you can play a certain concerto, the answer is always yes, at least in the early years–and the importance of being an ambassador of the art form. He also talked about performing with the Gangnam Style guy.

Lang Lang and Adam Crane with Youth Orchestra
Lang Lang and Adam Crane with Youth Orchestra

In the evening was the big show, with dinner before and dancing after. Symphony Principal Flute Mark Sparks played some revelatory Bach, and Lang Lang did his phenomenal thing.

I must say of the entire organization, we did well. And when it was time to let loose, we partied like it was 1999.

A Little Thud Music

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In Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites, the thud of the guillotine is heard. Principal Percussion Will James plays that thud in the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis production, which began orchestra rehearsals, with vocalists, on Tuesday, with Ward Stare conducting.

Adam Crane and Will James
Adam Crane and Will James

Will demonstrates his “thud” technique with Adam Crane, VP for External Affairs. Undoubtedly some of you recognize the “Mahler hammer,” which was last used by Will for the St. Louis Symphony performance of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony in 2011.