The No. 4 Hot Pick of the 2016-17 season, as selected by the orchestra musicians, is the Dvorak Cello Concerto weekend, featuring Alban Gerhardt making his STL Symphony debut.
Gerhadt playing Dvorak is not the only highlight of the program, as many musicians gave a shout out to Stravinsky’s Petrushka. Double bassist Dave DeRiso calls Stravinsky “one of my favorite composers. I find his music so engaging. It can be primal, humorous, haunting and uplifting all in the course of a couple minutes.” Principal Oboe Jelena Dirks refers to Petrushka as “such an imaginative, colorful and exciting work,” and Principal Harp Allegra Lilly says without equivocation, “I love all things Stravinsky.” Lutoslawki’s Chain 3 and guest conductor Hannu Lintu also receive praise. October 14-16, 2016.
Wednesday: Hot Pick No. 3. Music in the American grain.
Barbara Fletcher sits in her hospital room chair with blood flowing into her body through a tube. “My kangaroo juice,” she calls it, because whenever she receives new blood she feels new energy. A short concert has just concluded outside her room, performed by Symphony violinist Silvian Iticovici and Principal Harp Allegra Lilly. Fletcher describes the images that passed through her mind as Iticovici and Lilly played works by Satie and others. Fletcher tells me about warm breezes, trees, a refreshing pond with fish rising briefly to the surface. The music took her far outside the hospital room, far from the tubes and monitors.
Fletcher visits the Blood & Marrow Outpatient Transplant services at Saint Louis University Cancer Center regularly with her husband and daughter. Her daughter was her marrow donor. Nobody likes to come for cancer treatment, but when Symphony musicians are scheduled to perform it becomes a day to look forward to. SymphonyCares and the SLU Cancer Center have been partnering since 2011. Maureen Byrne, Symphony Director of Community Programs, never has a hard time finding musicians to participate.
On a drizzly Monday morning, Lilly and Iticovici set up in front of a nurses’ station. The doors to the patients’ rooms up and down the corridor are open. Without introduction, the music begins.
Music therapists Crystal Weaver and Andrew Dwiggins are on hand for whatever may be needed. Weaver tells me that it’s not expected for the Symphony musicians to be therapists, but she and Dwiggins have the training to come to a patient’s or a family member’s aid when the music pulls the emotions intensely. Dwiggins says it’s never a matter of being alarmed that someone may cry, but to make sure that the patient or loved one feels safe to cry, to acknowledge what the music has released.
After the concert Lilly and Iticovici meet with Barbara, her husband and daughter, wearing protective gowns, gloves and masks. Lilly tells me afterward that the SLU Cancer Center concerts remind her of why she makes music. Iticovici agrees, “It’s about being able to touch someone.”
One of the highlights of the season for both the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra and the St. Louis Symphony is the annual side-by-side rehearsal. Video intern Nicola Muscroft and I were there capturing images and conducting interviews with YO harpist Caroline Robinson, STL Symphony Principal Harp Allegra Lilly and Music Director David Robertson.
The Symphony’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 was an awesome experience last weekend. Awesome in the true meaning of the word–to inspire awe, and, if you go further down the list of meanings, to inspire fear. There is a power both fierce and fearsome in the presence of such art. For some of us, it’s why we keep returning to it
It is somewhat hard to imagine that the musicians making such art are just getting on with their lives like everyone else. During the present St. Louis Symphony baby boom there are infants to be comforted, fed and changed. There are the everyday challenges large and small, plus social media to keep tabs with. Somehow, amidst all that, the Ravel shimmers, Vivier’s Lonely Child delivers a melancholy lullaby, and Mahler’s heaven bursts forth.
But the musicians aren’t just at home practicing one weekend’s concert. There is the next weekend and the one after that. And there are the Community and Education programs the musicians take part in, bringing more intimate forms of awe to smaller venues.
For example, the St. Louis Symphony & St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra side-by-side rehearsal, in which the two best orchestras in the region join for one big rehearsal. David Robertson conducting. The YO musicians sit right next to their heroes and make music with them:
Cortango Orquesta and Principal Harp Allegra Lilly played a Symphony Where You Worship concert at Second Presbyterian Church.
The Creative Music Making concert combined St. Louis Arc, the Maryville University Music Therapy program, musicians from the St. Louis Symphony and more than 30 volunteer entertainers from the St. Louis Arc community.
And musicians gave master classes and a concert at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.
Although children shouted for joy when they saw the snow coming down and learned of the school closings throughout the region this morning, I’m willing to imagine that a few thousand schoolkids that were scheduled to bus to Powell Hall for the Tales of Shakespeare Education Concerts were somewhat disappointed. I know everyone at Powell Hall was.
But the St. Louis Symphony hardly ever stops. Musicians have been playing music and teaching music here, there and everywhere morning, noon and night over the last few days. Director of Community Programs Maureen Byrne, one of the busiest women in show business, has been with them every stop of the way and provided these photos.
Principal Harp Allegra Lilly shares a few pics and stories from the Summer of 15:
“This is kind of an in-between week for me, primarily consisting of packing up and road-tripping it back to St. Louis from Tanglewood by way of my parents’ home in Michigan. I’ve spent the last seven weeks substituting for the Boston Symphony’s principal harpist, Jessica Zhou, who was away on maternity leave.”
“The first a photo is of Bryn Terfel and me after a July 11 performance of the first act of Tosca. Bryn, who was as magnificent as always, must be just about the nicest guy in show business these days. That performance was also very special to me because my parents were able to make the trip out to Tanglewood and saw me perform with the BSO for the very first time. Plus, it was my father’s 76th birthday that weekend, and they just celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary on August 9th!”
“We ended up with just enough time to drive back to St. Louis and repack before I head to London for the BSO’s two-and-a-half-week European tour. My boyfriend Tyler and I managed to squeeze in a quick stop at Niagara Falls, which he (and our two guinea pigs) had never visited before, so I’ve also included a few photos of us there (the one of Tyler and the pigs is my personal favorite).”
“It has been a whirlwind couple of days, but I couldn’t be more excited both to revisit the cities I’ve been to before (London, Paris, Milan) and to see others I haven’t yet had a chance to get to (Salzburg, Grafenegg, Lucerne, Cologne, Berlin). We’ll be playing a ton of fantastic repertoire, too–Mahler 6, Ein Heldenleben, Don Quixote with Yo-Yo Ma and BSO Principal Viola Steven Ansell, an incredibly difficult trumpet concerto by Brett Dean with soloist Håkan Hardenberger, and several other works that don’t involve harp, including Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10.”
“This has been an immensely fulfilling and action-packed summer, but the prize at the end will be returning to work with my own musical family. I’ll be back in St. Louis the day before we start rehearsals for our 2015-16 season and I can’t wait to dive back in.”
Next Postcard Thursday: horn player Tod Bowermaster.
Principal Harp Allegra Lilly took a moment before her rehearsal of Debussy’s Sacred and Profane Dances to try and define the thin line between the sacred and profane. She plays the work at Powell Hall this weekend, and Principal Tuba Michael Sanders plays Vaughan Williams’ Tuba Concerto after her. The ethereal harp and the earthly tuba. From Carmen at the top of the show to Bolero at the end, the theme runs all the way through.
Principal Harp Allegra Lilly performs Debussy’s Sacred and Profane Dances at Powell Hall this weekend. She had her first full rehearsal with David Robertson and the strings of the St. Louis Symphony on Wednesday afternoon. All the sounds you love the harp for–the ethereal qualities, the liquid textures, the dreaminess–they’re all here. Plus Debussy’s impressionism–whatever divides the sacred and profane is more air than solid.
A rehearsal allows a performer to feel comfortable with the conductor and orchestra, with tempos and colors, and with wardrobe. Lilly tried her concert shoes on Wednesday. They work.
On Wednesday morning a patient at SLU Cancer Center received final chemotherapy leading up to his bone-marrow transplant. A patient going through such a procedure is, and this is more than metaphor, being reborn. The old bone marrow dies, new living tissue enters the system. The staff at SLU have developed a small ritual for such an event, a kind of birthday celebration.
The St. Louis Symphony SymphonyCares program has been partnering with SLU Cancer Center for a number of years. Musicians visit its infusion room once a month and perform for patients receiving chemotherapy. After the program got going, patients began to plan their treatments according to the concert schedule.
With the infusion-room concerts being such a success, Maureen Byrne, Director of Community Programs, thought if there was a birthday party going on at the Cancer Center, the Symphony musicians needed to be a part of it as well.
So for the first time, Wednesday morning, musicians from the Symphony played a requested song on the occasion of one patient’s bone-marrow transplant. Principal Harp Allegra Lilly and First Violin Ann Fink performed Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” in an arrangement by composer and Symphony violist Chris Woehr.
“It was a magical experience” Byrne told me afterward. “For all the logistics, all that went into making this happen … the patients, the staff, the musicians, all were stunned when it was over. It was deeply meaningful, and it was personal.”
This week Opera Theatre of Saint Louis opens its production of Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, with the St. Louis Symphony in the Loretto-Hilton pit. Principal Harp Allegra Lilly has a notable performance in this production. As she describes it: “I am hilariously under-involved in the Donizetti. I play just a single aria: Una furtiva lagrima, which is just two pages of music for me. I come in and tune at intermission, play my 2-3 minutes of material about 15 minutes before the end of the opera, and quietly duck out.
“I will add, however, that the aria is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s such a lovely moment to drop in and play, particularly because of the sublime singing and playing, respectively, of [tenor] René Barbera and [Principal Bassoon] Andrew Cuneo.”
Such drop-in-and-play activity is a far cry from Allegra’s initiation into the St. Louis Symphony. Last fall, in her first couple months in her first season with the orchestra, she played just about every heavy-duty harp part there is, plus demanding–and exquisite–performances of Peter Grimes at Powell Hall and Carnegie Hall.
With this in mind, I went back to a video I shot in March. When we think of harp, we think of its beautiful cascade of sound, but not the rigors that produce it–the pedals, the tuning, or the schlepping. Here is documentation of just one harp schlepp.