We resume the St. Louis Symphony musicians’ Top Five Hot Picks countdown. More than half of the musicians participated in selecting their most anticipated programs for the upcoming 16/17 season.
Mozart Requiem (November 18-20) receives its high ranking not only because of the program’s centerpiece, which cellist Alvin McCall refers to as “this glorious, beautiful work,” but because of the 19th and 21st century masterworks that accompany it. Not surprisingly this is a David Robertson program–expect the marvelous.
With Ives’ The Unanswered Question and John Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls, musicians, chorus, children’s choir, and audiences, have a lot to get excited about. Principal Trumpet Karin Bliznik highlights the off-stage trumpet solos in both the Ives and the Adams. Second violinist Andrea Jarrett gets a chance to play a work she’s been drawn to since she was a teenager: “I studied On the Transmigration of Souls thoroughly in my AP Music Theory class back in my sophomore year of high school. I believe it is the first piece of Adams I had ever heard–I was so moved by his composition style and the message of the piece. I was able to hear a performance of it by the Detroit Symphony later that year, and I remember thinking ‘how cool would it be if I got to play this someday?’ I guess dreams do come true!”
Mozart’s ultimate musical statement touches many of the musicians personally through their own histories with the piece and through their associations with those they’ll be sharing the stage with. Principal Violist Beth Guterman Chu recalls, “In another lifetime I was a singer and soloed in the soprano part of this piece…. Also, Nick Phan, the tenor soloist, is one of my best friends and favorite people and I am so excited for him to come back to sing with our orchestra again.”
The full Requiem quartet: Caitlin Lynch, Michelle DeYoung, Nicholas Phan and Kevin Thompson, with the St. Louis Symphony Chorus led by Amy Kaiser. The St. Louis Children’s Choirs, led by Barbara Berner, join chorus and orchestra for On the Transmigration of Souls.
The SymphonyCares for Seniors caravan headed west to Eureka on Thursday afternoon. Violinists Ann Fink and Wendy Plank Rosen, violist Leonid Gotman and cellist Alvin McCall played to an audience at the Timbers of Eureka community center. The quartet performed works by Mozart, J. S. Bach, Scott Joplin and Leroy Anderson. In return they received lots of smiles and applause.
A gymnasium served as a concert hall, with the audience coming from all parts of the globe wearing many-colored hats, shawls and scarves. The band was Strings of Arda, a world-music ensemble made up of St. Louis Symphony musicians, returning to the International Institute as part of the Music Without Boundaries program. Violist Chris Woehr, who arranges much of the music they play, as introduction called out the name of the nation or region of a tune’s origin (often adding “I found this on YouTube”): Somalia, Macedonia, Syria. And members of the audience raised their hands or shouted out with joy. I hear such names and think “war torn,” “civil war,” “massacre,” “migrant crisis.” The new citizens of St. Louis think those words too, but they hear the music and also think “home.”
The International Institute has been helping to transform the lives of new arrivals for the better for many years. In so doing, St. Louis has been transformed for the better as well. The staff provides guidance, counseling, a helping hand to peoples fleeing from homes that have been turned into desperate places–unrecognizable, dangerous, hopeless places. Homes where music was once freely played.
Following the concert, many members of the audience came up to the musicians to thank them individually for the hour of respite from the many worries that come from being a stranger in a strange land. Violinist Becky Boyer Hall, whose family came from Ireland a couple generations ago, said “Whenever I play here I know why I do what I do. The people come from some of the worst situations on the planet, and during one concert we may make them smile.”
Where are your St. Louis Symphony musicians this summer? On an East Coast vibe this week, with cellist Alvin McCall beginning performances with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra at Lincoln Center in NYC, and Principal Trumpet Karin Bliznik at the Tanglewood Music Festival in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.
Bliznik sent me a link to the NY Times review of the world premiere of the late Gunther Schuller’s “Magical Trumpets.” The eminent composer, conductor, jazz historian and horn player passed away in Boston in June. Bliznik performed the piece with members of the Boston Symphony and Tanglewood Music Center [TMC] trumpet sections. Bliznik was one of two former Tanglewood students in the ensemble.
Times critic Vivien Schweitzer writes: “[Schuller] created the term ‘third stream’ to indicate music that incorporated both classical and jazz, such as some of his own scores, like ‘Magical Trumpets.’ It had its premiere on Thursday at Tanglewood, conducted by Jonathan Berman….
“Mr. Schuller, who often composed for unusual instrumentation, scored ‘Magical Trumpets’ for 12 brass in eight different keys. The work certainly proved enchanting, with the varied timbres of the instruments wielded to ear-catching effect and a creative use of mutes providing additional texture. At one point the musicians evoked the sound of a jazz band guitarist.”
Bliznik told me “Gunther was very involved in TMC and the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood. ‘Magical Trumpets’ was very cool. It’s possibly the last piece he composed, so it felt like a historic moment.”
Where is your symphony this summer? Cellist Alvin McCall is playing in the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in NYC. Tuesday night at Lincoln Center it’s conductor Louis Langree, pianist Emanuel Ax, and soprano Erin Morley in a program that includes the Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flat major and the Symphony No. 34.
It’s nice to see McCall featured in this cool Meet the Orchestra/Mozart Minute: click.
When I asked McCall for his 1516 St. Louis Symphony season hot picks, he chose music that connected with childhood memories. “There are a few works that I fell in love with when I was in high school or younger,” he wrote. Three of those works he experienced for the first time at the same summer camp in Switzerland: Holst’s The Planets, Lalo’s Symphony espagnole and Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 (“Love that timpani part!” he says). He connects the Mahler Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5 with past orchestral auditions (“great section cellos melodies”), and Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings and Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with memories of concerts by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in New York City.
In this season in which so much of the music the Symphony is performing is connected to stories–Cinderella, Don Quixote, the Shakespeare Festival–it may add to the intensity of the concert experience to realize that there are stories within stories at play. Within David Halen’s performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto is the concertmaster’s memory of his father first teaching the concerto to him, as there is McCall’s memory of hearing Zino Franciscatti playing the famous work. And on that stage nearly 100 other memories at play, with the present moment of the performance a conduit to them all–making more stories to tell.
David Robertson promised 50 St. Louis Symphony soloists during his 10th-anniversary season as Music Director. Fifty is here: cellist Alvin McCall performs McDowell’s Romanze for the Music You Know concert this Friday. It’s the meat of the Aida weekend sandwich. How do musicians show their appreciation for a soloist in rehearsal? Wait until the end.
Monday morning Wild Things came to the Powell Hall stage. Two onstage concerts were performed for pre-schoolers, teachers and parents from Grace Hill Head Start. The good folks from the PNC Grow Up Great program helps make this all happen.
The story was Maurice Sendak’s classic Where the Wild Things Are, with music by Ravel and Shostakovich. A string quartet made up of Jooyeon Kong, first violin; Eva Kozma, second violin; Chris Tantillo, viola; and Alvin McCall, cello made the sounds that made the children dance, and sway like trees, and bend like ocean waves, and growl like wild things.
Max was the superb actor Moses Weathers. He and I took a selfie together in the middle of the show.
Resident Conductor Steven Jarvi played the role of the conductor. Eva Kozma also served as music director.
We do it again next week for more Grace Hill Head Start kids. Thanks PNC Grow Up Great for helping the Symphony to fulfill its mission: to enrich people’s lives through the power of music.