In recent days I’ve seen oboist Phil Ross, percussionist Will James, violinists Wendy Plank Rosen, Kristin Ahlstrom and Jessica Cheng, double bassist Chris Carson, English horn player Cally Banham, and I’ve engaged in email conversations with violists Beth Guterman Chu and Jonathan Chu, clarinet player Scott Andrews, horn player Thomas Jöstlein, violinist Erin Schreiber, and concertmaster David Halen. This means the summer festivals are over and the musicians are beginning to return home to St. Louis–a delightful harbinger of the new season. When they all get together next week for rehearsals they’ll look something like this:
With single tickets going on sale today, thoughts turn to Opening Weekend, September 16-17, and La Mer. Cally Banham, English horn, writes: “It will be a joy to be reunited with all the colleagues after the summer break with La Mer, an incredibly expressive piece full of color, and featuring so many solo instruments in gorgeous ethereal passages.”
When Claude Debussy first had the score published to La Mer published, he insisted a detail of the print above, which was popular in France at the time, be on the cover.
A program deep in the American grain: John Adams’ The Chairman Dances, Korngold’s Violin Concerto, and Dvorak’s “From the New World” Symphony. It’s a program the Symphony musicians love from top to bottom. “I love Adams’ Chairman Dances,” says first violinist Dana Edson Myers, “and really enjoy David Robertson’s electric interpretations.”
“I am really looking forward to having Gil Shaham play the Korngold Concerto with us,” says Associate Principal Cello Melissa Brooks. “He plays it better than anyone.” Double bassist Sarah Hogan Kaiser is also looking forward to playing with Shaham, “To me, [the Korngold] sounds like sweeping movie music. Gil is one of my favorite soloists that comes to town because I just love his playing, but he also seems like such a down-to-earth person and we have a great time making music with him.” The St. Louis Symphony has quite a history with Korngold’s Violin Concerto. The orchestra played the world premiere of the work with Jascha Heifetz at Kiel Opera House in 1947, the eminent Vladimir Golschmann conducting.
David Robertson conducts this New World Symphony weekend, January 13-15, 2017, which concludes with Dvorak’s musical response to his late 19th-century American sojourn, which included time the Bohemian composer spent in a Czech community in Iowa. Many American audiences hear the voices of their nation interpreted through a foreigner’s sensibility. Others may hear a foreigner’s longing for his homeland. Leonard Bernstein went so far as to describe the symphony’s famous “Goin’ Home” theme, often referred to as a “Negro spiritual,” as “a nice Czech melody by Dvorak.”
However you hear Dvorak’s Ninth, it is an evocative sonic message written from our soil and from our air. Cally Banham plays the enigmatc theme, and calls the “New World” Symphony “a piece I hold closely to my heart, as it contains the most iconic solo written for my instrument, the English horn. Finding the right nuances in the solo is a challenge that lasts a whole career, and each performance is fulfilling in a different way.”
Flutist Jennifer Nitchman adds that it “has lots of second flute solos” too.
Thursday: A break from the Hot Pick Top 5 countdown because it’s Postcard Thursday with Celeste Golden Boyer.
Last week I posted photos of the activities going on outside of the concert hall for the On Stage at Powell tango night, featuring Cortango Orquesta. This week, thanks to photographer Joe Schmidt, here are pictures of the show.
Musicians from that evening who are not pictured: Symphony flutist Andrea Kaplan and Cortango pianist Adam De Sorgo.
Music tells the story during the St. Louis Symphony 2015-16 season. Musicians tell their stories too. Today I’m introducing a new video series, Play Memory, which features musicians talking about the music they play. In this first edition, English horn player Cally Banham offers her insights into the tone poems of Richard Strauss, especially Don Quixote‘s “wall of sound.”
Home again home again jiggety-jig. At least for some. Many musicians are staying the weekend in NYC. And why not? You can find quite a bit of nourishment in New York. Some are taking in a matinee of the Metropolitan Opera, because they truly live for music, or, possibly more accurately, music has become their lives.
The St. Louis Symphony provided its own nourishment to the Carnegie audience. Many raves are coming in via social media and elsewhere. First review I’ve seen. Click.
A few perspectives from those who played the music. From Principal Timpani Shannon Wood: “The talent, subtle musical nuances and the heritage of sound that this orchestra has cultivated over the years never ceases to amaze me. Audiences hear/notice the difference. Guest conductors say how unique and rare it is to hear an orchestra with such tradition and character in sound.
“It’s vital that we continue to share this institution with other audiences. We have something special to share.”
Second violinist Lorraine Glass-Harris, playing her last Carnegie, that is unless some smart orchestra brings her in as a ringer in seasons to come: “My thoughts, yes, always many of them … First, personal, this was my last concert with the St. Louis Symphony in Carnegie. An understandable telescoping of past and present, all the way back to the Susskind performances of the early ’70s, my entry to the professional world of orchestral sports.
“Of greater interest, even to me, however, is the pure pleasure of performing in the fine acoustics of Carnegie. The absolute necessity of the players to be performing not just here but in all the great Halls of the world, not just once, but often in one’s career.
“The value of hearing one’s individual contribution and responding to the collective sound Is inestimable. And the best part, of course, is that the group brings this knowledge back to Powell. Recycled for greater clarity and a fuller sense of the whole.
“Learning how to listen and how to contribute has been among the best accomplishments of my 43 years with the orchestra. Carnegie Hall? Ear candy!”
And from English horn player Cally Banham, who got a shout out from the aforementioned review: “It’s always thrilling to hear my colleagues play in Carnegie–so much detail can be heard of color and subtleties in phrasing because of the perfect acoustic!
“I had the pleasure onstage and off last night. I don’t play the Tchaikovsky Symphony so [Associate Principal Oboe] Barbara Orland and I went out into the audience. At the end of the first movement we turned to each other with mouths agape and said, ‘It sounds like the greatest orchestra in the world!'”
The musicians who have arrived home have come back to spring after the snows of Manhattan. In St. Louis the birds are singing songs much older than Tchaikovsky’s symphonies. But both are familiar songs. We cannot live without them.
More on food: English horn player Cally Banham admired her colleagues’ foodie virtues. “One thing is clear so far,” she told me, “the members of the St. Louis Symphony are extremely refined foodies, pouncing on the NY opportunity, and many seem particularly versed on the subtle variants of each Ramen place!” Ramen, you’ve been informed. Next time you’re in New York, get some.
She also had some reflections on the recent Carnegie renovations: “Last year was a bit of a shock to see the backstage renovations. I mourned the loss of those hallowed halls of tiny dressing rooms, but the expanded backstage areas have been appointed to capture that old Carnegie charm!”
To give you some idea of the charms, Megan Stout shared this photo of where she and Principal Harp Allegra Lilly warm up. This is a two-harp show.
And here is a view of that divine layer cake that is the Carnegie auditorium, a chorus-eye view from Patty Kofron.
Snowing heavily in New York. A good omen for a Russian symphony.
See and hear Cally Banham talk about The Swan of Tuonela. Hear me talk about the full weekend program. Click.
Every summer before the musicians scatter to music festivals around the world, I ask for their season-to-come hot picks. One of those comes up this week: English horn player Cally Banham solos in Sibelius’ The Swan of Tuonela, John Adams’ My Father Knew Charles Ives, and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5. It’s also a David Robertson week, which is always a hot pick.
Here’s what double bassist Sarah Hogan Kaiser said about Prokofiev 5: “I love the long sweeping melodies, and Prokofiev does a great job of inserting the unexpected here and there—something unusual and delightful that perks up the ear. This is especially true of the fourth movement—the melodies are spritely and pointed, very much giocoso.”