The scene outside of Powell Hall Friday night, the evening of the final St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra concert of the season, included sights of a diverse audience–young and old, dressy and casual, stylish and chill, a mashup of ethnicities and ages, north siders and south siders, folks from the county, city, country and from across the river. Add to this the excited roars of the crowd emanating from the Circus Flora tent.
I made my way around the backstage areas: in the musicians’ lounge the eternal card game was in progress, orchestra members lounged on sofas and leaned against one another to take selfies. A cake designed for outgoing Resident Conductor Steven Jarvi was in its last wreckage of consumption.
“I still can’t believe we get to play Beethoven 5!” I heard one musician exclaim. It seemed as if the near-capacity audience could hardly believe it as well. People sat rapt, leaning forward in their chairs intently. At the spaces in between movements you could not hear a sound. Once a baby let out a muted cry, but not for long. I’m sure that babies and Beethoven have been heard together many times over the centuries. In no way were such memorable solos by Curt Sellers, oboe, and Hannah Byrne, clarinet, diminshed.
At the end, the audience rose as if great stores of emotional energy had been released. A lot of musician tension was released as well. It was Beethoven’s Fifth they had just performed, after all. “That piece is so long,” one musician said at intermission, proud to have played it and relieved it was over.
Curt Sellers had written the program notes for the first after-intermission piece, Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture. He described the “sweet love song” the English horn plays in that piece, and then he played it beautifully.
The final piece for the season, Stravinsky’s devilishly difficult and delightful The Firebird Suite, came after the third standing ovation for YO Music Director Jarvi that night.
The music goes on, The Firebird will be played again, many of this group of YO musicians will return. But throughout the evening I thought of those leaving–for college, for the rest of their lives to proceed elsewhere. You could hear in the music the complex mixture of accomplishment and loss: in Emily Shaper’s bassoon solos, in the tricky and yet entirely musical flute and piccolo parts played by Leah Peipert and Lynell Cunningham, in Earl Kovacs’ confident clarinet, in Eric Cho’s songful cello, and in the horn solo that leads to the surging finale of The Firebird, played by Eli Pandolfi this night. Eli is the grandson of Roland Pandolfi, one of the great horn players of this era and a former St. Louis Symphony principal. You heard time beginning, time ending, and the continuum as the orchestra joined in full ecstatic harmony. The Firebird is a perfect ending to a YO season, with an ending so sublime because you don’t want it to end. And it never really does. With every exit there is a return. Another entrance made.
“The Cuckoo Song” goes “sumer is acumen in.” The Green and Red split blog has been written and posted. Now it’s time for the e.e. cummings’ quotation: “Damn everything but the circus.”
Circus Flora takes up the parking lot east of Powell Hall for its 30th-anniversary season, “Pastime.” The rain will pass. The twitchy strains of Verdi’s Macbeth will move from Powell Hall rehearsals to the Opera Theatre stage.
The Symphony staff will take time to pet the circus horses once in a while. “Sumer is acumen in.”
You leave work for a few days and look what happens.
The Circus Flora big top went up lickety-split a couple weeks ago, so now the back windows of Powell Hall afford us views of dogs and horses and circus folk. Shows begin this week. The music of Handel’s Richard the Lionheart made a nice accompaniment to our views of circus world. Opera Theatre rehearsal on the Powell Stage, acrobats on the back lot. “Damn everything but the circus!” said e.e. cummings.
Powell Hall is receiving a circus makeover for A Winter Fable, the Circus Flora-St. Louis Symphony collaboration playing this weekend, December 12-14.
The musicians return to the hall Thursday for rehearsal. In the meantime, they are teaching and performing around the region. Here is Principal Trombone Tim Myers teaching a class at Parkway Central Middle School.
Myers has taught me a lot about music over the years. I bet he could teach anything and be inspiring.
Also this week, a Tower Grove Park concert in the Piper Palm House with Karin Bliznik, trumpet; Dave DeRiso, double bass; Tom Stubbs, percussion; and Patti Wolf, piano, Tuesday night.
Thursday, bass trombone player Gerry Pagano makes his 20th annual visit to St. Agnes Home as part of SymphonyCares. He brings the whole section: Myers, Amanda Stewart and Jonathan Reycraft. That concert is a highlight of the year every year.
Everyone at the St. Louis Symphony was deeply saddened by the news of the loss of Ivor David Balding, co-founder of the magnificent Circus Flora. Circus Flora just began pitching its big top behind Powell Hall, on Monday, as it does each summer. And each summer I announce Circus Flora’s arrival with the e.e. cummings’ line “Damn everything but the circus.” I don’t know if David Balding ever had a mantra, but that one would have been fitting.
Balding was one of the greatest artists to have worked in St. Louis. His early career is a who’s who of American theater, including associations with legends such as Eva La Gallienne and Joe Papp. Balding produced some landmark productions of New York theater, including The Knack, The Man in the Glass Booth, and Lenny. In the circus world he produced the famed Jimmy Chipperfield’s Circus World in Europe, and he had a hand in the formation of another great one-ring circus troupe, Big Apple Circus. He co-founded Circus Flora in 1985, and St. Louis has been blessed by its artistry ever since.
I cherish to have been in the presence of his kind and generous spirit and seeing the product of that brilliant artistic mind at work in the Circus Flora big top, and in recent years, at Powell Hall. The Symphony performs a new show with Circus Flora in December. David was a warm and comforting presence on the stage. I know we will feel that it is still there.