A Feast of Song

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Now that the Top Hot 5 has been charted, it’s good to be reminded that every concert with the St. Louis Symphony is a hot pick, for you and for the musicians. The music that matters most to us does so for many reasons, and our feelings for music changes, sometimes inexplicably. I was indifferent to Bartok when I started working for the Symphony, then David Robertson came and led the orchestra in The Wooden Prince and Cantata profana and the Second Violin Concerto with Leonidas Kavakos and what a fool I’d been. I’m looking ahead to the Concerto for Orchestra (April 21-23) with muffled impatience. We change and we respond to the world differently as we change, sensibility shifts.

Angie Smart
Angie Smart

And there is memory, which is a place where music resides. It haunts us, even shocks us at its power when suddenly a tune passes through and we find ourselves in another place, another time feeling emotions we thought were forgotten. Music can be a trigger that propels us. It can take us where we need to go.

I thought of this after re-reading first violinist Angie Smart’s remembrance of singing Belshazzar’s Feast (February 24-25) as a schoolgirl. The powerful weight of homesickness lifted by song. Here’s her story:

“When I turned 13, I auditioned for a place at a prestigious music school in Manchester, England and won a scholarship to attend that fall. It was a boarding school and so I lived there for five years before leaving to study in the U.S. Since I am from a very large family—I have seven siblings—my parents could not afford to bring me home very often, and in that first year I was frequently very homesick. If you have not experienced this then consider yourself lucky, but it is a dull sickness in your stomach that takes days to subside.

“In my first year at music school we put on a performance of Belshazzar’s Feast. Every pupil in the school was involved in this production. I was neither old enough nor good enough to play in the orchestra, but I sang in the choir! When it came time to perform, I sang my heart out. It was quite simply the most powerful musical and emotional experience of my life, to be in the heart of such a phenomenal piece of music. I said goodbye to homesickness and never looked back. This piece propelled me into a ferociously committed passion for music, and choral music with orchestra remains my favourite musical experience today.”