I was living in the high-plains town of Havre, Montana when I first heard David Bowie. My friend Scott had just purchased Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and with the intense urgency known to teenagers–which we both were–told me, “You’ve got to listen to this.”
Back then, early 1970s, the Sunday New York Times arrived in Havre by train on Tuesday. Distance was a very real thing, and yet somehow, even in small high-plains towns, you found the stuff that you needed. The stuff that would shake up your world and you would share with your most precious friends. Its how friendship was defined. What the art writer Dave Hickey would call the creation of “communities of desire.”
We listened to that record all night, over and over. In that hard-scrabble town of pickup trucks and rifle racks, we could look up into the night sky blazing with northern stars–no light pollution in north-central Montana–and imagine how “he’d like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds.”
For those of you who read these posts on Facebook, you’re welcome to share your own first-time-with-Bowie stories.
At this time of year each season the orchestra splits. And it is at this time each season I try to explain it.
The St. Louis Symphony is the pit orchestra for the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. I won’t offer any Tales from the Pit–they are too numerous and too harrowing–but suffice to say the space is tight. You try and get the above percussion in there, plus the percussionists and the rest of the Green “split.” Our stagehands manage it every year. (We call the two orchestras “splits,” Green split or Red split.)
So the orchestra must divide to conquer the opera rep. Director of Orchestra Personnel Beth Paine coordinates with musicians and with Opera Theatre as to who goes on which split. Let’s say a conductor wants a certain principal player for his or her production. Beth tries to make that work. Or let’s say a couple in the orchestra wants to be in the same split, or maybe they don’t because one needs to get the kids while the other is playing Strauss. What are the orchestral needs of each production? As you can guess, they usually don’t break down evenly. And then who plays David Bowie and who plays Paul McCartney for the Live at Powell Hall shows? How to make this all work, fairly and artistically, is one of the many things Beth does.
The Link Up concerts this week featured the Red split. Those same musicians rehearsed Verdi’s Macbeth with Stephen Lord the next day. The Greens were in the hall Friday afternoon rehearsing Puccini’s La boheme with Emanuele Andrizzi conducting, and with vocalists Hae Ji Chang (Mimi), Lauren Michelle (Musetta), Anthony Clark Evans (Marcello), and Andrew Haji (Rodolfo). The sound was as full of life as a story of poverty and tragic death can be.
The full St. Louis Symphony gets back together for the last time this season for the Pokemon concerts on Saturday and Sunday. Then it’s Splitsville.
Bassoonist Felicia Foland was eating a vegan lunch with bass trombonist Gerry Pagano and the director of orchestra personnel, Beth Paine, in Costa Mesa, California, when I reached her by phone on Wednesday afternoon. A cloudy day in Costa Mesa, sunny in St. Louis. Go figure.
“It takes less time to find vegan food here than in Missouri,” Felicia confirmed, especially one in a “groovy strip mall.” Travels went smoothly and the musicians bided their time before an afternoon rehearsal at the Soka Performing Arts Center–John Adams’ Saxophone Concerto and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 opens the tour. It’s a hall the orchestra has not played before, which is just one reason why it’s good to have a pre-show rehearsal.
Meanwhile, the most recent news around the hall is the announcement of the Tribute to David Bowie concert, with tickets going on sale to the general public Thursday at 10am, STL Symphony social-media subscribers can buy now. Brent Havens, known for his Music of… concerts (Music of Led Zeppelin, Music of Michael Jackson, etc.) will bring a hot band and a cool vocalist to play our Bowie favorites. My blog post after his passing “reached” nearly 23,000 Facebook friends. I had mentioned that the St. Louis Symphony had not yet played Bowie music–emphasis on “not yet”–so it’s appropriate to say that this concert comes by popular demand. (And in-house demand, our Marketing department was on this like a lightning bolt across the face.) Put on your red shows and dance the blues June 17.
It was said in a St. Louis Symphony staff meeting on Monday afternoon that “two giants of 20th century music died in the last few days.” Our farewells were said to Pierre Boulez last week. Today I checked if any music by David Bowie had been performed by the St. Louis Symphony. I could find none. But let’s hope for the future. “Turn and face the strange…”