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:
The Powell Hall chandeliers have been lowered for ease of cleaning. Many crystals, much bronze to be made bright and shiny for another season. It’s one of my favorite summer events. It’s so special that former STL Symphony Resident Conductor and current Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Music Director Ward Stare and his friend Anna came to town to give my chandelier photos a sense of scale. Ward returns in December to conduct music from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, with Concertmaster David Halen as violin soloist, and Act II from The Nutcracker.
There was a grand little party on Grand Monday night. The Four Seasons of Fashion featured music–Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons performed with a stunning St. Louis Symphony string ensemble led by Concertmaster David Halen–and classic couture selected by Cameron Silver and worn by long-legged models. Proceeds for the Powell Hall soiree, which included cocktails and fancy bites, go to the orchestra and its Education and Community programs. Miran Halen got the fashion ball rolling last fall and was instrumental in keeping it on course toward the success of Monday night. Everybody was smiling throughout the pre- and post-party and throughout the show, which is always a good sign.
I noticed among the fashionable audience one fashionista was missing, the Symphony’s Associate Principal Concertmaster Heidi Harris. Instead, she was doing the sort of work the Four Seasons of Fashion supports. At the Community Music School Harris gave a master class, free and open to the public and attended by members of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, on the art of performance. Harris offered good work and practice habits along with a bit of Eastern philosophy based on the concept of “effortless action.”
Style, grace, discipline–developing the beauty of being that resonates through the music you make or the clothing you wear or the joy you find among others.
Last summer when I asked the symphony musicians what concerts they were especially anticipating in the 15/16 season, this week’s Ravel, Vivier, Mahler program was high on most lists–No. 2 behind the John Adams Saxophone Concerto and Mahler Symphony No. 5 weekend at Powell and then on the California tour.
The primary reason is the Mahler, the Fourth Symphony, which double bassist David DeRiso describes as the “softer, lighter side of Mahler…. It’s all the swagger of Mahler but with all the pastoral brilliance scaled down.” Horn player Chris Dwyer calls the Fourth “both utterly joyful and sorrowful. The symphony plays right into this orchestra’s strengths,” he adds. “It would be a mistake to miss this one.” Dwyer’s section colleague Julie Thayer concurs, speaking for both Mahler symphonies: “horn players live for that stuff.”
But there are other reasons this program is so popular to the musicians–soprano Susanna Phillips returns to sing Vivier’s Lonely Child and in the final movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. This is her first time back since the orchestra’s historic triumph with Britten’s Peter Grimes at Carnegie Hall in 2013. And the childhood themes that run throughout the show: Mother Goose tales, a child’s dreams of comfort and a vision of heaven. Concertmaster David Halen calls the three works “masterpieces from entirely different soundscapes. I can’t imagine a more incredible program than this.”
Some people find God in the details. Some find the devil. Guest conductor Jun Markl and STL Symphony Concertmaster David Halen find Beethoven in the details following a rehearsal of the Violin Concerto.
Concertmaster David Halen first learned Beethoven’s Violin Concerto from his father–lessons that remain.
Overheard following the Wednesday afternoon rehearsal of the Final Scene from Richard Strauss’ Capriccio, with guest soprano Karita Mattila.
Karita Mattila: I love this hall.
Concertmaster David Halen: This hall loves you.
Mahler Symphony Nos. 4 and 5 give orchestral musicians reasons for being. Symphony No. 4 is the other side of the Mahler moon. It doesn’t provide the signature gorgeous racket of Mahler’s great and grandiose Fifth. The Fourth is Mahler’s shortest symphony, and as double bassist David DeRiso observed: “It’s all the swagger of Mahler with all his pastoral brilliance scaled down, so I don’t have to wear earplugs and can mostly hear myself!”
Also to be heard will be the “transcendent” (hornist Tod Bowermaster’s word) soprano Susanna Phillips, singing both the Mahler 4 and Claude Vivier’s Lonely Child.
Concertmaster David Halen has given this weekend of music (April 2-3) big kudos. For Halen, this program, which includes Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, “is a favorite, because these three pieces are some of the most beautiful scores ever written. All three are masterpieces from entirely different soundscapes. I can’t image a more incredible program than this.”
Principal Trumpet Karin Bliznik has already made her way back to the Aspen Music Festival and School from Tanglewood, but she shares last glimpses of what is known as the Stockbridge Bowl, near Tanglewood, in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.
Bliznik is a member of the artist-faculty at Aspen, as are fellow St. Louis Symphony musicians David Halen, Mark Sparks, Tom Stubbs and Beth Guterman Chu.
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.