Deborah Bloom

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The finale to the St. Louis Symphony’s subscription season included a number of thunderous ovations, which were fitting for the conclusion to a stellar season of music. The Planets brought down the house, which is just what the piece was made for.

Debbie Bloom and Jooyeon Kong in the classroom
Debbie Bloom and Jooyeon Kong in the classroom

One of the most poignant ovations was for second violinist Deborah Bloom, who retires at the end of this season. After intermission David Robertson gave a warm testimonial of Debbie’s decades of service to the orchestra, with a special mention of the work she has done in Education and Community Programs. I’ve had the great good fortune to observe Debbie in the classroom, presenting her “Mole Music” program, which is something of a music-in-the-schools classic. In that tale, Mole takes up the violin and changes his life and the lives of others. I’ve seen students rapt by Debbie’s playing and her storytelling. And I’ve seen her just as attentive to the students’ questions and ideas.

Debbie received a generous standing ovation from an SRO Powell Hall, for the great music made and shared, and the lives that have been changed through the playing, the teaching and the listening.

 

399th Army Band

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The St. Louis Symphony was proud and honored to host the 399th Army Band from Ft. Leonard Wood on Friday. A group of 40+ soldiers arrived for an open rehearsal of the Music You Know: Storytelling concert, so were treated to David Robertson taking the orchestra through Bernstein’s Candide Overture,  Vitali’s Chaconne in G minor with STL Symphony violinist Celeste Golden Boyer, Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries and other popular works.

Before the show a group met with flutist Jennifer Nitchman, who is a veteran of the U.S. Army Field Band. She told them she was more the Private Benjamin type of soldier, a cultural reference that was lost on them. Maybe it streams on Netflix.

After the rehearsal there was lunch from Pappy’s, and then master class with the Symphony’s Will James, percussion, Ann Choomack, flute, and Jeffrey Strong, trumpet, making use of the stage at KDHX and a practice room at Jazz at the Bistro.

Director of Community Programs Maureen Byrne put it all together. Here are some pics.

399th Army Band
399th Army Band
STL Symphony flutist Jennifer Nitchman meets members of 399th.
STL Symphony flutist Jennifer Nitchman meets members of 399th.
STL Symphony Associate Principal Horn Thomas Jostlein meets a former student, Jeff Spenner. Spenner told me he drives from Ft. Leonard Wood to Powell Hall almost every weekend for a Symphony concert.
STL Symphony Associate Principal Horn Thomas Jostlein meets a former student, Jeff Spenner. Spenner told me he drives from Ft. Leonard Wood to Powell Hall almost every weekend for a Symphony concert.
In the foyer
In the foyer
Soldiers arrive for lunch and master class at the Stage @ KDHX.
Soldiers arrive for lunch and master class at the Stage @ KDHX.
Jazz on the stage
Jazz on the stage
Band members listen to colleagues.
Band members listen to colleagues.
STL Symphony trumpet player Jeffrey Strong gives some instruction.
STL Symphony trumpet player Jeffrey Strong gives some instruction.
Jeffrey Strong and STL Symphony piccolo player Ann Choomack with members of the 399th.
Jeffrey Strong and STL Symphony piccolo player Ann Choomack with members of the 399th.
Principal Percussion Will James talks with 399th drummers.
Principal Percussion Will James talks with 399th drummers.
Hats and sticks
Hats and sticks

 

A Portrait of the Conductor as a Young Man

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David Robertson is a native Californian, born and raised in Santa Monica, which made it easier for him to get to the L.A. Phil when he could. He remembers William Kraft as the Principal Timpani of that orchestra. Shannon Wood performs Kraft’s Timpani Concerto No. 2, “The Grand Encounter,” with the St. Louis Symphony this weekend, Robertson conducting.

Conductor-to-be "Dave" Robertson looks dubious.
Conductor-to-be “Dave” Robertson looks dubious.

On at least one occasion–see documentation above, ca. 1968-69–the young Robertson met Kraft when the timpanist moved to the podium to conduct. The caption reads: “Instructions From El Maestro. William Kraft, head of percussion section of Philharmonic, conducted Sunday’s concert for young people. He’s pointing out part of a score to Dave Robertson, who plays French horn in All-City Honor Orchestra, and Lisa Martin, who plays violin.”

Before Mahler, During Mahler

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During the rehearsal break for Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 I strolled the stage and took notice of the elegant device holding a double bass together:

Bass bungee
Bass bungee

I also saw David Halen’s violin set on a table with Vivaldi music near his chair:

Table and violin
Table, Vivaldi, and violin

And before the Mahler 4 began, on Wednesday members of the St. Louis Symphony brass visited Brittany Woods Middle School. Even with a David Robertson program to practice this week, the brass took time out to share some musical knowledge with young people:

Left to right: Lucy Mosier, Orchestra Director @ University City High; Gerard Pagano, bass trombone; Amanda Stewart, Associate Principal Trombone; Jeffrey Stone, trumpet; Roger Kaza, Principal Horn; Karin Bliznik, Principal Trumpet; Rob Giles, Band Director @ Brittany Woods Middle School
Left to right: Lucy Mosier, Orchestra Director @ University City High; Gerard Pagano, bass trombone; Amanda Stewart, Associate Principal Trombone; Jeffrey Strong, trumpet; Roger Kaza, Principal Horn; Karin Bliznik, Principal Trumpet; Rob Giles, Band Director @ Brittany Woods Middle School

Superheroine

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Scheherazade.2 is not your storytelling heroine who pacifies her murderous Sultan husband with 1,001 nightly narratives. She is a woman warrior, which was made dramatically clear by Leila Josefowicz’s performance of John Adams’ violin symphony Friday morning at Powell Hall. The first movement of the work left me breathless (I know this is a cliche, but I truly had to remind myself to breathe). The second movement began with the orchestra on its own, with Josefowicz standing center stage as if she was ready to take on all comers. It’s an astonishing piece, an astonishing performance, with brutal phrases, stabbing gestures, and in the fourth and final movement an ultimate stillness that again caught my breath. They do it all again Saturday night. Go!

A hug following the Thursday rehearsal: David Robertson, Leila Josefowicz, John Adams
A hug following the Thursday rehearsal: David Robertson, Leila Josefowicz, John Adams
A very happy trio
A very happy trio

Thanks to second violin Becky Boyer Hall for the photos.

Returning to Carnegie

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Good news on the eve of the California tour: Carnegie Hall announced its 2016-17 season today, and the St. Louis Symphony is a part of it. John Adams’ oratorio Gospel According to the Other Mary appears on the Carnegie stage March 31, 2017. David Robertson conducts the Symphony and the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, under the direction of Amy Kaiser, for this concert that is part of Adams’ 70th birthday celebration. Mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor joins the company, reprising the title role that Adams wrote for her. For the Carnegie site: click.

Mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor performs with the St. Louis Symphony & Chorus at Carnegie Hall in 2017.
Mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor performs with the St. Louis Symphony & Chorus at Carnegie Hall in 2017.

The Mulholland Drive Effect

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There’s a scene in David Lynch’s eerie masterpiece, Mulholland Drive, in which the entire film turns and becomes a distorted mirror image of itself. I had a friend who saw the Cannes Festival screening of it, and because it was late in the festival and she’d already seen dozens of movies, she nodded off for just a moment. When she woke up, she thought another movie had started.

David Robertson conducts Mahler's Symphony No. 5 at Powell Hall this weekend.
David Robertson conducts Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 at Powell Hall this weekend.

The third movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 is like that. It was actually the first movement he composed of the entire work, and it’s incredible to imagine how Mahler could produce a beginning and an ending from this two-hearted center. In Mahler 5 doors open, doors close and then re-open. “How did we get here?” I asked myself often while listening to recordings of the work.

During the St. Louis Symphony performances of Mahler’s Fifth this weekend, you’ll be wide awake. With David Robertson conducting, it’s an exhilarating ride.

A Show Before the Show

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David Robertson, photographer Deborah O’Grady, and the St. Louis Symphony give a 20 minute introduction–followed by an intermission–prior to the performance of Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles… (From the Canyons to the Stars…) this Saturday. For the 7 o’clock Pre-Concert Conversation, you may hear more music by this singular 20th century composer.

Cedar Breaks. Photo by Deborah O'Grady.
Cedar Breaks. Photo by Deborah O’Grady.

St. Louis Symphony violinist Helen Kim and pianist Nina Ferrigno will perform Messiaen’s Thème et Variations, an early work from the 1930s. Symphony flutist Jennifer Nitchman and Ferrigno will perform Messiaen’s Le Merle noir, one of the composer’s middle period and birdsong-related works. Robertson will use these examples of Messiaen’s earlier work to discuss the composer’s musical evolution, the journey that led to rapturous From the Canyons to the Stars….

Pierre Boulez

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A giant has departed. You have heard and read, and undoubtedly will hear and read more, about the musical genius Pierre Boulez, who died Tuesday at age 90 at his home in Baden-Baden, Germany. It was not a shock, since many in the music world knew that he had been ailing. His influence has been enormous, on music itself and on those individuals who make it. One of those is David Robertson, who for several years was music director of Paris’ Ensemble Intercontemporain, a group that continues to explore the boundaries of sound and music making, which Boulez founded.

Pierre Boulez, 1968
Pierre Boulez, 1968

Robertson shared these words about his mentor and friend: “Pierre Boulez was creative in the deepest sense of the word. His genius touched and continues to inspire a huge number of people. His engagement with the world of music altered its course. He is a singularity. His legacy will resonate through time.”

Robertson may be heard talking about Boulez during NPR’s All Things Considered on Wednesday.

Coming Round Again

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Double bassist Donald Martin made his way through the off stage percussion prior to the performance of Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra Saturday night to tell me that his very first concert with the St. Louis Symphony was also the Symphony premiere of the work: October 20, 1962, with Eleazar de Carvalho conducting at Kiel Opera House. After telling me that Don made his way back through the percussion to the stage to play it again, this time with David Robertson conducting.

Donald Martin
Donald Martin