Although children shouted for joy when they saw the snow coming down and learned of the school closings throughout the region this morning, I’m willing to imagine that a few thousand schoolkids that were scheduled to bus to Powell Hall for the Tales of Shakespeare Education Concerts were somewhat disappointed. I know everyone at Powell Hall was.
But the St. Louis Symphony hardly ever stops. Musicians have been playing music and teaching music here, there and everywhere morning, noon and night over the last few days. Director of Community Programs Maureen Byrne, one of the busiest women in show business, has been with them every stop of the way and provided these photos.
The St. Louis Symphony flies home Wednesday evening from a highly successful California tour–and not only because of the food the musicians found. A few blurbs to flaunt: Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle on the Messiaen: “a brilliant and vividly colored performance”; Georgia Rowe of San Jose Mercury News on both programs (Adams-Mahler & Messiaen) in Berkeley: “Best of 2016? It’s already on my list”; and Timothy Mangan of the Orange County Register on the Mahler 5 at Soka University: “a distinguished and communicative performance.” Principal Horn Roger Kaza and Principal Trumpet Karin Bliznik both received numerous shout outs from the California press. There will be more reviews to come, which you can read in their entirety here: click.
I reached Principal Timpani Shannon Wood at LAX. “Last night went really well,” he said in what sounded like an understatement. Shannon said Resident Conductor Steven Jarvi, who was in the hall, told him, “It was the most exciting and clearest to hear of all the Messiaen concerts. Part of that is the clarity of Disney Hall,” Shannon said. “There’s lots of space and it’s such a beautiful hall.”
Shannon had an especially busy day on Tuesday, giving master classes and lessons for five hours at USC, then rehearsal, a break before the show and then From the Canyons to the Stars.
Shannon commented on the bonding experience the musicians have while on tour. Like most St. Louisans, the orchestra lives all over the city and the region, so opportunities to come together away from the stage are not entirely common. “It was my first California tour with the orchestra,” Shannon said, “and it was a really great opportunity to talk with people I normally don’t talk with. Robertson was hanging out with us after the concerts too.”
And then there was the food. “Out here you can have any cuisine you want, and quality cuisine,” Shannon said. “Dim sum, shabu-shabu, which comes with a big pot–you choose your broth and then you choose your ingredients and you cook it. I had Korean barbecue with a timpanist from the L.A. Phil.”
Shannon summed up the California Tour: “Great music, bonding, great food, seeing old friends, being in a geographically wonderous place.” Plus time for Shannon and Principal Flute Mark Sparks to visit a vineyard near Sonoma. Here are some of Shannon Wood’s photos:
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.
Principal Flute Mark Sparks told me recently that when he was first learning the opening to Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun back in his student days, he would spend hours in his rehearsal space practicing the very first note. He’s gotten much beyond that first note.
More from my discussions with musicians who are the “inner voices,” or play in supporting roles in the orchestra. This from Jennifer Nitchman, who plays with Principal Mark Sparks and Associate Principal Andrea Kaplan in the flute section. “My job is to make Mark and Andrea sound as good as they can. For example, when they stop to take a breath, I may play louder for that one note, as loud as if they were both playing. Then I immediately go back to blending with them on the next note.”
My gala experience began by photographing Lang Lang’s conversation with the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra. External Affairs VP Adam Crane served as moderator at the theater in the new KDHX studios a block from Powell. The YO musicians were a rapt audience, with Lang Lang talking about his career–when an orchestra calls and asks if you can play a certain concerto, the answer is always yes, at least in the early years–and the importance of being an ambassador of the art form. He also talked about performing with the Gangnam Style guy.
In the evening was the big show, with dinner before and dancing after. Symphony Principal Flute Mark Sparks played some revelatory Bach, and Lang Lang did his phenomenal thing.
I must say of the entire organization, we did well. And when it was time to let loose, we partied like it was 1999.