Flying Home

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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:

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall
A visit to Din Tai Fung
A visit to Din Tai Fung
Lers Ros Thai
Lers Ros Thai
California vineyard
California vineyard
Shannon Wood-Mark Sparks selfie
Shannon Wood-Mark Sparks selfie
Shannon at the winery
Shannon at the winery
California sunset
California sunset

Tour Foodies

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Why do orchestras tour? Ann Choomack believes that tours are “for eating as much as you can.” The Symphony piccolo player has been astonished by the land of creative food production. “I’ve never had soup dumplings or Korean barbecue. I’ve had the best doughnuts, the best sushi”–although not together. “One of the best things I’ve eaten was the homemade pop tart at Nickel Diner” in downtown L.A.

Tours are for food. Left to right: Andrew Cuneo, Helen Kim, Elizabeth Chung, Melody Lee, David Kim, Ann Choomack, Adam Crane, Shawn Weil, and Daniel Lee at Korean barbecue restaurant.
Tours are for food. Left to right: Andrew Cuneo, Helen Kim, Elizabeth Chung, Melody Lee, David Kim, Ann Choomack, Adam Crane, Shawn Weil, and Daniel Lee at Korean barbecue restaurant.

The music has been extraordinary too. “We played Messiaen for kids yesterday,” an Education Concert for kindergartners and a few older at Berkeleys’ Zellerbach Hall. “The kids were very attentive and engaged,” Ann said, “We did an abbreviated introduction with a couple of demonstrations, then we played about two-thirds of the piece. You could feel the energy in the hall. They’re young and open.”

Tuesday is the last night of the tour at Walt Disney Concert Hall. For Ann, it’s her first time playing there and adds “It’s an exciting place for it to be the last show.”

And the last night for Messiaen’s From the Canyons to the Stars. “Each time playing the Messiaen it’s more natural; we’re more at ease. And each time it feels like a different piece. It has been awesome to listen to Roger Kaza in the Mahler 5, and then he plays the Messiaen horn part from memory. He’s so laid back about it, even with all the stress of travel. He’s solid.”

From the Desert to the Bay

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The orchestra left the bright skies of Palm Desert Friday morning for the clouds and rain of Berkeley in the afternoon. I reached second violinist Andrea Jarrett just after she and her fellow musicians had reached the hotel. “We can’t see anything past the hotel,” she told me. “Yesterday in Palm Desert we faced the mountains.”

Andrea Jarrett. Palm Desert view.
Andrea Jarrett. Palm Desert view.

Last night’s concert at the McCallum Theatre “was awesome,” she said. “The hall was kind of dry,” she reported, “but as challenging as that was I think it made us listen more closely and we played tighter. The concert was almost sold out so there was a lot of energy. I find we’re getting settled into the pieces. We don’t have to count so frantically in the John Adams’ [Saxophone Concerto] because we’re feeling more comfortable.”

Andrea Jarrett. Berkeley view.
Andrea Jarrett. Berkeley view.

Many of the musicians of the St. Louis Symphony are serious foodies. Andrea offered up a not-so-serious, yet delicious sounding culinary discovery: Dole Whip. “Yesterday my boyfriend and I were on the main drag of Palm Desert and discovered it. They take Dole pineapple juice and whip it into soft serve.”

Friday night it’s Adams and Mahler Symphony 5 again at UC-Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall. Then a day off for the ensemble that remains to play Messiaen’s From the Canyons to the Stars Sunday afternoon. Andrea is among those. “We’re hoping to do a lot of food/coffee exploring. Plus, I knit in my spare time and there’s a yarn shop really close to the hotel. There’s a particular brand of yarn I found on Instagram, and they have it there. Very hipster yarn.”

Music Just Is

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Music is abstract. Igor Stravinsky said that music was “essentially powerless to express anything at all.” Leonard Bernstein instructed millions watching his Young People’s Concerts on television, “Music is never about anything. Music just is.”

Leonard Bernstein teaches music appreciation on American television. This really happened.
Leonard Bernstein teaches music appreciation on American television. This really happened.

Any yet, and yet, and yet, music, as with Edward Hopper paintings (see previous post) invites meaning, invites interpretation and narrative. Beethoven’s “Eroica” may not be about anything, but it sure seems like it does. We cloak the music in composer biographies, in its historical moment. We add imagery, as the St. Louis Symphony will for Messiaen’s From the Canyons to the Stars this season. We supply dancers or even a circus to the musical experience. Somehow, as do Hopper’s solitary women, the music maintains its integrity. It just is. Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring has remained inviolable, even after it was used to choreograph dinosaur battles in Disney’s Fantasia.

To allow the music to just be, to allow it no past or future, suspension rather than resolution, as Marks Strand puts it in relation to Hopper’s paintings, is an unnerving proposition. “…For many of us this is intolerable,” Strand writes, “…this unpleasant erasure of narrative.”

Ye we may realize the shattering poignancy of art.