Patriotism, pride, and percussion filled Powell Hall for the 2017 Joining Forces concert.
Musicians of the St. Louis Symphony, the 399th Army Band, and the United States Air Force Band of Mid-America joined forces to honor veterans and active duty military service members.
The musicians performed powerful pieces of music, including Lincoln Portrait and Stars and Stripes Forever
More than 2,000 people attended the free concert. Neil Cantwell, an Army veteran, attended the concert with a group of veterans.
“I was astounded by it,” Cantwell said. “They played this well.”
While the St. Louis Symphony has a history of working with both military bands, the concert marked the first joint performance at Powell Hall.
“It was quite an honor and amazing experience,” said USAF Band of Mid-America musician Quincy Garner. I think the audience appreciated the music, and I think if we had five more tunes they would’ve stayed for that.”
The concert’s conductors were Kevin McBeth of the St. Louis Symphony, Lt. Col. Michael Willen of the USAF Band of Mid-America, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Benjamin McMillan of the 399th ArmyBand, and Lt. Wilson Wiseof the USAF Band of Mid-America.
There are 3,971 light bulbs in Powell Hall. The stagehands are changing many of them this week. Facilities Director Cynthia Schon informed me that not all the bulbs get changed each year, “Some things are multi-year LED now and some are every second summer (like the chandeliers.) ”
Feel free to count as many as you can in this photo. And then when you’re done, you can come up with an answer to “How many stagehands does it take to change 3,971 light bulbs?”
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.
If you’ve been by Powell Hall recently you may have noticed that it’s been getting a nice spritzing. There’s been a lot of projects, big and small, that have been happening inside and outside of the 91-year-old building this summer. By the time Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone arrives, Powell Hall will be ready. Those of us who work inside…as ready as we’ll ever be.
The scene outside of Powell Hall Friday night, the evening of the final St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra concert of the season, included sights of a diverse audience–young and old, dressy and casual, stylish and chill, a mashup of ethnicities and ages, north siders and south siders, folks from the county, city, country and from across the river. Add to this the excited roars of the crowd emanating from the Circus Flora tent.
I made my way around the backstage areas: in the musicians’ lounge the eternal card game was in progress, orchestra members lounged on sofas and leaned against one another to take selfies. A cake designed for outgoing Resident Conductor Steven Jarvi was in its last wreckage of consumption.
“I still can’t believe we get to play Beethoven 5!” I heard one musician exclaim. It seemed as if the near-capacity audience could hardly believe it as well. People sat rapt, leaning forward in their chairs intently. At the spaces in between movements you could not hear a sound. Once a baby let out a muted cry, but not for long. I’m sure that babies and Beethoven have been heard together many times over the centuries. In no way were such memorable solos by Curt Sellers, oboe, and Hannah Byrne, clarinet, diminshed.
At the end, the audience rose as if great stores of emotional energy had been released. A lot of musician tension was released as well. It was Beethoven’s Fifth they had just performed, after all. “That piece is so long,” one musician said at intermission, proud to have played it and relieved it was over.
Curt Sellers had written the program notes for the first after-intermission piece, Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture. He described the “sweet love song” the English horn plays in that piece, and then he played it beautifully.
The final piece for the season, Stravinsky’s devilishly difficult and delightful The Firebird Suite, came after the third standing ovation for YO Music Director Jarvi that night.
The music goes on, The Firebird will be played again, many of this group of YO musicians will return. But throughout the evening I thought of those leaving–for college, for the rest of their lives to proceed elsewhere. You could hear in the music the complex mixture of accomplishment and loss: in Emily Shaper’s bassoon solos, in the tricky and yet entirely musical flute and piccolo parts played by Leah Peipert and Lynell Cunningham, in Earl Kovacs’ confident clarinet, in Eric Cho’s songful cello, and in the horn solo that leads to the surging finale of The Firebird, played by Eli Pandolfi this night. Eli is the grandson of Roland Pandolfi, one of the great horn players of this era and a former St. Louis Symphony principal. You heard time beginning, time ending, and the continuum as the orchestra joined in full ecstatic harmony. The Firebird is a perfect ending to a YO season, with an ending so sublime because you don’t want it to end. And it never really does. With every exit there is a return. Another entrance made.
Early Wednesday morning the sounds of tabla and sitar came through the office speakers. Shalimar the Clown, Jack Perla’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s novel, is receiving its world premiere at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis this month. So with India as the setting for Rushdie’s story, the Red split (see previous blog post “Red & Green”) is joined by tabla player Javad and sitarist Arjun.
I think I can accurately report that the last time the St. Louis Symphony had tabla on stage was for George Benjamin’s Sudden Time, which also traveled to Carnegie in March 2007.
My guess for sitar: when Ravi Shankar played Powell. I didn’t know for certain that he did, but figured there was no way the most renowned sitar player of modern times would not have played here. Sure enough, November 1, 1970, for an event titled the “Sunday Festival of Music.” Leonard Slatkin conducted the orchestra in the first half of the program, which included Vivaldi’s “Winter” from The Four Seasons and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Tale of the Prince Kalendar” from Scheherazade. After intermission Shankar played a group of ragas with Alla Rakha on tabla and Kamala Chakravarty on tamboura.