The St. Louis Symphony was on the Powell Hall stage rehearsing a program that features Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, “Rhenish,” with new Resident Conductor Gemma New, the day-after Labor Day. The Symphony hits the road to Rolla, Missouri to perform “Rhenish,” Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll Thursday for the Leach Theatre’s 25th-anniversary gala. If you want to witness New’s premiere with the orchestra, this might be the road trip for you.
After the rehearsal, horn players Chris Dwyer and Roger Kaza looked as excited as two kids back to the first day of school. I asked them to say, “Horn.”
The Symphony’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 was an awesome experience last weekend. Awesome in the true meaning of the word–to inspire awe, and, if you go further down the list of meanings, to inspire fear. There is a power both fierce and fearsome in the presence of such art. For some of us, it’s why we keep returning to it
It is somewhat hard to imagine that the musicians making such art are just getting on with their lives like everyone else. During the present St. Louis Symphony baby boom there are infants to be comforted, fed and changed. There are the everyday challenges large and small, plus social media to keep tabs with. Somehow, amidst all that, the Ravel shimmers, Vivier’s Lonely Child delivers a melancholy lullaby, and Mahler’s heaven bursts forth.
But the musicians aren’t just at home practicing one weekend’s concert. There is the next weekend and the one after that. And there are the Community and Education programs the musicians take part in, bringing more intimate forms of awe to smaller venues.
For example, the St. Louis Symphony & St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra side-by-side rehearsal, in which the two best orchestras in the region join for one big rehearsal. David Robertson conducting. The YO musicians sit right next to their heroes and make music with them:
Cortango Orquesta and Principal Harp Allegra Lilly played a Symphony Where You Worship concert at Second Presbyterian Church.
The Creative Music Making concert combined St. Louis Arc, the Maryville University Music Therapy program, musicians from the St. Louis Symphony and more than 30 volunteer entertainers from the St. Louis Arc community.
And musicians gave master classes and a concert at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.
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:
I also saw David Halen’s violin set on a table with Vivaldi music near his chair:
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:
John Adams has been in Powell Hall observing rehearsals of his Scheherazade.2, with Leila Josefowicz as soloist in this mind-blowing violin symphony. Nonesuch Records is here too, recording the Friday and Saturday performances for future release.
With Adams on the scene thoughts of the recent California Tour are not too distant. His Saxophone Concerto, with soloist Timothy McAllister, was a big hit on the tour. In Berkeley and L.A. the Symphony performed Messiaen’s From the Canyons to the Stars…, with pianist Peter Henderson and Principal Horn Roger Kaza receiving high praise from the critics for performing their difficult solo parts with such wondrous musicality. Alex Ross of The New Yorker was one of those critics. He was so taken with Kaza’s performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall that he solicited the hornist to share–for Ross’ indispensible blog therestisnoise–his story of playing From the Canyons extraordinary solo movement while on a float trip in the Grand Canyon.
Read Kaza’s story and link to Ross’ review of the St. Louis Symphony’s Messiaen concert in L.A. Click.
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:
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.
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.”
Last week in my blog post about the Brass Extravaganza, I identified Principal Horn Roger Kaza as conductor of the combined St. Louis Symphony, St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, and a walk-on guest brass ensemble that gave generous performances of a Richard Strauss song and W.C. Handy’s “Saint Louis Blues.”
I was in error. Kaza had the baton for the March from Aida, but it was Associate Principal Horn Thomas Jöstlein who led the Strauss and Handy. I was also informed that Jöstlein’s conducting style included notable “booty shakin'” during the “Saint Louis Blues.” As great as the music of Strauss is, it rarely calls for a booty shake from the conductor.
On Wednesday night the On Stage at Powell community concert series gave it up for brass. The concert featured not only St. Louis Symphony brass musicians, but also members of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra brass section. The true extravaganza component of the evening was the addition of close to 50 amateur brass players who came ready to perform. Principal Horn Roger Kaza conducted a full stage of 80 brass players through music by Richard Strauss and W.C. Handy’s “Saint Louis Blues.” What became immediately obvious to those in the ensemble–who ranged in age from 11 to 80–and to those in the audience was that everybody had practiced–a lot.
Maureen Byrne, Director of Community Programs, managed a folder-full of logistics to make this event happen. In the end, the On Stage at Powell audience and a lot of brass players went home smiling. The Urban Chestnut beer at the post-show party in the foyer was a part of that too.