Hot Picks: No. 1

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No. 1 on the St. Louis Symphony musicians’ hit parade for season 16/17: Alpine Symphony, March 10-11, 2017.

Stephane Deneve. Photo by Drew Farrell.
Stephane Deneve. Photo by Drew Farrell.

Stephane Deneve receives high marks a a favorite among guest conductors. Double bassist Sarah Hogan Kaiser writes: “He brings to the podium his contagious energy and excitement for making music. He is so demanding of the orchestra, in the kindest, most sincere way, as if we are all working together to create the finest music ever played. (We are!) But his humility in this quest results in some extremely fine and enthusiastic playing from the orchestra.”

The program features Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Steven Osborne in his STL Symphony debut, followed by Strauss’ magnificent Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony). Associate Concertmaster Heidi Harris says Strauss’ music depicts a mountain journey: “…ascending into the forest, meadows, waterfalls and brooks, getting lost along the way, summits and visions, storms, sunset, and nightfall.”

Although musicians from each orchestra section share their excitement for An Alpine Symphony, it’s an especially big night for the horns. Julie Thayer writes: “Strauss wrote very challenging horn parts for this piece, but he writes so well for the instrument (his father was a horn player) that it’s the best kind of challenge and one to which our section will certainly rise. It’s an amazingly pictorial piece and for me evokes such beautiful imagery.”

And it’s the No. 1 Hot Pick of the season!

Hot Picks: No. 3

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A program deep in the American grain: John Adams’ The Chairman Dances, Korngold’s Violin Concerto, and Dvorak’s “From the New World” Symphony. It’s a program the Symphony musicians love from top to bottom.I love Adams’ Chairman Dances,” says first violinist Dana Edson Myers, “and really enjoy David Robertson’s electric interpretations.”

Gil Shaham. Photo by Luke Ratray.
Gil Shaham. Photo by Luke Ratray.

“I am really looking forward to having Gil Shaham play the Korngold Concerto with us,” says Associate Principal Cello Melissa Brooks. “He plays it better than anyone.” Double bassist Sarah Hogan Kaiser is also looking forward to playing with Shaham, “To me, [the Korngold] sounds like sweeping movie music. Gil is one of my favorite soloists that comes to town because I just love his playing, but he also seems like such a down-to-earth person and we have a great time making music with him.” The St. Louis Symphony has quite a history with Korngold’s Violin Concerto. The orchestra played the world premiere of the work with Jascha Heifetz at Kiel Opera House in 1947, the eminent Vladimir Golschmann conducting.

David Robertson conducts this New World Symphony weekend, January 13-15, 2017, which concludes with Dvorak’s musical response to his late 19th-century American sojourn, which included time the Bohemian composer spent in a Czech community in Iowa. Many American audiences hear the voices of their nation interpreted through a foreigner’s sensibility. Others may hear a foreigner’s longing for his homeland. Leonard Bernstein went so far as to describe the symphony’s famous “Goin’ Home” theme, often referred to as a “Negro spiritual,” as “a nice Czech melody by Dvorak.”

However you hear Dvorak’s Ninth, it is an evocative sonic message written from our soil and from our air. Cally Banham plays the enigmatc theme, and calls the “New World” Symphony “a pieceĀ  I hold closely to my heart, as it contains the most iconic solo written for my instrument, the English horn. Finding the right nuances in the solo is a challenge that lasts a whole career, and each performance is fulfilling in a different way.”

Flutist Jennifer Nitchman adds that it “has lots of second flute solos” too.

Thursday: A break from the Hot Pick Top 5 countdown because it’s Postcard Thursday with Celeste Golden Boyer.

A Shape-Shifting Symphony

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Last week I talked to double bassist Sarah Hogan Kaiser aboutĀ  the Carnegie concert, coming up this Friday night, March 20, in New York City. She talked about the famous Carnegie acoustic, without in any way denigrating the acoustic in Powell Hall. Powell has a great sound too. But one of the biggest differences, she told me, was the acoustic on stage. At Carnegie, she will hear instruments she has not heard before. During Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, for instance, Kaiser usually is seated behind the cellos, but on the Carnegie stage she will hear a lot more than the celli–the oboes, perhaps, or even the triangle. It makes for different choices in her own playing, different ideas about blending, or providing contrast or support. It makes for a different Tchaikovsky 4, because music is a living thing, changing, shape-shifting, taking different forms wherever it goes, whether in mid-town St. Louis or mid-town Manhattan.

Sarah Hogan Kaiser in the background among the basses
Sarah Hogan Kaiser in the background among the basses [Photo credit: DILIP VISHWANAT]