Stage Exits

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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.

Stage exit 1
Stage exit 1

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.

Stage exit 2
Stage exit 2

“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.

Stage exit 3
Stage exit 3

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.

Stage exit 4
Stage exit 4

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.

Stage exit 5
Stage exit 5

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.

Stage exit 6
Stage exit 6

 

 

 

Side by Side

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One of the highlights of the season for both the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra and the St. Louis Symphony is the annual side-by-side rehearsal. Video intern Nicola Muscroft and I were there capturing images and conducting interviews with YO harpist Caroline Robinson, STL Symphony Principal Harp Allegra Lilly and Music Director David Robertson.

Effortless Action

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There was a grand little party on Grand Monday night. The Four Seasons of Fashion featured music–Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons performed with a stunning St. Louis Symphony string ensemble led by Concertmaster David Halen–and classic couture selected by Cameron Silver and worn by long-legged models. Proceeds for the Powell Hall soiree, which included cocktails and fancy bites, go to the orchestra and its Education and Community programs. Miran Halen got the fashion ball rolling last fall and was instrumental in keeping it on course toward the success of Monday night. Everybody was smiling throughout the pre- and post-party and throughout the show, which is always a good sign.

Heidi Harris teaches master class.
Heidi Harris teaches master class.

I noticed among the fashionable audience one fashionista was missing, the Symphony’s Associate Principal Concertmaster Heidi Harris. Instead, she was doing the sort of work the Four Seasons of Fashion supports. At the Community Music School Harris gave a master class, free and open to the public and attended by members of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, on the art of performance. Harris offered good work and practice habits along with a bit of Eastern philosophy based on the concept of “effortless action.”

Style, grace, discipline–developing the beauty of being that resonates through the music you make or the clothing you wear or the joy you find among others.

Awesomeness

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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:

David Robertson conducts the side-by-side rehearsal.
David Robertson conducts the side-by-side rehearsal.
Side-by-side rehearsal
Side-by-side rehearsal

Cortango Orquesta and Principal Harp Allegra Lilly played a Symphony Where You Worship concert at Second Presbyterian Church.

Principal Harp Allegra Lilly gives a tour of the strings.
Principal Harp Allegra Lilly gives a tour of the strings.

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.

St. Louis trumpet player Jeffrey Strong proudly wears his Community Music Making T-shirt.
St. Louis trumpet player Jeffrey Strong proudly wears his Community Music Making T-shirt.

And musicians gave master classes and a concert at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.

Principal Horn Roger Kaza gives instruction that brings smiles at SIUE.
Principal Horn Roger Kaza gives instruction that brings smiles at SIUE.

In a word: awesome.

At the Very Top

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St. Louis Symphony Conductor Laureate Leonard Slatkin, along with his Berlioz Romeo et Juliette duties last week, spent Saturday morning rehearsing the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, the organization he helped found in 1970.

Leonard Slatkin conducts the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra.
Leonard Slatkin conducts the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra.

I was given the opportunity to ask him what the formation of the YO meant to him. Here is some of what he said: “When I look back, almost 50 years, and think of all the good things we were able to accomplish in this city, at the very top is the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra.”

Oh, the Places We Go

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Since I was working on the next Family Concert program, The Zany World of Dr. Seuss, (Sunday, March 13, 3:00pm), a Dr. Seuss title easily came to mind. The places the St. Louis Symphony Education and Community programs went this weekend included:

St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra rehearsal, Steven Jarvi conductor, Aidan Ip, soloist, at Powell Hall
St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra rehearsal, Steven Jarvi conductor, Aidan Ip, soloist, at Powell Hall

St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra rehearsal on the Powell Hall stage. Aidan Ip is a YO Concerto Competition Co-Winner rehearsing Conus’s Violin Concerto in E minor with the orchestra on Saturday afternoon. Leah Piepert, the other Co-Winner, will be performing Hüe’s Fantaisie for Flute and Orchestra in the same YO concert, Friday, March 18, 8:00pm. Free!

Salem United Methodist Church
Salem United Methodist Church

On Sunday evening, February 28, the entire congregation at Salem United Methodist Church rose to its feet to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus, under the leadership of Kevin McBeth, was also joined by Associate Principal Clarinet Diana Haskell for “Amazing Grace” in this Symphony Where You Worship concert.

Kristin Ahlstrom and Eva Kozma at the SLU Cancer Center
Kristin Ahlstrom and Eva Kozma at the SLU Cancer Center

Monday morning, February 29, Symphony violinists Kristin Ahlstrom and Eva Kozma performed in the infusion room at SLU Cancer Center, making a number of patients’ chemo treatments much less stressful. Patients actually schedule their treatments so they can take in a concert, part of the SymphonyCares program.

A One and a Two

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Members of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra set up to play some Halloween music at the Saint Louis Zoo on Saturday. All they needed was a conductor, or conductors. A number of folks came up–in costume, no less–took the baton, and led the band.

conduct us

IMGP4592 (2)

heart pants

orange suit

princesses

batman

Summer Travel

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Everyone involved with the St. Louis Symphony is very proud of Aleskis Martin, Grant Riew and Ryan Wahidi today. These three musicians (clarinet, cello and double bass, respectively) from the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra performed as members of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America (NYO-USA) at Carnegie Hall this weekend. The NYO-USA is being conducted by Charles Dutoit this summer, and touring with solo pianist YUNDI. St. Louis Symphony Principal Viola Beth Guterman Chu was one of the NYO-USA musician coaches. Symphony staffers Adam Crane and Maureen Byrne were just a couple of the St. Louisans on hand for the concert. The New York Times Anthony Tommasini was there too, and wrote this rave: click.

Charles Dutoit leads the NYO-USA at Carnegie Hall. Grant Riew, cellist, seated to the conductor's right.
Charles Dutoit leads the NYO-USA at Carnegie Hall. Grant Riew, cellist, seated to the conductor’s right.

Next stop for Aleksis, Grant and Ryan and the NYO-USA: Beijing, the first concert of the orchestra’s China tour.

Pride

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Karin Bliznik sent an email following the master class she gave with section mates Mike Walk and Carrie Schafer at the International Trumpet Guild Conference in Columbus, Ohio. One word: “Success!”

Here she is with her undergrad teacher at Boston University, Professor Terry Everson, in his Facebook post.

karinThe St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra played a terrific concert Saturday evening, the finale to an extraordinary season. You can see the pride in St. Louis Symphony Principal Clarinet Scott Andrews’ face. He is YO Concerto Competition Winner Aleksis Martin’s coach, and they are backstage after Aleskis’ spellbinding performance of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. Aleksis looks proud, exhausted and relieved.

Scott Andrews and  Aleksis Martin backstage at Powell Hall
Scott Andrews and Aleksis Martin backstage at Powell Hall

The Symphony’s Tina Ward went clarinet against light saber in the Powell foyer. With the orchestra performing the music of John Williams and Richard Strauss and other otherworldy pieces for the Lost in Space show, everybody won.

tina saber

Bittersweet

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Somewhere I read recently that the phrase “bittersweet” is first attributed to Sappho. She knew how to turn a melancholy metaphor. St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra cellist Grant Riew uses the phrase to describe what it feels like to leave his fellow musicians for Harvard in the fall. You can read the complete YO III concert program notes, written by the musicians themselves, here: click. And here are Grant’s reflections:

Grant Riew
Grant Riew

“I’ve been in the YO for five years. It’s a little bittersweet to say goodbye. I’ve looked forward to every Saturday rehearsal with the YO. I remember my first time on stage—the stage where Yo-Yo Ma, Daniel Lee, David Robertson, and other great musicians have stood. I still get that feeling.

“My strongest friendships have been in YO. I think of all the connections I’ve made—with David Robertson, with Yo-Yo Ma, with members of the orchestra. Through the Beyond Rehearsal activities, the YO has really evolved.”

The final St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra concert of the season is Saturday, May 30 at 8pm. Bernstein’s Candide Overture, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto performed by YO Concerto Competition Winner Aleksis Martin, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Steven Jarvi conducts.