Holidays at Powell Hall

Just around the corner is the SLSO's busiest, and most festive, month of the year

By Benjamin Pesetsky

Could there be any better holiday destination in St. Louis than Powell Hall? And could there be any better time to hear the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra than in December, its busiest month with the widest variety of programming? From Vivaldi’s Gloria to David Robertson’s last BMO Private Bank New Year’s Eve Celebration, there is something on the calendar for everyone. On the classical side, there are two Baroque programs, including an unusual twist on Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and on the more contemporary side, there’s Music of John Williams and DreamWorks Animation in Concert. Two annual holiday traditions also return: Gospel Christmas and the Mercy Holiday Celebration.

“It’s a winter wonderland,” said David Nischwitz, the SLSO’s vice president of marketing. “Powell Hall with all its red velvet is really a perfect place for the holidays. We put wreaths, garland, and a beautiful tree against that backdrop, and it’s set.”

December opens with Vivaldi’s Gloria (December 1–2). This concert features many soloists from the orchestra conducted by Nicholas McGegan, one of the world’s leading specialists in Baroque music. Three vocal soloists join the SLSO Chorus for Vivaldi’s famous Gloria, a Christmastime favorite.

An Evening with Leslie Odom, Jr. (December 3) brings Hamilton’s original Aaron Burr to Powell Hall. Odom has made his mark not only on Broadway, but also with two solo albums: his namesake debut and Simply Christmas. On both discs, he sings standards with silky voice in propellant jazz arrangements. “We’re thrilled to host an original cast member from Hamilton, especially in advance of the show’s highly anticipated St. Louis debut at the Fox Theatre next spring,” said Nischwitz. Odom will perform with the backing of the full orchestra.

Yes, The Four Seasons (December 8–10) will include Vivaldi’s favorite set of concertos, The Four Seasons. But it comes with a unique twist: instead of a violinist, Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital is the soloist. This is something nobody has ever heard at Powell before: a solo classical mandolin. What does it sound like? You’ll have to show up to find out.

This year, the star of Gospel Christmas (December 14) is Dianne Reeves, the Grammy Award-winning singer. She’ll be joined by the SLSO and the IN UNISON Chorus with conductor Kevin McBeth. “We are especially excited to welcome Dianne Reeves to Powell Hall,” McBeth said. “Her signature style and fantastic jazz arrangements will be perfect for this nearly sold-out concert.” Gospel Christmas is always a soulful community celebration, and a favorite of audiences and orchestra musicians alike. 

Mercy Holiday Celebration (Dec 15–17) is another Powell Hall tradition, and the SLSO’s biggest wintertime program for all ages, featuring the orchestra and the Holiday Festival Chorus. “Many St. Louisans make this an annual tradition,” said Nischwitz. “This is their time to hear the symphony with their families, while others make it another stop as part of their many visits to Powell Hall annually.” And everyone from corporate executives, to retirees, to small children get to meet Santa, who’s part of the show. “We’re so lucky that Santa spends the weekend with us before his big trip,” said Nischwitz. This year the program is conducted by Gemma New, the SLSO’s resident conductor, who also opened the season with the orchestra’s September concert in Forest Park.

Just before Christmas comes Music of John Williams (December 21–23), featuring movie-score highlights from Hollywood’s most famous composer. It will also be David Robertson’s last time leading this program as the SLSO’s music director, before his tenure concludes at the end of the season. “If your family loves Williams, it’s a chance to experience the final year of our music director on the podium with these film scores,” said Nischwitz. “It’s a really great mix of classic John Williams, like E.T. and Star Wars, and also Schindler’s List, Hook, and Superman.” Unlike some of the SLSO’s movie-related performances, this one features the music alone without projected films or clips. “This is a chance to really have the music shine,” Nischwitz added.

After Christmas is over but school is still out, the orchestra offers DreamWorks Animation in Concert (December 29–30). The program includes music from Shrek, Madagascar, and How to Train Your Dragon, and scores by Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman, with movie moments projected during the performance. “These are really great concerts for families with younger kids,” Nischwitz said. “This is a great way to spend time with your kids and get to know the orchestra with music you’ll know.”

Closing out the SLSO’s holiday programming, and also closing out the calendar year, is the BMO Private Bank New Year’s Eve Celebration (December 31, naturally). This will be David Robertson’s last New Year’s Eve Celebration as music director, and it’s a tradition he built into one of St. Louis’ most anticipated events during his tenure. As always, the program and soloists are kept secret, so nobody yet knows what Robertson has in store. But it’s sure to be a celebration.