Autumn Leaves in Spring

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We had just completed recording an interview for the Saturday night broadcast on St. Louis Public Radio. Macedonian pianist Simon Trpceski turned to the glassed booth where KWMU’s Mary Edwards sat at the big board.

Simon Trpceski

Simon Trpceski

“Mary,” Trpceski said through the microphone, “may I sing for you?”

Edwards was speechless. I answered for her.

In a lovely, high lilting voice, he sang “The Autumn Leaves,” in French.

When he was done, we all laughed, and I said, “What, you sing in French and not Macedonian?”

“Let me see,” said Trpceski. And in a moment he was singing a tune that sounded as old as romance itself.

Edwards and I applauded and shouted bravos when he was done. “It’s a song about a man admiring a beautiful girl…”

Of course it was.

Music, People

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Scriabin’s Symphony No. 3, “Le Poeme divin,” was last performed by the St. Louis Symphony in 1975. The late Jerzy Semkow conducted those concerts, and second violinist Lorraine Glass-Harris was on the stage. As you’ll see in this week’s video blog, Glass-Harris’ most recent rehearsal of the Scriabin, with Vasily Petrenko conducting on Wednesday morning, did not bring back memories, but it did inspire some reflections, into the music itself, and into a musical life.

Golden Anniversary Gift

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An ensemble of about a dozen St. Louis Symphony musicians were not done with their music-making day after the Lindenwood University concert on Sunday afternoon. They made their way to Ferguson and the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church for a Symphony Where You Worship concert. Featured on the program was music by Symphony violist Chris Woehr, who gives more and more of his time to composing each season.

Rehearsal at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Ferguson

Rehearsal at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Ferguson

The evening included two pieces from Woehr’s growing body of work, the premiere performance of The Five Seasons, featuring Jennifer Nitchman on flute, and The Bartholomew Concerto, featuring Phil Ross on oboe and a storyline by Dr. Seuss. Woehr conducted.

Phil Ross and company rehearse "The Bartholomew Concerto."

Phil Ross and company rehearse “The Bartholomew Concerto.”

The concert also served to celebrate the 50th anniversary of longtime St. Louis Symphony fans Maeve and Dave Horton. They commissioned The Five Seasons from Woehr, a nice 50-year gift to themselves, their community, and to music.

Maeve and David Horton with Chris Woehr

Maeve and David Horton with Chris Woehr

Joyful Music, Joyful Couple

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Beth Guterman Chu and Jonathan Chu are the solo artists for Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante this weekend. They had their first rehearsal with the orchestra and guest conductor Hannu Lintu Wednesday morning. They’re not doing the Miles Davis back-to-the-audience thing for the concerts. Some soloists prefer to turn and play to the orchestra in rehearsal, especially vocalists–Susan Graham and Christine Brewer are notable examples. Beth and Jonathan told me they’ve had a wonderful time working on the piece together. Put the kids to bed and then practice.

Blithe Spirit

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I asked St. Louis Symphony piccolo player Ann Choomack about the level of piccolo anxiety that Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 induces in her. The whole Symphony No. 8 is a music of extremes, but the dual piccolos (the other played by Associate Principal Flute Andrea Kaplan) are especially noticeable since they play high above the other instruments cries and shouts, shrieks and murmurs. The piccolos are definitely heard. They are exposed.

Left to right: Ann Choomack and Andrea Kaplan are done with their day of Shostakovich piccolo duties.

Left to right: Ann Choomack and Andrea Kaplan are done with their day of Shostakovich piccolo duties.

Choomack was remarkably blithe about her role in the Eighth. “The solos really aren’t that difficult,” she told me at a break in Wednesday morning rehearsal. “Other Shostakovich symphonies are much harder. The tutti, however,” when she and Kaplan play in unison, “is another story. It is all so high.” Just then, Kaplan let out one of those high high notes. “Like that,” Choomack laughed.

Tiger Lair

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Where are the musicians of the St. Louis Symphony? They show up everywhere, in St. Louis, in the county and across the river in Illinois. Tuesday, University of Missouri (Mizzou) students received a master class from Principal Percussion Will James, Principal Timpani Shannon Wood, and pianists Nina Ferrigno and Peter Henderson, both of whom often appear with the orchestra.

Will James demonstrates snare drum technique, Shannon Wood in background

Will James demonstrates snare drum technique, Shannon Wood in background

In the evening the quartet performs Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion at the Whitmore Recital Hall on campus. Will James braved the Tiger lair in his Duke polo during master class. Not for performance, I’m told.

YO Auditions: Official Time to Stop Procrastinating

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If you are anywhere from age 12 to 22, and you are a pretty good musician and would like to be a lot better musician, and if you are thinking that the thing called “classical” music is a pretty cool thing to be listening to and playing, and if you want to take your playing to a whole new level with other people your age, your ability, your musical instincts, and have the time of your life on the Powell Hall stage, the deadline for signing up for St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra auditions are upon you.

Or if there is someone you know who fits the description above: Tell them. Encourage them. Make them click here.

Join the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra and you can pose for funky photo shoots like this one.

Become a member of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra and you can pose for funky photo shoots like this one. You gotta audition though.

Show of Shows

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Wednesday night at Powell Hall, the SymphonyCares Showcase presented many of the inspiring activities the St. Louis Symphony musicians are involved in, taking their music to those who need it the most. The Showcase also placed on center stage its essential partners, those with the medical knowledge to know what works best and what truly makes a difference in the well-being of their patients.

Left to right: Brian Owens, Melody Lee, Dr. Dawn Hui, Shannon Farrell Williams and Elizabeth Chung

Left to right: Brian Owens, Melody Lee, Dr. Dawn Hui, Shannon Farrell Williams and Elizabeth Chung

The Heart Quartet, with vocalist Brian Owens and guest violinist and cardiac surgeon Dr. Dawn Hui of Saint Louis University Hospital, performed arrangements by Adam Maness, including heart-warming renditions of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and “Amazing Grace.” The Heart Quartet played at IN UNISON churches and other venues throughout the region in February, bringing music and information about women’s heart health.

Left to right: Andrew Dwiggins, Melody Lee, Deanna and Clifford Burnett, and Crystal Weaver

Left to right: Andrew Dwiggins, Melody Lee, Deanna and Clifford Burnett, and Crystal Weaver

SymphonyCares became the principal entertainment for a bone-marrow-transplant birthday party at SLU Cancer Center this season. As the Cancer Center’s Crystal Weaver explained, when a patient receives BMT, it is a kind of rebirth, and so a birthday party is given. BMT recipient Clifford Burnett was asked if he had one song he’d like to hear for his party. He chose Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.” In the Cancer Center, the piece was performed by Principal Harp Allegra Lilly and First Violin Ann Fink. At Powell Hall, Clifford and his wife Deanna and the Showcase audience heard the Van the Man song played by Andrew Duggins on guitar and the Symphony’s Melody Lee on violin.

Cortango Orquesta: Adam Maness, piano, Elizabeth Chung, cello; David DeRiso, double bass; Asako Kuboki, violin; and Cally Banham, English horn

Cortango Orquesta: Adam Maness, piano, Elizabeth Chung, cello; David DeRiso, double bass; Asako Kuboki, violin; and Cally Banham, English horn

Cortango Orquesta, with a core ensemble of Symphony musicians Cally Banham, Asako Kuboki and David DeRiso, have been enlivening the local dance scene for a couple years now. They also have been playing in the SymphonyCares program. Wednesday night, Dr. Gammon Earhart, of the Washington University School of Medicine, talked about the remarkable improvement Parkinson patients experience when combining regular movement therapy with tango dancing. Live tango music makes it even better.

Creative Music Making

Creative Music Making

The Symphony, the Maryville University Music Therapy program, and the St. Louis Arc have been partnering for a number of years now. The culmination of the season for all partners is the SymphonyCares Showcase, with a variety show that features music, jokes and some wild skits. It’s always a joyful finale to the program.

AC showcase1

Any SymphonyCares Showcase is not complete without a performance by St. Louis Symphony violinist Angie Smart and Claire “The Clown” Wedemeyer of Circus Flora’s Clowns on Call. A hospital-room visit from Angie and Claire have left children laughing in their hospital beds for a few years now. Angie and Claire are constantly coming up with new routines, new pratfalls, new uproarious absurdities.

The Showcase always ends with laughter mixed with tears. Thanks to all the Symphony musicians and partners, and to Director of Community Programs Maureen Byrne. How do you make St. Louis a better place? Stick with these folks.

Fierce Beauty

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April is the cruelest month. In the warmth of a Russian summer, not unlike how St. Louis feels today, Dmitry Shostakovich began what was to become his Eighth Symphony. This was to be a patriotic symphony, celebrating a turn in World War II as Soviet forces began to rout the German army and send it into a panicked retreat.

Dmitry Shostakovich

Dmitry Shostakovich

The Eighth also followed the international success of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, “Leningrad,” in 1942. When the Seventh was premiered in Leningrad, Russian artillery fired upon German forces near the city to ensure silence during the performance. A rag-tag orchestra played the vigorous work, although the musicians were weak from hunger as a result of the German siege. The “Leningrad” Symphony became a symbol of Russian resilience and Shostakovich was acclaimed world wide. An illustration of the composer, dressed in a fireman’s helmet, appeared on the cover of Time.

His Eighth, then, would be a “Victory” Symphony. Shostakovich set to work in the summer of 1943, made a few introductory attempts, and stopped.

Who would write for the millions dead? The dead beneath the Russian soil, and so many more dead that had not been buried. What from their silence could be made into music? Just as spring comes with the celebration of resurrection, of “lilacs out of the dead land,” as T. S. Eliot wrote it, victory comes out of the struggles of those who fell and did not rise again.

Shostakovich wrote his Eighth Symphony for those who died and those who survived. A fierce beauty will be heard at Powell Hall when the St. Louis Symphony performs it April 10-11.

Making Mayhem, Baroque and Otherwise

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Roger Kaza would be the first one to say he’s no Mozart, but he led a St. Louis Symphony ensemble from the harpsichord with Mozartean aplomb Monday night at the Hett on the McKendree University campus.

Left to right: David DeRiso, Roger Kaza and Alvin McCall at the Hett

Left to right: David DeRiso, Roger Kaza and Alvin McCall at the Hett

Next up on orchestra “vacation week” is the SymphonyCares Showcase. Tuesday afternoon I was lucky enough to watch Angie Smart and Claire “The Clown” Wedemeyer rehearse their Showcase skit. They have the entire Powell Hall stage to make mayhem Wednesday night. They usually have the space of a child’s hospital room.

Angie Smart and Claire "The Clown" Wedemeyer in their usual performance environment

Angie Smart and Claire “The Clown” Wedemeyer in their usual performance environment