“Music Tells the Story” is the marketing theme for the 2015-2016 season. Stories by Shakespeare, the great story of Don Quixote told with cello and viola, the stories of Scheherazade reimagined by John Adams.
And there are stories within stories. Beethoven’s choral shout of joy in his Symphony No. 9 is familiar to us all. You don’t even need to understand the words. It sounds what it is.
St. Louis Symphony horn player Julie Thayer at a St. Louis Zoo concert last September.
But for Symphony horn player Julie Thayer, there is another, musical story to tell. “Beethoven 9,” she writes. “It has the biggest (and practically only) fourth-horn solo in all the repertoire. I get to be the pseudo first horn for the whole third movement, which is both exciting and terrifying! It’s a mystery as to why Beethoven wrote such a crazy part for the fourth horn, but I for one am glad he did.”
So before you get to the famous fourth movement, Beethoven’s inventing other unique sounds, which lead to other stories, other joys.
Principal Trumpet Karin Bliznik has already made her way back to the Aspen Music Festival and School from Tanglewood, but she shares last glimpses of what is known as the Stockbridge Bowl, near Tanglewood, in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.
Stockbridge Bowl over the hills and through the trees
Bliznik is a member of the artist-faculty at Aspen, as are fellow St. Louis Symphony musicians David Halen, Mark Sparks, Tom Stubbs and Beth Guterman Chu.
Piccolo and flute player for the St. Louis Symphony, Ann Choomack has some very cool parts to play this season, including in just about anything by Prokofiev. This season is a mini-Prokofiev greatest hits: Cinderella, Symphony No. 3 and the “Classical” Symphony, Peter and the Wolf and Romeo and Juliet, with Choomack’s piccolo putting its own signature on each performance.
Choomack is also an avid bicyclist and has toured much of the world on two wheels. She was slowed down recently after she “flew over the handlebars,” she told me, and cracked her collarbone.
Ann Choomack at Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina, resting before her pretty solos.
She writes: “Summer music camp at Eastern Music Festival has been fun. Even playing Mahler 2 with a broken collarbone is a good challenge. I get to play the pretty solos while my awesome trusty assistant, Gabe Fridkis, plays the entire rest of the part. It’s such a gift to be able to relax and take in such amazing music while the other flutes work so hard [Choomack placed a smiley face here]! I hope I heal in time for my trek in Peru in a few weeks.”
Next Postcard Thursday: trombonist Jonathan Reycraft.
Where are your St. Louis Symphony musicians this summer? On an East Coast vibe this week, with cellist Alvin McCall beginning performances with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra at Lincoln Center in NYC, and Principal Trumpet Karin Bliznik at the Tanglewood Music Festival in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.
Bliznik sent me a link to the NY Times review of the world premiere of the late Gunther Schuller’s “Magical Trumpets.” The eminent composer, conductor, jazz historian and horn player passed away in Boston in June. Bliznik performed the piece with members of the Boston Symphony and Tanglewood Music Center [TMC] trumpet sections. Bliznik was one of two former Tanglewood students in the ensemble.
The premiere of Gunther Schuller’s “Magical Trumpets” at Tanglewood. The St. Louis Symphony’s Karin Bliznik at the center of the players. Photo credit: Hilary Scott
Times critic Vivien Schweitzer writes: “[Schuller] created the term ‘third stream’ to indicate music that incorporated both classical and jazz, such as some of his own scores, like ‘Magical Trumpets.’ It had its premiere on Thursday at Tanglewood, conducted by Jonathan Berman….
“Mr. Schuller, who often composed for unusual instrumentation, scored ‘Magical Trumpets’ for 12 brass in eight different keys. The work certainly proved enchanting, with the varied timbres of the instruments wielded to ear-catching effect and a creative use of mutes providing additional texture. At one point the musicians evoked the sound of a jazz band guitarist.”
Bliznik told me “Gunther was very involved in TMC and the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood. ‘Magical Trumpets’ was very cool. It’s possibly the last piece he composed, so it felt like a historic moment.”
I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with a few chorus members over the years. Members of the chorus always seem to be wickedly fun. They also combine passion, dedication and awesome talent to every concert.
The St. Louis Symphony Chorus is holding auditions Wednesday, August 26 from 5-9pm, for the 2015-16 season. The auditions are open to all voice types. The repertoire this season includes Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Berlioz’s Romeo et Juliette, Holst’s The Planets, and the Music of John Williams in December.
Amy Kaiser heads into her 21st season leading the St. Louis Symphony Chorus. Photo credit: Gerry Love
Chorus Director Amy Kaiser offered the following rhetorical question, “What could be better than Beethoven, Berlioz and John Williams?” If you cannot come up with a good answer to that, the St. Louis Symphony Chorus may be for you.
Gotta sing? Give it a try. Click for info. Contact Chorus Manager Susan Patterson to schedule an audition appointment: email@example.com.
Where is your symphony this summer? Cellist Alvin McCall is playing in the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in NYC. Tuesday night at Lincoln Center it’s conductor Louis Langree, pianist Emanuel Ax, and soprano Erin Morley in a program that includes the Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flat major and the Symphony No. 34.
It’s nice to see McCall featured in this cool Meet the Orchestra/Mozart Minute: click.
When I asked McCall for his 1516 St. Louis Symphony season hot picks, he chose music that connected with childhood memories. “There are a few works that I fell in love with when I was in high school or younger,” he wrote. Three of those works he experienced for the first time at the same summer camp in Switzerland: Holst’s The Planets, Lalo’s Symphony espagnole and Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 (“Love that timpani part!” he says). He connects the Mahler Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5 with past orchestral auditions (“great section cellos melodies”), and Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings and Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with memories of concerts by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in New York City.
In this season in which so much of the music the Symphony is performing is connected to stories–Cinderella, Don Quixote, the Shakespeare Festival–it may add to the intensity of the concert experience to realize that there are stories within stories at play. Within David Halen’s performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto is the concertmaster’s memory of his father first teaching the concerto to him, as there is McCall’s memory of hearing Zino Franciscatti playing the famous work. And on that stage nearly 100 other memories at play, with the present moment of the performance a conduit to them all–making more stories to tell.
The official video: Shannon Wood practices William Kraft’s Timpani Concerto No. 2, “The Grand Encounter,” in his Grand Center studio. He’ll be taking a break and traveling with family for a while, but we’ll hear from him again on a later Postcard Thursday this summer. Symphony musician in a Frank Zappa T-shirt. Can ya dig it?
Some activities aren’t advantageous for carrying a violin. An old fiddle is entirely mobile, which is one reason why it’s central to folk music around the world. But the violins you find in symphony orchestras are much too precious cargo to transport across hollers and bayous and high plains. Symphony violinists take out loans to pay for their instruments, and pay them off over lifetimes like mortgages.
Catawba Falls, Blue Ridge Mountains
First violinist Ann Fink was hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains recently and sent this postcard pic. Undoubtedly there were a few fiddlers in the vicinity, but the Catawba Falls make their own music–the sounds summer vacations are for. Ann will be back to making her music soon enough.
Next Postcard Thursday: piccolo & flute player Ann Choomack.
Summer is the time for summer projects. The orchestra is away, which makes it easier to work on the backstage areas. They were in need. Fresh paint has brightened things up, and old flooring is being taken up to make room for new.
It’s not hard to find the musicians of the St. Louis Symphony throughout the summer months. Visit any major music festival in the country–Aspen, Boulder, Sun Valley, Chautauqua, Boonville, MO (David Halen runs that one)–and you may find a few St. Louis Symphony musicians in the orchestra. Offer to buy them a beer or a chardonnay after the show.
David Robertson would probably appreciate a beer as well. He’s back in the U.S. from Sydney, Australia, where he is music director of the orchestra there, and has already traveled from the Aspen Music Festival and School to Santa Fe, where he is conducting a production of Richard Strauss’ Salome with Santa Fe Opera. Opening night is Wednesday, July 22.
The St. Louis Symphony isn’t performing Salome this season–although it did memorably with Deborah Voigt a few seasons back–but there is plenty of Strauss to go around in 1516. Robertson conducts an all-Strauss program September 25-26, with Principal Cello Daniel Lee and Principal Viola Beth Guterman Chu playing Don Quixote, and Karita Mattila singing the Final Scene from Capriccio. The all-Strauss concerts are among the musicians’ hot picks for next season.
The Oscar Wilde references aside, Robertson gives a good primer to the music of Strauss in this clip from Santa Fe Opera, especially the West Coast surfer analogies.