On Saturday afternoon on the Powell Hall stage, the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra prepares for its final concert of the season, which happens next Saturday at 8pm at Powell. A full, challenging, delightful program with Bernstein’s Candide Overture, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with YO Concerto Award Winner Aleksis Martin, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, a symphony in which all the principals shine.
The last concert of the season is always a bittersweet affair, as for some of the musicians it is their ultimate YO concert. They are going off to school or other life voyages.
Sóley Hyman and St. Louis Symphony trumpet Caroline Schafer during YO-STL Symphony side-by-side rehearsal
Trumpet player Sóley Hyman offered an appreciation of her time with the YO, which appear in the program notes for the concert: “I’m going to Harvard in the fall, and if there was a way I could teleport from Boston to St. Louis I would do it. I feel so lucky to have been a part of the YO. It has been life transforming. To work with the musicians of the St. Louis Symphony has been amazing, but also just to chat with them, to talk about so many things with them—as we did in the recent side-by-side rehearsal with David Robertson—it’s all been incredible.”
Principal Timpani Shannon Wood was on stage taking pictures of a brand-new set of timpani Thursday morning prior to rehearsal of Puccini’s La Rondine. I wouldn’t say he was as excited as a child on Christmas morning, but he seemed pretty happy.
Shannon Wood with new Walter Light Mark XIV Timpani, handmade w/custom alterations
He was taking photos so the maker could see them on the Powell Hall stage (see caption). Proof! Shannon told me the previous timpani, played on by the late Richard Holmes, were from the 1960s. Although this sounded as if they were prehistoric to me, Shannon explained that he had a set from the 1950s. He pointed to the pedals on the new set, a Dresden pedal, he explained, which timpanists can adjust with a flex of the ankle. Another set of timpani were placed center stage for the Puccini, which Shannon told me were used by the Youth Orchestra and by Associate Principal Tom Stubbs. Those have a Berlin pedal, Shannon said, which require a musician to raise his or her whole leg to adjust. “Not bad,” Shannon told me, “just different.”
The new timpani were fixed with plastic drum heads, rather than calf skin. Shannon said he used both types of drum head, and chose between the two “mostly due to weather.” The calf skin absorbs moisture more, and so will tend to drop or sag if the humidity is high; or rise when the humidity is low. “Calf is not so good in the orchestra pit” at Opera Theatre, he said.
Powell Hall has improved climate control on stage. Shannon shook his head imagining the logistical conundrums Rick Holmes faced during his 40 years on the job.
Packing your snare drum isn’t enough. Your snare drum needs to be labelled accordingly, as percussionist Henry Claude has done. What’s in the box? Snare. Whose is it? Henry’s. Which opera? Puccini. Which orchestra? Red.
A visit to the dress rehearsal of Barber of Seville got me to thinking about perspective. Rossini’s entertaining romp is the season opener for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. The folks making the music from the pit are members of the St. Louis Symphony. (The Symphony is roughly divided in half through opera season, the Red and the Green, and the two groups rotate between operas and Live at Powell Hall concerts–see previous “Red and Green” blog posts over the last ten years or so for more in-depth explanations.)
This Barber is delightfully colorful with touches of absurdist comedy akin to the Marx Brothers, Monty Python, and the camp classics of Pedro Almodovar–the opera does take place in Seville, after all.
But as to perspective, all the stage bits, Figaro’s deep blue long-coat, the row of cocks at the base of a curtain, a swaying rump–the musicians see none of it. So, since no one I talked with sounded in the mood for a photo during rehearsal break, I thought, how about the backs of heads as metaphor for the musician’s experience in the opera pit? The audience sees the show; the musicians see their music and the conductor’s baton. The face; the faceless.
And let’s make a game of it. Let’s see how well you know your Symphony musicians. I provide the list of five. You match with photos.
1) Helen Kim 2) Xiaoxiao Qiang 3) Eva Kozma 4) Born Ranheim 5) Shawn Weil
The St. Louis Symphony partners with some of the best people and organizations in the community. Monday morning Director of Community Programs Maureen Byrne joined some of the Symphony’s friends from the International Institute and the St. Louis Zoo for an outing with refugee families who recently have arrived to the city from Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan.
Maureen described the connections between International Institute, Zoo and these families new to St. Louis: “The Zoo was one of our great St. Louis cultural institution partners for this season’s Family and Education concert series at Powell Hall, and we had the pleasure of hosting International Institute students and their families at all four Family Concerts. We were able to help take these fun family outings one step further–thanks to a supporting grant from the Daughters of Charity Foundation of St. Louis and the awesome staff of the International Institute–and arrange for field trips not just to Powell Hall, but to all of our Family Concert partner sites as well!”
The St. Louis Zoo will be collaborating with the Symphony on another Family Concert in October, “Hoot & Howl at Powell,” and the International Institute is always on the Symphony’s community concert list. The next visit is June 4 for a concert that is arranged under the theme “American Music Comes from Everywhere.” Just like Americans.
David Robertson promised 50 St. Louis Symphony soloists during his 10th-anniversary season as Music Director. Fifty is here: cellist Alvin McCall performs McDowell’s Romanze for the Music You Know concert this Friday. It’s the meat of the Aida weekend sandwich. How do musicians show their appreciation for a soloist in rehearsal? Wait until the end.
Katy Tucker and her team have created a stunning array of interior, exterior and psychological landscapes for Aida. That eye alone conjures Melies’ A Trip to the Moon, Bunuel/Dali’s Un chien Andalou and the eye that rises above the pyramid on the Great Seal–just look on the back of your dollar bill.
And that is just some of how Aida looks. How it sounds? You gotta go!
The St. Louis Symphony performs Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man to lead off the final Music You Know concert this Friday, May 8.
On the Symphony’s Facebook page last week a bit of Fanfare history was provided: Copland was inspired by a speech by then Vice President of the United States Henry Wallace, in which Wallace proposed a “century of the common man.” A very democratic idea spoken in opposition to the rise of fascism around the globe.
Freddie Mercury Photo credit: Carl Lender
Thus, Freddie Mercury, who knew classical music and opera, may have been influenced by Copland’s Fanfare, as you may hear in this parallel drawn by Alex Ross in The Rest Is Noise. Listen to the Queen anthem “We Will Rock You” and the principal theme of Fanfare for the Common Man. Click.