Rockets Red Glare

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Happy 4th!

Fireworks over the orchestra shell at Forest Park. Next Symphony Forest Park concert September 15.

Fireworks over the orchestra shell at Forest Park. Next Symphony Forest Park concert September 15.

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Cat Fancy

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As you may have seen in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, kittens kaboodled around Powell Hall on a recent afternoon. Here is the link to Sarah Bryan Miller’s story: click.

Suffice to say a photo op for the P-D is a photo op for the St. Louis Symphony blog. The to-be-adopted kittens are named for Russian composers, hence the Symphony angle, plus flutist Jennifer Nitchman is on the board of Tenth Life Cat Rescue, which works mightily to make a better world for kitties, plus you can’t keep St. Louis Symphony musicians away from a cat photo shoot.

Jennifer Nitchman

Jennifer Nitchman

Violinist Asako Kuboki

Violinist Asako Kuboki

Principal Trumpet Karin Bliznik

Principal Trumpet Karin Bliznik

Igor, after Stravinsky, to whom I took a special liking

Igor, after Stravinsky, to whom I took a special liking

Stormy Weather

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Lots of folks in the region were in their basements Sunday night waiting out a tornado warning and violent thunderstorm. Symphony VP for External Affairs Adam Crane was with the multitude at Bush Stadium waiting out the Cardinal rain delay.

Fans huddle in Busch Stadium during Sunday night storm. Photo credit: Adam Crane

Fans huddle in Busch Stadium during Sunday night storm. Photo credit: Adam Crane

In Webster Groves, the finale to the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ triumphant 2015 season was delayed by the tornado sirens. The La Rondine audience joined the St. Louis Symphony musicians in the basement of the Loretto Hilton Center. The show did go on. Symphony violist Katy Mattis supplied this video. I asked her if they got any hail in Webster–walnut-sized were reported in some parts of the region: “Don’t think so,” Katy e-mailed, “but how would I know? They wouldn’t let us out of the black hole!”

 

Music Just Is

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Music is abstract. Igor Stravinsky said that music was “essentially powerless to express anything at all.” Leonard Bernstein instructed millions watching his Young People’s Concerts on television, “Music is never about anything. Music just is.”

Leonard Bernstein teaches music appreciation on American television. This really happened.

Leonard Bernstein teaches music appreciation on American television. This really happened.

Any yet, and yet, and yet, music, as with Edward Hopper paintings (see previous post) invites meaning, invites interpretation and narrative. Beethoven’s “Eroica” may not be about anything, but it sure seems like it does. We cloak the music in composer biographies, in its historical moment. We add imagery, as the St. Louis Symphony will for Messiaen’s From the Canyons to the Stars this season. We supply dancers or even a circus to the musical experience. Somehow, as do Hopper’s solitary women, the music maintains its integrity. It just is. Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring has remained inviolable, even after it was used to choreograph dinosaur battles in Disney’s Fantasia.

To allow the music to just be, to allow it no past or future, suspension rather than resolution, as Marks Strand puts it in relation to Hopper’s paintings, is an unnerving proposition. “…For many of us this is intolerable,” Strand writes, “…this unpleasant erasure of narrative.”

Ye we may realize the shattering poignancy of art.

Normalize the Uncanny

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From an essay by the late poet Mark Strand on the art of Edward Hopper, published posthumously by the New York Review of Books:

"Morning Sun" by Edward Hopper

“Morning Sun” by Edward Hopper

“The tendency to create narrative around works of Hopper only sentimentalizes and trivializes them. The women in Hopper’s rooms do not have a future or a past. They have come into existence with the rooms we see them in. And yet, on some level, these paintings do invite our narrative participation–as if to show how inadequate it is. No, the paintings are each a self-enclosed universe in which its mysteriousness remains intact, and for many of us this is intolerable. To have no future, no past would mean suspension, not resolution–the unpleasant erasure of narrative, or any formal structure that would help normalize the uncanny as an unexplainable element of our own lives.”

Let’s discuss this in relation to music and life on Thursday.

Another Edition of the Glamorous Life

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A double-reed player told me this: After performing some particularly demanding double-reed rep, a player may find that if he or she makes a slight smile, muscles in the face may begin to quiver uncontrollably.

Blog Gone

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I’m taking some summer vacation time. My next blog post will be Monday, June 22. Or thereabouts.

Red Alert

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I have proposed previously that there is a direct corollary between the difficulty of music to be rehearsed and the time of arrival of musicians on stage for rehearsal. If my theory has any validity, Tobias Picker’s Emmeline, which opens at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis June 13, has the Red orchestra on its collective toes–just about everyone was on stage long before the five-minute call. Conductor George Manahan fielded numerous questions from individual musicians before it was time to give the downbeat.

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Lucky for you and me, we don’t have to play the music, just enjoy the beauties the orchestra and vocalists create out of all those struggles. And the beauties are many, as one Symphony musician expressed, there are hints of Benjamin Britten in the score, and then, somewhat surprisingly, Aaron Copland. “Rock of Ages” comes surging in, but is distressed by a mad violin solo (tap your foot for Heidi Harris when you hear this writhe from the Opera Theatre pit). You might imagine Charles Ives tapping or stomping his own foot in appreciation for the musical disturbances Picker has devised.

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

Bass Journey

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Donald Martin has been playing bass with the St. Louis Symphony for 50-plus years. He played with the orchestra when its concerts were in the former Kiel Opera House, and made the move to Powell Hall when it became the Symphony home in the late ’60s.

The other morning, before a Lost in Space concert rehearsal, he was about to pull his instrument from its case once again (the basses are kept in their touring cases for this part of the summer since they are going back and forth between Opera Theatre and Powell). Don said, “Do you have your camera?” Of course I did.

The opening of the case

The opening of the case

Don Martin opened the double bass case and exposed all the dark padding inside.

Don and bass on stage

Don and bass on stage

Don and his bass return to the Powell Hall stage. He sets a few things down on his bass box.

Don's bass. Detail.

Don’s bass. Detail.

“This looks kinda beat up,” I said to Don. “Think you’ll be in better condition in 200 years?” he quipped.

On stool. On stage

On stool. On stage

After more than 200 years, Don’s bass is still in tune. He said that he was told that his carbon fiber bow was “indestructible.” That is until he broke it. As you can see, it’s back in shape again.

A few measures of "Zarathustra."

A few measures of “Zarathustra.”

With “space” as the theme of the concert, of course Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra is on the program. Don and I talked about the ubiquity of the theme. It’s heard on commercials, soundtracks, ringtones, but we agreed that Stanley Kubrick made best use of it, in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I told Don that longtime Principal Timpani, the late Richard Holmes, once told me the famous opening timpani part was easy. “You could come out and play it,” Rick assured me. Don observed, “The timpani part may be easy, but not the bass.” He showed me those few measures above. “But for this show we only do the opening fanfare,” he said with some relief.

Don's bass box

Don’s bass box

“What’s in your bass box, Don?” “Today there’s a lot of pencils, a piece from an old candy bar, some cough drops.”