Beatlemania

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If Charles Lindbergh represents a technological revolution, the Beatles represent a revolution of style. In an attempt to grasp the cultural explosion that was the Beatles, watching A Hard Day’s Night is a good primer. Basically, everything surrounding the Beatles in the movie is old, dull, stodgy, square and authoritarian. The Beatles themselves are young, charming, charismatic, fun, sexy, silly, improvisational, with long hair, irresistible harmonies and a beat you can dance to. Such things can make a revolution, and did. You hear it in the ecstatic screams of the audience. Revolutionaries break facades that open the awareness of your senses and, in Beatles’ parlance, or in William Blake’s, free your mind. All you need is love, and a pair of cool boots.

Check out the boots at Paul McCartney tribute at Powell Hall Friday night.

Check out the boots at Paul McCartney tribute at Powell Hall Friday night.

 

Closing the Distance

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The 16/17 season begins in mid-September with the turning of a propeller, the whir of an engine, a human gasp as the machine rises from the earth, and the exhalation of breath when the one-man craft makes it over the tree line and heads toward the Atlantic.

Charles Lindbergh

Charles Lindbergh

From the moment Lindbergh touched down in France in The Spirit of St. Louis, the world could not get enough of the stoic Midwesterner. It was as if his form and his personality were sculpted to be the new, modern hero. A man who tamed the elements with his wits, his courage, and his technology. He closed the great distances of the earth. He was a leader of humankind in a century of progress.

Lindbergh was the first world celebrity. And so he was the first to experience, in full view of a world audience, fame’s inevitable–and in Lindbergh’s case tragic–rise and fall. The glow of the man attracted the attention of the world, leading to his success and his despair, to his genius and to his infamy.

Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, like everyone else, were drawn to Lindbergh after his singular feat. They worked on a radio cantata together, The Flight of Lindbergh. Brecht drew the composer Paul Hindemith into the collaboration as well, creating a work that displeased Weill. “With our differing artistic natures,” Weill explained, “no artistic unity could come about.” So he was delighted when Otto Klemperer chose to conduct a concert performance of his own version. A man alone in the night sky deserves music written by a solitary artist confronting his own hopes and fears.

It’s this Flight of Lindbergh David Robertson will conduct on Opening Weekend. A story of the solo pilot Lindbergh battling darkness, fog, snow and sleep. The blinding flashbulbs are yet to be imagined.

Morning Treatment

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By the time we arrive for the Monday morning performance, St. Louis Symphony violinist Hiroko Yoshida has already made her way to the Infusion Room to warm up. Yoshida has performed in the Saint Louis University Cancer Center so often that she feels at home there, both with the patients and the staff. Fellow violinist Silvian Iticovici joins her in the informal space adjacent to the Infusion Room. They take another look at their music, close the door and practice together for a short while.

The Infusion Room consists of a number of large, plush lounge chairs with IV stands and monitors nearby. Patients, some alone, some with companions, sit in the chairs and wait. This is where they come for their cancer treatment. I watch a nurse settle beside a patient and carefully hook the IV to his arm. They chat casually together. “It’s fascinating to watch a good nurse at work,” Crystal Weaver says to me.

Silvian Iticovici & Hiroko Yoshida perform in the Infusion Room at the SLU Cancer Center.

Silvian Iticovici & Hiroko Yoshida perform in the Infusion Room at the SLU Cancer Center.

Weaver is a music therapist at SLU Cancer Center. She and the Cancer Center have partnered with the St. Louis Symphony and its SymphonyCares program, under the direction of Maureen Byrne, for five years now. It’s been a very close partnership, and Weaver and her colleague Andrew Dwiggins have gotten to know many of the Symphony musicians, their needs and idiosyncracies, their care and commitment. They knew Yoshida would be early and Dwiggins was prepared with chairs and music stands. Over the years, with Weaver giving an orientation for musicians each fall, the Cancer Center concerts have become one of the most popular community programs among STL Symphony musicians.

Dwiggins gives a brief introduction, telling the patients that he hopes the music will make the time pass more easily. One woman gives a thumb’s up as soon as Iticovici and Yoshida begin to play. Some people settle back a little more deeply into their chairs. One woman sits forward in her seat, leaning toward the music to take it all in.

During the duets–Gluck, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Bach, Brahms, Corelli–the work of the hospital never stops. Nurses welcome patients and prepare their IVs. When one patient is done, he mutters “I’d like to hear that more often,” as he heads out the door. Faces that had appeared to be troubled, perplexed, anxious–in a few minutes become relaxed and settle into calm and smiles.

Iticovici and Yoshida end with a familiar lullaby. And then just one more piece. “An encore,” Iticovici grins.

 

Music Mentors

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Members of the St. Louis Symphony often build close connections with members of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra. Many of the musicians of the grownup orchestra teach YO musicians privately. And as part of the YO’s Beyond Rehearsal program, STL Symphony musicians come to Powell on Saturday afternoons to coach the YO in sectionals a number of times each year. YO auditions for the 16/17 season are coming to a close, and it is these kinds of learning experiences that make student musicians work so hard to get into the program. Video intern Nicola Muscroft spent some time with mentors and mentees and caught their interactions and their enthusiasms last spring.

Star Man

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I was living in the high-plains town of Havre, Montana when I first heard David Bowie. My friend Scott had just purchased Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and with the intense urgency known to teenagers–which we both were–told me, “You’ve got to listen to this.”

ziggyBack then, early¬† 1970s, the Sunday New York Times arrived in Havre by train on Tuesday. Distance was a very real thing, and yet somehow, even in small high-plains towns, you found the stuff that you needed. The stuff that would shake up your world and you would share with your most precious friends. Its how friendship was defined. What the art writer Dave Hickey would call the creation of “communities of desire.”

We listened to that record all night, over and over. In that hard-scrabble town of pickup trucks and rifle racks, we could look up into the night sky blazing with northern stars–no light pollution in north-central Montana–and imagine how “he’d like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds.”

For those of you who read these posts on Facebook, you’re welcome to share your own first-time-with-Bowie stories.

Show Me a Sign

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I was under the weather for a few days and returned to work to see a change on the billboard right behind Powell Hall.

IMG_0945Family Concerts on sale under a bright Missouri sky.

Kudos to Symphony graphic designer Daniel Glen for making it pop.

Next!

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On Friday you participated in one of the most fantastic concert experiences in your life. The next Wednesday, you audition for the opportunity to do it again.

Sign on the Delmar door on Wednesday.

Sign on the Delmar door on Wednesday.

The St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra is made up of musicians from ages 12-22. Nobody gets tenure. Nobody’s chair is reserved. If you want to stay in the YO, each year you need to audition. A blind audition, just like the grownup orchestra. Each season musicians leave the YO and go on to the next exciting thing. Each season musicians earn the privilege to remain. Each season new musicians win their seats. Heading into its 47th season with new music director Gemma New, the YO is ever-changing with fresh talented players and mature-beyond-their-years veterans. A perfect mix for a winning team every year.

Last Looks

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Here are a few more pictures from the final St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra concert of the season, Friday, June 3.

loungeThe YO musicians made the St. Louis Symphony musicians’ lounge their own, relaxing, chatting, eating cake and taking selfies before the show.

locker roomYO musicians filled the locker room as well. You wouldn’t think they were about to play Beethoven’s Fifth in a few minutes.

playing cardsWhether it’s the Youth Orchestra or the STL Symphony, the eternal card game goes on.

signed photoThe musicians individually signed a YO portrait for their departing music director, Steven Jarvi.

stageA top row view of the YO on stage at Powell Hall.

postconcert lobbyThe lobby filled with family and friends to greet the musicians after the concert.

Stage Exits

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The scene outside of Powell Hall Friday night, the evening of the final St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra concert of the season, included sights of a diverse audience–young and old, dressy and casual, stylish and chill, a mashup of ethnicities and ages, north siders and south siders, folks from the county, city, country and from across the river. Add to this the excited roars of the crowd emanating from the Circus Flora tent.

Stage exit 1

Stage exit 1

I made my way around the backstage areas: in the musicians’ lounge the eternal card game was in progress, orchestra members lounged on sofas and leaned against one another to take selfies. A cake designed for outgoing Resident Conductor Steven Jarvi was in its last wreckage of consumption.

Stage exit 2

Stage exit 2

“I still can’t believe we get to play Beethoven 5!” I heard one musician exclaim. It seemed as if the near-capacity audience could hardly believe it as well. People sat rapt, leaning forward in their chairs intently. At the spaces in between movements you could not hear a sound. Once a baby let out a muted cry, but not for long. I’m sure that babies and Beethoven have been heard together many times over the centuries. In no way were such memorable solos by Curt Sellers, oboe, and Hannah Byrne, clarinet, diminshed.

Stage exit 3

Stage exit 3

At the end, the audience rose as if great stores of emotional energy had been released. A lot of musician tension was released as well. It was Beethoven’s Fifth they had just performed, after all. “That piece is so long,” one musician said at intermission, proud to have played it and relieved it was over.

Stage exit 4

Stage exit 4

Curt Sellers had written the program notes for the first after-intermission piece, Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture. He described the “sweet love song” the English horn plays in that piece, and then he played it beautifully.

Stage exit 5

Stage exit 5

The final piece for the season, Stravinsky’s devilishly difficult and delightful The Firebird Suite, came after the third standing ovation for YO Music Director Jarvi that night.

The music goes on, The Firebird will be played again, many of this group of YO musicians will return. But throughout the evening I thought of those leaving–for college, for the rest of their lives to proceed elsewhere. You could hear in the music the complex mixture of accomplishment and loss: in Emily Shaper’s bassoon solos, in the tricky and yet entirely musical flute and piccolo parts played by Leah Peipert and Lynell Cunningham, in Earl Kovacs’ confident clarinet, in Eric Cho’s songful cello, and in the horn solo that leads to the surging finale of The Firebird, played by Eli Pandolfi this night. Eli is the grandson of Roland Pandolfi, one of the great horn players of this era and a former St. Louis Symphony principal. You heard time beginning, time ending, and the continuum as the orchestra joined in full ecstatic harmony. The Firebird is a perfect ending to a YO season, with an ending so sublime because you don’t want it to end. And it never really does. With every exit there is a return. Another entrance made.

Stage exit 6

Stage exit 6

 

 

 

Eureka Quartet

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The SymphonyCares for Seniors caravan headed west to Eureka on Thursday afternoon. Violinists Ann Fink and Wendy Plank Rosen, violist Leonid Gotman and cellist Alvin McCall played to an audience at the Timbers of Eureka community center. The quartet performed works by Mozart, J. S. Bach, Scott Joplin and Leroy Anderson. In return they received lots of smiles and applause.

Eureka-SC4SeniorsEureka-SC4Seniors-applause