People Get Ready

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What if they gave an On Stage at Powell concert and the audience couldn’t fit on stage? That’s what happened Wednesday night when Brian Owens and company performed the music of Curtis Mayfield. The orchestra level of Powell Hall was full for a concert that usually offers performers and audience the opportunity to fit intimately together on stage. Where the Mayfield show may have expanded in scale it did not lose in intimacy. Owens, with members of the 442s, IN UNISON Scholars and Fellows on vocals and percussion, IN UNISON Church Partner musicians, YO cellist Julie Holzen and her Peer to Peer Initiative mentee cellist Tieryn Minor, and an outasight brass section had Powell Hall in a groove. People heard Owens channeling Mayfield on “Keep on Pushing,” “Super Fly,” “People Get Ready” and other hits from the ’60s and ’70s. “You don’t need no baggage/ You just get on board.”

 

Brian Owens

Brian Owens

Mayfield audience-jamminMayfield audience1

Flying Home

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The St. Louis Symphony flies home Wednesday evening from a highly successful California tour–and not only because of the food the musicians found. A few blurbs to flaunt: Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle on the Messiaen: “a brilliant and vividly colored performance”; Georgia Rowe of San Jose Mercury News on both programs (Adams-Mahler & Messiaen) in Berkeley: “Best of 2016? It’s already on my list”; and Timothy Mangan of the Orange County Register on the Mahler 5 at Soka University: “a distinguished and communicative performance.” Principal Horn Roger Kaza and Principal Trumpet Karin Bliznik both received numerous shout outs from the California press. There will be more reviews to come, which you can read in their entirety here: click.

I reached Principal Timpani Shannon Wood at LAX. “Last night went really well,” he said in what sounded like an understatement. Shannon said Resident Conductor Steven Jarvi, who was in the hall, told him, “It was the most exciting and clearest to hear of all the Messiaen concerts. Part of that is the clarity of Disney Hall,” Shannon said. “There’s lots of space and it’s such a beautiful hall.”

Shannon had an especially busy day on Tuesday, giving master classes and lessons for five hours at USC, then rehearsal, a break before the show and then From the Canyons to the Stars.

Shannon commented on the bonding experience the musicians have while on tour. Like most St. Louisans, the orchestra lives all over the city and the region, so opportunities to come together away from the stage are not entirely common. “It was my first California tour with the orchestra,” Shannon said, “and it was a really great opportunity to talk with people I normally don’t talk with. Robertson was hanging out with us after the concerts too.”

And then there was the food. “Out here you can have any cuisine you want, and quality cuisine,” Shannon said. “Dim sum, shabu-shabu, which comes with a big pot–you choose your broth and then you choose your ingredients and you cook it. I had Korean barbecue with a timpanist from the L.A. Phil.”

Shannon summed up the California Tour: “Great music, bonding, great food, seeing old friends, being in a geographically wonderous place.” Plus time for Shannon and Principal Flute Mark Sparks to visit a vineyard near Sonoma. Here are some of Shannon Wood’s photos:

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Walt Disney Concert Hall

A visit to Din Tai Fung

A visit to Din Tai Fung

Lers Ros Thai

Lers Ros Thai

California vineyard

California vineyard

Shannon Wood-Mark Sparks selfie

Shannon Wood-Mark Sparks selfie

Shannon at the winery

Shannon at the winery

California sunset

California sunset

Tour Foodies

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Why do orchestras tour? Ann Choomack believes that tours are “for eating as much as you can.” The Symphony piccolo player has been astonished by the land of creative food production. “I’ve never had soup dumplings or Korean barbecue. I’ve had the best doughnuts, the best sushi”–although not together. “One of the best things I’ve eaten was the homemade pop tart at Nickel Diner” in downtown L.A.

Tours are for food. Left to right: Andrew Cuneo, Helen Kim, Elizabeth Chung, Melody Lee, David Kim, Ann Choomack, Adam Crane, Shawn Weil, and Daniel Lee at Korean barbecue restaurant.

Tours are for food. Left to right: Andrew Cuneo, Helen Kim, Elizabeth Chung, Melody Lee, David Kim, Ann Choomack, Adam Crane, Shawn Weil, and Daniel Lee at Korean barbecue restaurant.

The music has been extraordinary too. “We played Messiaen for kids yesterday,” an Education Concert for kindergartners and a few older at Berkeleys’ Zellerbach Hall. “The kids were very attentive and engaged,” Ann said, “We did an abbreviated introduction with a couple of demonstrations, then we played about two-thirds of the piece. You could feel the energy in the hall. They’re young and open.”

Tuesday is the last night of the tour at Walt Disney Concert Hall. For Ann, it’s her first time playing there and adds “It’s an exciting place for it to be the last show.”

And the last night for Messiaen’s From the Canyons to the Stars. “Each time playing the Messiaen it’s more natural; we’re more at ease. And each time it feels like a different piece. It has been awesome to listen to Roger Kaza in the Mahler 5, and then he plays the Messiaen horn part from memory. He’s so laid back about it, even with all the stress of travel. He’s solid.”

Hunter Gatherers

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Anna Kuwabara, VP for Operations, returned to St. Louis with the X group so she could oversee the logistics of the concerts featuring music by Bach, Dvorak and Latvian composer Peteris Vasks this weekend. She gave me some first-thought highlights of the tour she experienced. “Most wonderful to me is how the orchestra members go out and find all these great restaurants,” she told me. “Din Tai Fung is this dumpling place in Costa Mesa, and I thought I was special in finding it, but many of the orchestra members had already been there.”

Soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung

Soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung

“At Soka … it’s an unusual hall shape–the audience is really close. I felt I was sitting in Tim McAllister’s saxophone, and it was wonderful.

“I was backstage for the last Adams-Mahler concert in Berkeley. The ovation went on for a very long time. Deborah O’Grady and John Adams both came to the concert, and John got to come up and take a bow after the concerto.”

By the Bay

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The orchestra has the day off by the Bay today, so I’m not going to pester anyone for an update, but after seeing sterling reports of Friday night’s Adams-Mahler concert, I thought this quote from the brilliant jazz pianist Vijay Iyer was appropriate: “Music is made of us listening to each other.”

 

From the Desert to the Bay

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The orchestra left the bright skies of Palm Desert Friday morning for the clouds and rain of Berkeley in the afternoon. I reached second violinist Andrea Jarrett just after she and her fellow musicians had reached the hotel. “We can’t see anything past the hotel,” she told me. “Yesterday in Palm Desert we faced the mountains.”

Andrea Jarrett. Palm Desert view.

Andrea Jarrett. Palm Desert view.

Last night’s concert at the McCallum Theatre “was awesome,” she said. “The hall was kind of dry,” she reported, “but as challenging as that was I think it made us listen more closely and we played tighter. The concert was almost sold out so there was a lot of energy. I find we’re getting settled into the pieces. We don’t have to count so frantically in the John Adams’ [Saxophone Concerto] because we’re feeling more comfortable.”

Andrea Jarrett. Berkeley view.

Andrea Jarrett. Berkeley view.

Many of the musicians of the St. Louis Symphony are serious foodies. Andrea offered up a not-so-serious, yet delicious sounding culinary discovery: Dole Whip. “Yesterday my boyfriend and I were on the main drag of Palm Desert and discovered it. They take Dole pineapple juice and whip it into soft serve.”

Friday night it’s Adams and Mahler Symphony 5 again at UC-Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall. Then a day off for the ensemble that remains to play Messiaen’s From the Canyons to the Stars Sunday afternoon. Andrea is among those. “We’re hoping to do a lot of food/coffee exploring. Plus, I knit in my spare time and there’s a yarn shop really close to the hotel. There’s a particular brand of yarn I found on Instagram, and they have it there. Very hipster yarn.”

Mahler in the Desert

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Bassoonist Felica Foland wrote Thursday morning following the opening night tour concert: “Our concert at the beautiful Soka U campus went well last night. The Adams was rockin’!

“As we bus out to Palm Desert, I find that I now think of this destination as an old friend, having been there so often with the orchestra. Our concert sold so well that my guests just yesterday were able to purchase four returned tickets. It is comforting to return and play at familiar halls and venues, just as it was exciting to play in a space new to us, as we did last night. Maestro David Robertson seems happy to be ‘home’ in So Cal.  I am happy that St. Louis has adopted him!”

A view from the desert

A view from the desert

 

Costa Mesa/David Bowie

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Bassoonist Felicia Foland was eating a vegan lunch with bass trombonist Gerry Pagano and the director of orchestra personnel, Beth Paine, in Costa Mesa, California, when I reached her by phone on Wednesday afternoon. A cloudy day in Costa Mesa, sunny in St. Louis. Go figure.

Outdoor dining in Costa Mesa

Outdoor dining in Costa Mesa

“It takes less time to find vegan food here than in Missouri,” Felicia confirmed, especially one in a “groovy strip mall.” Travels went smoothly and the musicians bided their time before an afternoon rehearsal at the Soka Performing Arts Center–John Adams’ Saxophone Concerto and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 opens the tour. It’s a hall the orchestra has not played before, which is just one reason why it’s good to have a pre-show rehearsal.

David Bowie

David Bowie

Meanwhile, the most recent news around the hall is the announcement of the Tribute to David Bowie concert, with tickets going on sale to the general public Thursday at 10am, STL Symphony social-media subscribers can buy now. Brent Havens, known for his Music of… concerts (Music of Led Zeppelin, Music of Michael Jackson, etc.) will bring a hot band and a cool vocalist to play our Bowie favorites. My blog post after his passing “reached” nearly 23,000 Facebook friends. I had mentioned that the St. Louis Symphony had not yet played Bowie music–emphasis on “not yet”–so it’s appropriate to say that this concert comes by popular demand. (And in-house demand, our Marketing department was on this like a lightning bolt across the face.) Put on your red shows and dance the blues June 17.

 

 

Returning to Carnegie

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Good news on the eve of the California tour: Carnegie Hall announced its 2016-17 season today, and the St. Louis Symphony is a part of it. John Adams’ oratorio Gospel According to the Other Mary appears on the Carnegie stage March 31, 2017. David Robertson conducts the Symphony and the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, under the direction of Amy Kaiser, for this concert that is part of Adams’ 70th birthday celebration. Mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor joins the company, reprising the title role that Adams wrote for her. For the Carnegie site: click.

Mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor performs with the St. Louis Symphony & Chorus at Carnegie Hall in 2017.

Mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor performs with the St. Louis Symphony & Chorus at Carnegie Hall in 2017.

Going to California

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The St. Louis Symphony begins its California Tour this week. Two groups leave from Lambert on Tuesday (X & Y, see previous post) with a brief layover in Dallas and then to Orange County. I’m staying in St. Louis this time around, but I’ll be checking in with musicians daily and learning about what great foodie meccas they have found and other tour-worthy notes. You can keep up with the tour here, as well as via this swank new feature on our homepage. Click.

Road_Sign_Welcome_to_California