Tales of the E-flat Clarinet

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Associate Principal Clarinet Diana Haskell plays E-flat clarinet on Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, and that’s just the beginning of the story.

See and Hear

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Watch David Halen talk Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 on video, hear me talk Symphonie fantastique, Red Velvet Ball, and Mendelssohn Violin Concerto on our podcasts at 10-50-135.

All Work

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There is no one, absolutely no one, checking on the Cardinals game during working hours at Powell Hall. Work work work work work work work.

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Sunday Fireworks

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In the afternoon it was the St. Louis Symphony’s 1812 Overture booms. In the evening it was Kolten Wong’s blast.

Although the Cards lost the Saturday night opener, you can’t blame the St. Louis Symphony trumpets, who played the National Anthem. They’ve never been shutout.

Playoff trumpets. Left to right: Mike Walk, Tom Drake, Carrie Schafer, Karin Bliznik

Playoff trumpets. Left to right: Mike Walk, Tom Drake, Carrie Schafer, Karin Bliznik

Doughnuts in the House

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The first Coffee Concert of the season on a rainy Friday morning at Powell Hall. Overheard in the foyer:

A teenage boy: “Are you on your fifth doughnut yet?”

How many doughnuts is that? No one's saying.

How many doughnuts is that? No one’s saying.

Two women waiting in a line:

“This would be an excellent morning to stay in bed.”

“Yes it is.”

“But it is the Symphony.”

Boom Box

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The “Mahler box,” which gets its name for being the funereal thud-maker when Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 is on the schedule at Powell Hall, will be the boom-maker for Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Percussionist Henry Claude on boom box this weekend.

 

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A Nuanced Approach

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Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture is loud, rock ‘n’ roll loud. It’s one reason young musicians gravitate toward it. “I get to play full out!” Many of the pros, especially the brass, enjoy the 1812 throughout their careers, and they play it throughout their careers–a lot of times outdoors, and sometimes even with real cannon.

Principal Tuba Mike Sanders has played the 1812 Overture inside, outside, with bass drum, with cannon, and this week with a great big wooden box making the big booms.

But how does the tuba get heard amidst all that racket? Mike gave me a demonstration.

Mike Sanders shows what a tubist needs to do to be heard in 1812 Overture.

Mike Sanders shows what a tubist needs to do to be heard in 1812 Overture.

Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away?

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In a season of St. Louis Symphony anniversaries, here’s another: it’s the 10th anniversary of the St. Louis Symphony blog. Let’s pop a cork!

Here is how it all began, October 4, 2004–the first post:

So how did this get started?

It was a bit of synchronicity. I have been with the SLSO for a year now following eight years covering the arts for the Riverfront Times. Here at the Symphony, we’ve been looking for ways to improve slso.org. The idea of a blog, an (almost) daily journal of life at the Symphony, had been on my mind as a possibility. And, as it happened, other people had been thinking the same thing. With my experience as a journalist and columnist, we thought I could record the inner life of the organization – running into JoAnn Falletta on the elevator, hearing Dominique Labelle let out a joyous “Woo hoo” at the end of a rehearsal, David Robertson sightings – as well as provide commentary and observations about the music itself, as well as the issues surrounding the world of orchestral music.

So here we are. My first disclaimer: I have no music training of any kind. I listened to rock & roll when I was younger and I still do. But somewhere along the way I heard classical music as well. I’m old enough to remember the Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts on TV and recall being blown away by those smart New York City kids in the audience. Many years later, I’m still not as smart as them. I also remember going to a performance of Verdi’s Otello at the Portland Opera House (Portland, Oregon) on a junior-high field trip and sitting in absolute awe of the enormous scale of it all – the staging, the voices, the emotions. In the vernacular of the time, it really was a trip.

As a grownup, finding myself as a cultural critic and journalist, I came to the Saint Louis Symphony with more curiosity than background. I like the music. I like to listen to the music live in Powell Hall. What’s not to like? And talking to Orchestra members such as David Halen and Gary Smith and Jan Gippo and Felicia Foland and Richard Holmes and Amy Oshiro and Morris Jacob, and then interviewing visiting artists such as Philip Glass and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and John Adams – I found out stuff, and hopefully passed on some of the stuff I found out to readers.

Lo and behold, things change. I now find myself among the musicians and staff I formerly admired, and occasionally criticized (tenderly), from the outside. In truth, I couldn’t have imagined a better place to land in St. Louis.

The blog. What will it be? I’m of the generation that learned creation as process. Let’s find out as we go along. There will be the offhand observations: those little hickies that are on violin and viola players necks aren’t there because the string section is incessantly romantic but because of the repeated placement and pressure of their instruments underneath their chins time after time. Believe it or not, it took me a while to figure that out. I’ll talk about current articles, books, films that in one way or another reflect on the orchestral world. Mostly, I hope this blog may help to open the orchestral experience to you in ways that will increase your pleasure and interest.

A Human Requiem

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Johannes Brahms said of the title Ein deutsches Requiem, “I confess that I would gladly omit even the word German and instead use Human….” So Brahms wrote a work of consolation for the living, “a healing piece,” as Symphony Chorus Director Amy Kaiser has described it. You don’t need to know German or the Bible when you hear Brahms’ Requiem, you feel its meaning and its comfort.

You no doubt have heard of the protest at Powell Hall Saturday night, just before Markus Stenz turned to give the downbeat to the orchestra and chorus to begin Ein deutsches Requiem. You no doubt have your own thoughts and feelings about it.

Among the orchestra and staff of the St. Louis Symphony the thoughts and feelings are as diverse as can be found anywhere outside of Powell Hall. In response to the protest, some were inspired, some were afraid, some were appalled, some were angry, some were puzzled.

Some members of the audience booed, some applauded. Some members of the orchestra and chorus applauded. Others did not.

I’ve seen the word “surreal” used more than once on individual musician and chorus member Facebook accounts. And for some, there remain unresolved, conflicting thoughts. One chorus member wrote: “As for me, I added Michael Brown and his family to my private list of those for whom I was singing the great German Requiem.”

“Behold, I show you a mystery:/ we shall not all sleep,/ but we shall all be changed….”

 

Happy Place

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Following the afternoon rehearsal of Four Preludes and Serious Songs, I asked Amy Kaiser, “Are you happy?” The St. Louis Symphony Chorus director told me, “I’m happy.”

Amy Kaiser

Amy Kaiser

I asked Chorus Manager Susan Patterson how A German Requiem was going, with one rehearsal to go Thursday night. “It’s going to be beautiful,” she told me.

Symphony violist Chris Woehr gave me a bit of music theory relating to Brahms, and music in general. It is an equation he’s devised based on “emotional bang for practice buck.” Some works, Woehr has observed, take a lot of practice, but they are more intellectual or idea-driven. They don’t score with the emotions. Other composers, Brahms especially, aren’t terrifically hard to play, but man, do they ever zero in on the heart.

With double Brahms this weekend, Chris is happy too.