St. Louis Symphony's "Music You Know" Series Draws Inspiration From the Familiar

Dilip Vishwanat
Music director David Robertson leads the St. Louis Symphony.

Have you ever really thought about where you hear classical music? No, really thought about it? Once you know what to listen for, you'll notice that orchestral pieces are everywhere, from video games to cartoons to presidential inaugurations. It's kind of scary how often we're surrounded by beautiful scores, and it's even scarier how often our brains take them for granted.

A new program from the St. Louis Symphony aims to change that, though. Through a series dubbed "Music You Know," the symphony will lead music lovers through famous classical pieces they may have heard outside of a traditional concert event. Music director and conductor David Robertson will further enhance the audience's surprise by explaining the historical and cultural origins of the music and why the pieces lend themselves so well to everyday use.

"We have a huge repertoire of pieces that the audience isn't necessarily going to know by the title," Robertson says. "That's part of the fun of these concerts — the joy of actually discovering, 'Oh, that's what that is!' and saying, 'Wow, that's really cool!'"

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Celebrated Conductor Kenneth Woods Pens Piece on St. Louis Symphony Protest

Benjamin Ealovega
Kenneth Woods
Kenneth Woods, artistic director and principal conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra in Worcester, England, recently penned a piece for his popular A View From the Podium blog on the subject of the protests that took place during Saturday's performance by the St. Louis Symphony at Powell Hall. Woods, who got his start in the United States, has worked with a plethora of well-known orchestras during his career including the Oregon East Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the National Symphony Orchestra and more, receiving accolades from publications such as the Washington Post as well as the respect of many of his peers.

"I wasn't there, obviously, but I'm inclined to say the protesters did the right thing," Woods says in the piece. "Certainly that their actions, to me, seem both justified and appropriate."

See also: Ferguson Protesters Lead Demonstration During St. Louis Symphony Rendition of Brahms' A German Requiem

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Ferguson Protesters Lead Demonstration During St. Louis Symphony Rendition of Brahms' A German Requiem

Screenshot from the YouTube video.
Singing protesters display banners at Powell Hall.

By now, much of the country is talking about the musical protest in honor of Michael Brown that occurred during the St. Louis Symphony performance at Powell Hall on October 4. But what people haven't fully grasped are the themes and symbolism in the SLSO piece, Johannes Brahms' A German Requiem, that powerfully connect the musicians with the demonstrators.

Four days before the performance and protest, the St. Louis Symphony had posted a Facebook update about the overarching theme of A German Requiem. "This moving requiem was written to console the living, rather than memorialize the departed," the post had said. It's not a far leap to speculate, then, that the people who had organized Saturday's demonstration had pointedly chosen this particular work of Brahms' both to promote Brown's legacy and to help heal those who loved him.

Read our complete coverage on Michael Brown and Ferguson here.

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St. Louis Symphony Receives Critical Acclaim from the New York Times for Carnegie Hall Performance

Categories: Classical Music

YouTube screenshot.
The St. Louis Symphony made an appearance at Carnegie Hall this past weekend, performing Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes on what would have been the composer's 100th birthday. Critical acclaim followed an extended standing ovation upon the close of the performance, with the New York Times calling the event "as involving as any production you could imagine."

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Philip Glass Makes You Look Old

Categories: Classical Music

Steve Pyke
The classical music of 75-year-old Philip Glass occupies an unlikely place in pop culture. It still attracts the same age group it did when the composer first performed his minimalist works more than 40 years ago.

This audience is ever present for the renowned artist's recent performance at the Kaufman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City's futuristically handsome new complex whose scallop-like frame of steel, concrete and glass curves elegantly to join Downtown's eclectic skyline. Here, a young set of cool, bespectacled 20-somethings have made a collective effort to shower, show up and Instagram the sunset.

After all classical music performances provide ample reason to unironically wear fur and suspenders. And, like, everyone they know is here.

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The Chess Piano Makes Its Second U.S. Appearance in St. Louis

When it comes to chess, St. Louis actually does have room for two sheriffs in town. (And a piano.)
According to the ticker on its website, the World Chess Hall of Fame is six days from opening in its new home in the Central West End across the street from the Chess Club and Scholastic Center. This news should be accompanied by the same level of enthusiasm you'd assume it lacks. (You'd be wrong.) In addition to showcasing the game's most prized possessions, the World Chess Hall of fame straddles the divide between art and science with its attention to chess. And on September 13, it will focus firmly on music.

In the days around its opening, the World Chess Hall of Fame will cover solid but expected terrain: hors d'oeuvres, ribbon cutting, an induction ceremony and a tour through the art, rare chess sets and other memorabilia on display in the three-floor, 15,000 square foot building. The official activities will transition to experimental on September 13, however, with a visual art performance of the world's only chess piano.

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Can You Tell Real St. Louis Symphony Pops Concert Gimmicks From Fakes?

The St. Louis Symphony has announced a handful of new shows for its 2011-2012 Live at Powell series. They are unapologetically pop-centric, which is nothing new for this series or indeed for symphony orchestras nationwide. As it gets harder and harder to attract audiences to classical music, some of the world's best musicians are reduced to playing gussied up versions of three-chord pop songs. We get it.

Still, the programming is a little eye-popping. It's hard to believe some of these concerts are real, which is why we've invented a few of our own. Of the ten shows described below, five are actually going to happen at Powell Symphony Hall in 2012 and five are not. Can you tell the difference?

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St. Louis Symphony Announces 2011-12 Season

Categories: Classical Music

image via
David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony will be back for another season.
It's still only about halfway through the current orchestral season, but the St. Louis Symphony believes in planning ahead. And so, late last week, the orchestra announced its offerings for the 2011-12 season, which kicks off in mid-September.

This year marks the centennial of Ballets Russes, the legendary dance company founded by Sergei Diaghilev and which featured the great dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. (Their relationship was kind of like Vincent Cassel and Natalie Portman's in Black Swan, only when Nijinsky went crazy, he believed he was a horse, not a bird.) The St. Louis Symphony plans to honor the Ballets Russes with a series of dance performances, including one to The Rite of Spring, composed by Igor Stravinsky, which the Ballets Russes troupe premiered in Paris in 1913.

According to legend, the Parisians were shocked by The Rite of Spring's radical modernism and showed their displeasure by rioting.

That probably won't happen when the Symphony performs The Rite of Spring to open its season on September 16, though a riot at Powell Hall would certainly be newsworthy.

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SLSO Youth Orchestra Earns Kudos from New York Times

Categories: Classical Music

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The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra Youth Orchestra made a triumphant New York debut last Tuesday, June 8, at a benefit performance in Riverside Church, earning a rave review in today's New York Times.

"Significant collective and individual preparation had clearly gone into their terrific concert," wrote critic Vivien Schweitzer. "Ward Stare, music director of the youth ensemble...and resident conductor of the St. Louis Symphony, has trained his charges exceptionally well."

This is Stare's first season as conductor of the Youth Orchestra, which is comprised of 100 young musicians ranging in age from 12 to 22, some of whom travel from as far away as Columbia and Springfield, Illinois, to attend the weekly Saturday morning rehearsals.

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