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David Robertson: leading musicians, cheerleading St. Louis

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: St. Louis Symphony Music Director David Robertson has several reasons to look forward to the League of American Orchestras Conference that will be hosted here June 16 – 20.

“This is actually the first one I’ve ever attended,” Robertson says during a phone interview last week. “My work schedule is usually done many years in advance, and it’s just never worked out that I’ve had the time to attend the conference. So I’m definitely looking forward to this one!”

Robertson will be on a whirlwind schedule throughout the conference. On June 18, Robertson will lead an open SLSO rehearsal in the morning, conduct the Symphony Youth Orchestra in a performance at the opening session in the afternoon, then conduct a public SLSO performance Tuesday evening – all at Powell Hall.

Wednesday’s schedule includes leading a discussion called “New Music from Here to 2023,” and the next day Robertson will lead a master class for conductors, leading the SLSO with four young conductors in explorations of Beethoven’s “Symphony #2” and Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.”

(And Robertson takes a break from the Conference Monday evening to narrate a performance of Stravinsky’s “History of a Soldier” at the Midwest Chamber Music Festival at the Community Music School in Webster Groves.)

In addition to the official events on Robertson’s schedule, he’ll be a presence at other events throughout the Conference, representing the SLSO – and St. Louis – to the best of his ability.

“Ever since I moved here, I’ve been blown away by St. Louis,” Robertsonsays. “It’s a metropolis, but it’s also friendly and has such a strong cultural community. Unfortunately, one of the hallmarks of St. Louisans is that they feel it’s unseemly to brag about their city. But I certainly won’t have any issues pointing out what I regard as all the positives here!”

Robertson is especially excited about the opportunity to showcase the talents of the Youth Orchestra and the SLSO at the League convention. He believes the repertoire for each concert will work well to highlight the breadth and versatility of the musicians.

“The Youth Orchestra performance of selections from Bizet’s ‘L’Arlesienne’ will highlight the vivacity of these young musicians,” he explains. “And Ingram Marshall’s “Kingdom Come” will illustrate the deeper interaction and the kind of approach that YO conductor Steven Jarvi is taking.” (Note: Marshall’s 1997 composition incorporates taped sections with live orchestral music).

For the Symphony concert Tuesday evening, Robertson has assembled a program that brings together overtures and vocal music by Mozart and Wagner – followed by Sibelius’ “Symphony #7” and John Adams’ “Doctor Atomic Symphony,” adapted in 2007 from Adams’ 2005 opera and recorded by Robertson and the SLSO on Nonesuch Records.

“The Symphony program allows us to show off many different sides of the orchestra’s range,” explains Robertson. “We’ve included Viennese classical repertoire and big romantic pieces. And we include works from the early 20th and 21st centuries – and illustrate that it’s all within the orchestra’s grasp in terms of ability and also our creative mission.

“We played both the Sibelius and the Adams on our first California tour four years ago, but we’ve never had the chance to play them in St. Louis. So that was a part of the decision to include them.”

Once the conference is over and before his hectic music schedule kicks back in, Robertson will have face a different type of whirlwind.

“My wife (pianist Orli Shaham) will be finishing her recordings of Brahms piano pieces,” he explains. “The recordings will finish up work on a four CD set. So I’ll be watching our twin boys while she does that.”

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