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Metropolitan Orchestra Of St. Louis, Union Avenue Opera Partner On Outdoor ‘Reboot’

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Metropolitan Orchestra of St. Louis & Christian Steiner
Conductor Wendy Lea, at left, and soprano Christine Brewer are playing key parts in Sunday's performance in St. Charles.

It’s been six long months since Wendy Lea has been able to play or perform with the group of musicians dearest to her heart — or put a paycheck in their pockets. But this weekend, that’s changing as masked members of the Metropolitan Orchestra of St. Louis carefully gather on an outdoor stage alongside the Union Avenue Opera.

“We’ve got hand sanitizers, we’ve got wipes, volunteers [to] come out and wipe things down,” Lea, the music director of the orchestra, told St. Louis on the Air.

On Sunday afternoon, musicians will bring their own chairs and music stands, set them up at least six feet apart, and begin their single in-person rehearsal for a free concert that begins at 5 p.m. that day in St. Charles’ Frontier Park.

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Metropolitan Orchestra of St. Louis
The Metropolitan Orchestra of St. Louis is gathering for the first time in six months for this weekend's outdoor event.

The event will kick off a new season for the orchestra and is also the group’s first collaboration with Union Avenue Opera. It will feature renowned artists including soprano Christine Brewer and conductor Leonard Slatkin, among other performers.

On Friday’s show, host Sarah Fenske talked with Lea and Brewer about what concertgoers can look forward to — and how audience members can prepare for a successful, safe event.

Lea noted that the performance won’t include the entire orchestra, given the size of the stage and the need for social distancing.

“It’s a small orchestra, but it’s mighty in spirit,” she said.

Brewer, as a singer, will be a partial exception to the otherwise masked-up performers.

“We’ll be spaced out enough that when I’m singing I won’t be, you know, spraying spit around, but I will wear a mask till I’m singing,” Brewer said. “We’re all being super careful and really mindful of all these precautions we all have to take.”

Lea is optimistic that the crowd will cooperate as well.

“We have asked everyone to please social distance — of course if they’re sitting with their family, we understand that,” she said, “[and] wear masks if they can possibly do that to just put another extra layer of barrier there. But there will [also] be no written programs ... we didn’t want people to get close to each other [or] pass programs out, things like that. So our music program is a PDF file on our website, moslmusic.org.”

Among the many highlights on the bill for evening will be Brewer’s rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” which has special resonance for her and which she recorded in the same MGM studio where Judy Garland recorded it in 1939.

“That arrangement was done by Randy Kerber, and he arranged it for cellist Lynn Harrell and me to do, and Lynn died this spring — not of COVID, he had a heart attack, and he died — but we’ve not been able to get together and have a celebration of his life,” Brewer said. “And Lynn and I performed this piece quite a bit. … So for me, I’m dedicating this to Lynn. And the wonderful Bjorn Ranheim, who’s a cellist with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, will be playing that cello solo part on Sunday.”

Another highlight, Lea said, will be the orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, with Slatkin conducting.

“For me this is really exciting — it’s coming full circle,” Lea said. “I was so lucky to have been in the youth orchestra when [Slatkin] founded it, so I’ve played under his baton many times. So I think for both Christine and I … it’s just wonderful.”

Other favorites punctuate the program, from part of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” to Rossini’s overture from “The Barber of Seville.”

She added that this is just the first in a series of outdoor concerts coming up for the Metropolitan Orchestra of St. Louis.

Related Event
What: Metropolitan Orchestra of St. Louis opens its ninth season
When: 5 p.m. Sept. 13
Where: Frontier Park (500 S. Riverside Dr., St. Charles, MO 63301)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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