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‘Burroak Baroque’ To Bring Bach (And More) To Webster Groves

Evie Hemphill
St. Louis Public Radio
Guitarist Walter Parks stands at the top of a natural amphitheater behind his home.

On a recent weekday morning, just after a heavy night of rain had cleared, Jody Redhage Ferber lugged a cello down a grassy hill in Webster Groves. Her friend and fellow musician Walter Parks unfolded a chair for her, situating it beneath an enormous, centuries-old oak tree. And then Ferber put bow to strings.

“I don’t think I can ever think of a time in my life when I’ve played this close to a babbling brook before,” she remarked after offering a solo, improvised rendition of the opening of Bach’s Suite No. 3 in C Major. “It’s like white noise — it’s strangely calming and relaxing.”

Evie Hemphill / St. Louis Public Radio
Jody Redhage Ferber, a local cellist and music teacher, performs a piece during a recent rehearsal underneath Webster Groves’ “Liberty Tree” near Larson Park.

She found that the natural amphitheater, tucked between a quiet neighborhood street and local park, provided excellent inspiration for some freestyle playing.

“I felt like — and maybe this is a crazy idea — but that certain places inspire certain modes of you, certain tonalities or certain modes,” Ferber explained. “I mean, I’m sitting under a 350-year-old oak tree … it’s unique where I am right now. It felt right to improvise. It felt right to do something that hasn’t been done before.”

Ferber was trying out the venue ahead of an event taking place next weekend for the first time: Webster Groves’ Burroak Baroque festival.

The brainchild of Parks and his wife, Margo, the July 16 event promises both traditional and modern interpretations of 17th- and 18th-century European music and dance. Along with Ferber, a wide range of artists are adding their talents to the bill.

Parks, who moved to Webster Groves from the New York City area just last year, couldn’t resist the notion of the gently sloping knoll behind his new home becoming an outdoor venue. He knows how to put on a good show. And, he settled on a baroque theme, inspired by the massive bur oak at the bottom of the hill. The City of Webster Groves officially designates it the “Liberty Tree.”

“I’ve seen the redwoods out in the West and the sequoias, and this is the middle part of the country’s version of that,” Parks said. “It’s endurance, and it’s continuity, and it’s also future. Because that tree is going to be around well after us.”

On Friday’s show, Parks joined St. Louis Public Radio’s Jonathan Ahl to tell us more. We aired Ferber’s wonderful cello solo and comments, too.

Take a listen:

Concert Under 350-Year-Old Tree Promises Evening Of Outdoor Enchantment
Listen as St. Louis Public Radio’s Jonathan Ahl talks with guitarist Walter Parks about his vision for the inaugural event.

Related Event
What: Burroak Baroque
When: 7:30 p.m. July 16
Where: At the dead end of Poplar Avenue, right off Oak Street, near Larson Park
Free and open to the public; downtown parking advised.

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. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. 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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