Classical Music | St. Louis Public Radio

Classical Music

The St. Louis Symphony performs at Powell Hall in a 2016 concert.
File photo | St. Louis Symphony

When the St. Louis Symphony begins its 2019-20 season in September, concert-goers will notice changes orchestra managers hope will broaden its appeal. 

With a reduced base ticket price of $15 for classical shows, a change that will allow patrons to bring drinks into the concert hall and diverse musical offerings, the SLSO's new season aims to better attract younger listeners, people of color and first-time attendees.

In making the changes, the symphony is joining orchestras across the nation that are experimenting with ways to grow their audiences and expand interest in classical music.

IN UNISON Chorus rehearsing at Powell Hall. Charter member Gwendolyn Wesley, lower left. 2/22/19
Jeremy D. Goodwin | St. Louis Public Radio

As St. Louis Symphony Orchestra musicians file into the Powell Hall stage door facing Delmar Boulevard, they’re striding along the boundary that divides a segregated city.

With IN UNISON Chorus, orchestra leaders made an effort in 1994 to bridge that divide and welcome more African-Americans into the predominantly white world of European classical music.

The St. Louis Symphony appears to be the only American orchestra to maintain a second full-sized chorus dedicated to music by African-American and African composers. Its members largely come from about three dozen black churches in and around St. Louis, where SLSO orchestra members also perform recitals throughout the year.

Incoming music director Stéphane Denève will begin his first season at the helm of St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. 2/5/19
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s first season under the artistic leadership of incoming music director Stéphane Denève will include two world premieres, a selection of French composers and artists, and a world-renowned artist-in-residence.

The orchestra announced its 2019-2020 season Tuesday. Denève was announced in 2017 as the orchestra’s next music director, following the departure of David Robertson at the end of last season.

Gemma New conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in “Pines of Rome” in March 2018.
St. Louis Symphony

For the second consecutive year, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is reporting an operating budget surplus.

The symphony finished the 2018 fiscal year with $490,000. In 2017, it had an $18,000 surplus. The institution attributes the increase to a boost in giving, income from touring and spending less than anticipated.

A number of other factors also contributed to the surplus, including increased ticket sales, according to Symphony’s president and CEO Marie-Hélène Bernard.

omplishments with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra include a 2014 Grammy Award for a performance of John Adams' "City Noir."
St. Louis Symphony

This weekend, St. Louisans will say goodbye to a maestro known for honoring the magnificence of classical music while also making it approachable for the everyday person.

After 13 years as music director, David Robertson will conduct his final concert with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra on Sunday afternoon.

Classical musicians (from left) Terrance Patterson, Ann Hobson Pilot and Demarre McGill discussed the presence of African-Americans in the genre and how they’ve seen that presence slowly grow over the course of their careers.
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio

Fewer than 2 percent of musicians in professional orchestras in the U.S. are African-American, and the Florida-based Ritz Chamber Players are eager to change that.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, three members of the all-black ensemble talked with host Don Marsh about the presence of African-Americans in the genre and how they’ve seen that presence slowly grow over the course of their careers.

The St. Louis Symphony performs at Powell Hall in a 2016 concert.
File photo | St. Louis Symphony

The St. Louis Symphony has announced its 2018-2019 schedule, which includes a mixture of classics and new works.

The method of selecting the lineup was also new. For its 139th season, the orchestra asked its musicians to weigh in.

It just made sense to include them, according to Marie-Hélène Bernard, symphony president and CEO .

Movie poster image. Melissa Leo and Margaret Qualley star in "Novitiate," set to open in Los Angeles and New York Friday, Oct. 27.
Provided | Sony Pictures

Contemporary classical music fans all over the country have enjoyed original compositions by St. Louis' own Chris Stark. But he may have found his biggest audience, ever, in a new group: moviegoers.

Stark, a composer and a professor of composition at Washington University, recently finished scoring his first film, a Sony Pictures release, “Novitiate.” It’s the story of a woman who joins a convent.  Margaret Qualley plays the aspiring nun and Melissa Leo, the mother superior, in the film directed by Maggie Betts.

In our latest Cut & Paste podcast episode, Willis Ryder Arnold and Nancy Fowler talk with Stark about his work for a major motion picture.

David Robertson, the St. Louis Symphony's musical director, leads the orchestra in this file photo.
Scott Ferguson | Provided

The St. Louis Symphony will open its 2017-18 season with six Mozart piano concertos featuring Emanuel Ax.

Its season, which marks half a century in Powell Hall,  concludes with a performance of “Swing Symphony” in collaboration with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz from Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Nathaniel Ayers may not yet be a household name in classical music, but you surely know who he is. The  prodigy’s story was depicted in the 2009 film “The Soloist” by actor Jamie Foxx. It was Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez who discovered Ayers in 2005 and originally wrote a book about him, by the same title.

Violinist Leila Josefowicz plays with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in this photo taken earlier this fall.
Dilip Vishwanat

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra can claim some of the glory in a Grammy Awards nomination announced today.

Violinist Leila Josefowicz was nominated for Best Classical Instrumental Solo for her performance on John Adams' Scheherazade.2,  in a February 2016 recording with the SLSO. Music Director David Robertson conducted the performance.

Countertenor Terry Barber
Terry Barber

Terry Barber is a  countertenor who performed for years with the vocal group Chanticleer and has worked with Grammy-winning artists like Madonna, Jewel, Chaka Khan and more. Recently, he moved to St. Louis from Florida, bringing along his non-profit, called Artists for a Cause, in order to be closer to family. That also means that St. Louisans are treated to a few more local concerts from Barber than they were before.

Dana Hotle and Adam Maness joined "St. Louis on the Air" to discuss the Chamber Project St. Louis' upcoming concerts.
Mary Edwards | St. Louis on the Air

The 442’s pianist and composer Adam Maness is a lifelong St. Louisan and, with that, he has something on his mind: socioeconomic and racial divisions in the city of St. Louis. He recently composed a piece called “The Delmar Wall” to address those issues.

The local Songs of Africa ensemble is one of many groups performing in "A Tribute to African Composers."
African Musical Arts | Provided

A weekend concert in St. Louis pays homage to composers whose names are often left off lists that include Mozart, Bach and Britten.

“A Tribute to African Composers: Music Bringing People Together” features names like Adolphus Hailstork, Uzee Brown  and Tania Leon,  among a host of others with African roots.

Tatiana Berman performs as part of Not So Classical
Provided by David Donnelly

Filmmaker David Donnelly is on a mission to keep classical music relevant.  For him it’s all about the genre’s ability to bring together history and personal experience.

“Something may have been composed centuries ago, but then you hear it and it feels like it was written for you, and that’s this continuum of human civilization,” Donnelly said.

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

More and more people are trying to shed their heirloom pianos. While many of these instruments end up in the landfill, one St. Louis nonprofit is trying to give the instruments new life.

Wendy Lynch

Christopher O’Riley is recognized as a leading American pianist and is host of NPR’s “From the Top,” a program which showcases the best young musicians in the country.  Host Steve Potter talks with O’Riley in advance of his performance with cellist Matt Haimovitz, who made his solo debut when he was just 13 years old, at the Edison Theatre at Washington University.  The event, “Shuffle. Play.

Letter from Iraq: When a violinist becomes mayor

Sep 11, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 11, 2012 - Over the summer, most people go to the beach or a lovely mountain resort, maybe a little island somewhere; I choose to go to the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq for our annual Youth Excellence on Stage (YES) Academy with the Association of American Voices. This summer was my 7th time in Iraq teaching violin and conducting string orchestras. We started the arts academy in Erbil in 2007 with support from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 5, 2012 - The path to Shelby Nugent’s life as a French horn player began in 5th grade with a band meeting.

In the cafeteria of Rogers Elementary School in Waterloo, Nugent sat with her mother listening as the band director explained the instruments. They needed a pianist, and Nugent had played the instrument since she was 4. But she had her eye on the flute.

Commentary: Healing art from a sinister soul?

Aug 9, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 9, 2012 - Most artists I know are rather leery of being called healers. More to the point, they don’t think of their art as medicine.

In their view, art provokes. It elicits ideas. It pleases the eye or ear (without titillating or entertaining, which distinguishes pornography or television, respectively, from finer forms of art). It incites or sometimes soothes, but healing is something many contemporary artists would eschew.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 11, 2012 - Art and music are said to be a conversation — a living, interactive experience — an exchange of perspectives, ideas, culture. The artist makes a statement, the composer writes a piece, the musician interprets that piece and makes it his own.

He sends that message out into the world. At that point, the art becomes its own entity. People who have never met or possibly even heard of the sender are introduced to the work.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 29, 2012 - In May 2011, Samantha Schmid graduated summa cum laude from Webster University with a B.A. in music, and an emphasis in operatic singing. But the job she landed that same month involved more provolone than Puccini.

Returning to her high school and college-break employer, Schmid took a position in the deli at Straub's, which also offered her some office work. Over the past year, she occasionally used her creativity to make store posters.

Strings and jazz in Yala, Thailand

May 18, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 18, 2012 - Sawadee Kap (hello) from Thailand, where the Association of American Voices has just finished our annual Youth Excellence on Stage (YES) Academy in Bangkok.

I will have an article on our huge performing arts academy in Bangkok, but my first post from the road relates to a new performing arts program we conducted this year in the restive Yala Province in southern Thailand.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 11, 2012 - It is difficult, even for the most keen-eyed connoisseur or aurally sensitive music lover, to know precisely the origin of a particular work of art, be it a painting or a symphony, a magnificent building or brilliant work of sculpture. The minute you think, "A-ha! that’s where it came from," some new and intriguing wrinkle appears that throws you off course.

Editor's Weekly: Chamber music makes connections

Jun 27, 2011

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 27, 2011 - Last week, the Beacon reported on some extraordinary local teenage musicians who earned national recognition at the Fischoff chamber music competition.

If you're wondering what the future might hold for such dedicated students, check out the new Gesher Music Festival of Emerging Artists this week. Among the performers are three women - Sara Sitzer, Tessa Gotman and Jeanine Markley -- who once were part of the same local programs that produced the Fischoff award winners.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 23, 2011 - Four St. Louis area students gained international recognition after winning a second place medal earlier this month in the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, which is the largest chamber music competition in the world. The students, Jecoliah Wang (violin), Emily DeBold (violin), Charles Longtine (viola) and Richard Mazuski (cello), make up the Milo Quartet from the Preparatory Program of the Community Music School of Webster University.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 16, 2011 - I telephoned Bob Moore at the Gateway Arch the other day to ask him a question that had nothing to do with gondolas or anything else related to the big plans for the renovation of the Arch grounds and environs.

At noon on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the 90 members of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra are on stage at Powell Hall getting ready to rehearse German composer Paul Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphosis."

Typical Thanksgiving break plans for trombonist David Lindsay, a junior at Pattonville High School who's in his first year with the orchestra, don't include an hour and a half rehearsal.

Classical listeners turn to HD

Aug 3, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 3, 2010 - After St. Louis' longest running radio station, KFUO-FM "Classic99" changed format in early July, classical music lovers bemoaned the loss of their beloved station. But thanks to St. Louis Public Radio (KWMU 90.7 FM), classical radio is still available in St. Louis -- with a twist.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 20, 2009 - Karen Lynne Deal is pacing the altar of St. Agnes Church in Springfield, Ill., measuring the space to the pews, gauging the strength of the floor, moving around musicians' stands. It's 2 o'clock in the afternoon on Wednesday, Oct. 14, more than five hours before the Illinois Chamber Orchestra is to rehearse for a Friday night Eine Kleine Mozart performance. Deal is assessing how this flat, confined space, normally occupied by a priest and servers, can best be adapted into a concert hall.