Marie-Helene Bernard | St. Louis Public Radio

Marie-Helene Bernard

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

In a cramped hallway outside Stéphane Denève’s new office at Powell Hall, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra chief executive Marie-Hélène Bernard had a warning for the orchestra’s new music director. 

There’ll be a lot of microphone reverb when he talks to the audience at the orchestra’s Forest Park concert the next night, she said.

“Like Woodstock!” he exclaimed, and pantomimed playing guitar to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

A crowd of 20,000 at Forest Park is not quite Woodstock, but it’s also a world away from Denève’s humble origins. This weekend, he leads his first concerts as the orchestra’s artistic leader.

Marie-Helene Bernard and Stephane Deneve joined host Sarah Fenske in advance of the SLSO's 140th season.
Emily Woodbury | St. Louis Public Radio

As the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra opens its 140th season this Saturday, its new music director, Stéphane Denève, is calling the season a gift to St. Louis.

“We will try to build an arch of the Franco-American friendship,” said Denève, a native of France. Selections from French composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel are featured as part of the first concert, as is George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”

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.

(May 7, 2019) SLSO's music director designate Stéphane Denève and CEO  Marie-Hélène Bernard talk about wrapping up the 2018-2019 season and what's ahead for the symphony orchestra on Tuesday's talk show.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s music director designate, Stéphane Denève, is set to close the season this weekend with Hector Berlioz’s “most celebrated work and an orchestral tour-de-force,” the“Symphonie fantastique.

Ahead of those concerts, Denève and SLSO CEO Marie-Hélène Bernard sat down with St. Louis on the Air guest host Jim Kirchherr to recap Denève’s first season at Powell Hall as music director designate and what’s in store for next season.

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.

Gemma New was the first woman and the first resident conductor to lead St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's opening night concert. 10/11/18
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

Opening night at the symphony has a special buzz and a once-a-year chance for the orchestra's artistic leader to welcome back the musicians and the audience. If an orchestra happens to be between leaders, the occasion also offers a plum spot on the calendar to invite a guest-star conductor with a pedigree.

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra took a different route this year. With the seat of music director technically unfilled — French conductor Stéphane Denève takes over that job next season — the orchestra’s leadership turned to the rising star in its ranks.

Gemma New, 31, led the orchestra’s annual kickoff concert in Forest Park and then held onto the baton for opening night at Powell Hall. She made history on two fronts: as the first woman to lead SLSO’s opening night concert, and as the first resident conductor to do so.

From left, Marie-Hélène Bernard and Erik Finley look forward to the season opener of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra this weekend.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Founded in 1880, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra begins its 2018-19 season this weekend.

“It’s an exciting time,” Marie-Hélène Bernard said on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air in advance of the SLSO’s 139th season that features music director designate Stéphane Denève.

While Devène does not officially start as music director until the 2019-20 season, he will conduct four concerts, and Bernard explained his role this year with an analogy.

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

The St. Louis Symphony ended 2016 with the healthiest bottom line in many years.

The good news includes the first balanced cash operating budget this century for the institution, which has a budget of $28.1 million, up from $26.6 million last year. The symphony saw growth in philanthropic support, and increased attendance and ticket sales.

In a news release, St. Louis Symphony President and CEO, Marie-Hélène Bernard praised the symphony's board and the generosity of the St. Louis area. She cited innovative experiences as factors in the orchestra’s achievements.

David Robertson and Marie-Hélène Bernard of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis Symphony’s 137th season opens this Friday, September 16. On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, we heard from the orchestra’s music director, David Robertson, and president/CEO, Marie-Hélène Bernard about the upcoming season. We also heard about what they’re looking forward to most and, yes, got the backstory on that Nelly collaboration.

You can also catch the symphony on St. Louis Public Radio on Saturday nights, starting at 8 p.m. You can find a schedule of the symphony broadcasts here.

Regional Arts Commission executive director Felicia Shaw, Pulitzer director Cara Starke and St. Louis Symphony president Marie-Hélène Bernard
Regional Arts Commission, Pulitzer Arts Foundaiton and St. Louis Symphony

Three women who moved to St. Louis this year to head up major arts organizations are praising the area for assets ranging from architecture to sports teams. But all three agreed on one perk: the food.

Aine O'Connor | St. Louis Public Radio

When it comes to priorities, Marie-Hélène Bernard will not be easily swayed. When asked by “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh whether she prefers to open her first season as president of the St. Louis Symphony  or throw out the first pitch at a Cardinals game, she made it clear that it doesn’t matter what she’s doing so long as it is connecting the local community to the symphony.

“Both are so, so exciting … exciting in a way that gets me to know the community,” said Bernard. “It is a really wonderful city.”

New Symphony CEO Discusses Her Role, Goals

Feb 13, 2015
Marie-Hélène Bernard of St. Louis Symphony
Courtesy of St. Louis Symphony

Marie-Hélène Bernard believes music connects things. People. History. Literature. Sports. And, for Bernard, law.

As a teenager, Bernard played the viola da gamba professionally. Then she became a lawyer, practicing corporate and tax law. But something was missing.

“I realized that music was really a calling, and I could bring skills that the music field needed, both from the business legal standpoint and music and management standpoint,” she told “Cityscape” host Jim Kirchherr on Friday.

St. Louis Symphony Announces New President And CEO

Feb 11, 2015
Marie-Hélène Bernard of St. Louis Symphony
Courtesy of St. Louis Symphony

Marie-Helene Bernard is joining the St. Louis Symphony as its president and CEO.

"I am honored to join the St. Louis Symphony and to support this great American treasure,” said Bernard in a news release this morning.