The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra opened it’s 137th season this weekend with a bold gambit of a Charles Lindbergh themed evening celebrating the “Spirit of St. Louis”. The program included Weill, Boulez and Debussy. The St. Louis Symphony is a unique experience and more so this year. Much more intimate than any other symphony orchestra, attendance has an unpretentiousness that I find no where else except the St. Louis Symphony. The bold direction established by Maestro Robertson this opening weekend with these bold unorothodox opening performances unsheathes a double-edged sword which at the same time sets the St. Louis Symphony experience one unlike any other in its surprising and relaxing atmosphere of a simple gathering of great musicians who decided to get together of an evening and deliver fabulous performance of whatever they choose to play, while on the other edge of the sword a risk of dimishining the out-of-the-box stature that a symphony orchestra can claim simply through pretentiousness and set pieces, not to mention losing the core mature symphony-goers who gravitate to the traditional repetoire.
The St. Louis Symphony under David Robertson and Helene-Marie Bernard’s leadership has opted to take the symphony in a direction which I find unlike any other symphony experience available anywhere, and very refreshing, innovative, friendly and memorable. It remains to be seen if the symphony can simultaneously be bold and experimental in its cozy Powell Hall space without diminishing textbook stature. For myself, I think the direction chosen is the right direction. The SLSO at Powell Hall has always had an approachable unorchestra orchestra feel to it which in earlier years threatened in fact to somehow diminish the orchestra. Nevermind that this orchestra has won grammys in the very recent past for it’s stellar recordings and nevermind that at 137 years it’s the second oldest elder statesperson of American symphony orchestras. No, there’s no denying that the SLSO has a dangerously approachable feel to it – and the appreciative St. Louis audiences who are so generous with the standing ovations don’t help matters much (this is a friendly joke – I love our St. Louis audiences and I think soloists who visit us must have St. Louis marked as a “feel good” destination) and contribute to the risk of diminishing the just-add-a-big-hall-and-a-hard-to-please-audience that a say, NYPhil automatically employs. NYPhil has “Barry Diller” hall and at least some people still know who he is, but does anyone know who Powell Hall is named after? I don’t.
I think the new direction of the symphony celebrates what is great about the SLSO and builds on it’s strengths rather than trying to out-nyphil-the-nyphil. Keep up the good work SLSO!
No blog post for this season of the SLSO would be complete in my opinion without noting the passing of Jack Taylor, founder of Enterprise Rent-A-Car who donated beyond generously to the tune of 10’s of millions of dollars to the SLSO. Jack Taylor will be very much missed by the SLSO family but his legacy of generosity to the SLSO and to this city truly is consistent with “The Spirit of St. Louis” theme of this opening weekend. Jack’s relatives and the greater Taylor Clan continue to support the SLSO generously, and I thank them for that most sincerely.