Last weekend I was given the privilege of watching the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra perform at the Powell Symphony Hall. As someone who didn’t grow up in St. Louis (or even in Missouri) I always get pretty excited to experience or discover something new that this city has to offer. It was not only my first time listening to the symphony, but also visiting the Powell. I was not disappointed one bit.
The last time I have been to the symphony was when I was in sixth grade and I remember being bored out of my mind and watching a screen behind the symphony with visual effects. I was almost surprised (but more relieved) when the Powell didn’t have a visualization screen, but honestly…they didn’t need one. The symphony as a whole did such a great job keeping me entertained. Who needs a bunch of extra frills added to their show when they give you enough “frills” in their performance of the music?
Upon entering the Powell, it reminded me a little of the Orpheum Theater in Omaha, but on a much grander scale. The stairs were covered in this lush, red velvet—even the handrails. And of course, no one could miss the gorgeous chandeliers hanging from the ceilings. When we arrived for the pre-show cocktail hour, Eddie Silva and Dale Fisher met myself and other fellow bloggers eager for the night’s show. SLSO’s President Fred Bronstein even joined us for a minute and expressed how excited he was for the show, especially the guest pianist, Arnaldo Cohen.
At the ring of the bell (a nice switch from flickering the lights) we took our seats, and yet again I was surprised. The musicians were already sitting in their seats and warming up for everyone to see. For the seven years I was in concert band, we always warmed up behind a curtain. It was actually neat to see each musician playing as an individual and showing such emotion—from the way they moved their body while playing or how they leaned forward into their instrument as if they were getting more connected with it.
The show opened up with Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke) composed by Franz Liszt. At only about 11 minutes, it set the tone for the night’s show. It was an upbeat composition for the most part, and the amazing job of the musicians to crescendo and decrescendo added a more emotional side to it. At one point I remember thinking to myself how it reminded me of a bee flying around, possibly fighting and conquering an enemy. I know that the lead violinist is one of the more prominent roles in a symphony, but I honestly thought the flutist’s performance outdid that of the lead violinst’s in this piece. Overall, it was an impressive opener.
The second song, Piano Concert No. 4 in G major, op. 58 composed by Beethoven stared the guest pianist Arnaldo Cohen. Overall, I really wanted to hear more out of this piece. I was expecting something more boastful. It’s not that the orchestra didn’t played well—because they did—it was the composition itself. I don’t think it was one of Beethoven’s strongest pieces. I was a bit confused by the exchanging of the orchestra’s more stern tone and the piano’s lighter response—almost as if one of them was not on time. Cohen did a fantastic job moving his fingers up and down the piano’s keys (something I’m always amazed by) and was even given a standing ovation by some.
The second half greeted us with Ligeti’s Atmosphères. It was an interesting piece to say the least. The more modern and experimental piece was like organized chaos with tonal clusters and some glass breaking high notes. I even saw one musician attempt to plug her ears. It was meant to sound off-key, and it was great. If I were in a horror movie, I would hope this would be included in the sound track.
Atmosphères was followed immediately by Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra, which is well known to the public for being included in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was by far my favorite piece of the night, perhaps because it was the one I knew the best. It was really what I always think of an orchestra playing—boastful, moving, grand, dramatic music. I loved seeing two harps, and I always keep my ears listening for the woodwinds since I played variations of the clarinet for seven years. The composition soon slowed down and almost separates itself from the introduction. It was still very dramatic, but in a different way. It ended in a very light and airy feeling, much softer than the beginning. It almost made you feel like you were ascending upwards, which was one of the goals of this song.
In the end, it was a great performance to watch as a first timer to the Powell. The musicians did a fantastic job, and it definitely lived up to the hype everyone around me was creating. I already have my eye on a future date I’m considering getting tickets for. Thank you to Eddie and Dale for great night!