Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra | 5.8.09-5.10.09

robertson.jpgMusic Director David Robertson will conduct the Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Chorus, with soloists Heidi Grant Murphy, Jennifer Dudley, Brandon Jovanovich and Jonathan Lemalu.






Powell Symphony Hall

As the finale to their 2008-2009 season, the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra are performing two revolutionary works. One premiered 185 years ago to a mixture of popular acclaim and indifferent box office receipts and required another quarter century to become part of the standard orchestral repertoire. It represents the apex of a lifetime’s achievements for a man now commonly acknowledged as our greatest composer: like many great works it was ahead of its time and had to wait for the rest of the musical world to catch up.

The other was first performed in 1997 and immediately brought great acclaim to its composer, then in his mid-20’s. It won the Grawemeyer Award, one of the richest prizes in the arts, and established the young man who wrote it as one of the brightest lights in the contemporary classical musical scene. Only time will tell if this work will become a permanent fixture in an orchestral repertoire which (unlike Beethoven’s day) is dominated by compositions of the past, but it’s certainly one worth hearing. 

The first piece is the 9th Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, a monumental work which, like Hamlet or Faust, contains worlds within itself. It’s extraordinarily difficult to perform, unconventional in form , unusually long, and requires a large orchestra (including doubles on the wind parts) as well as a chorus and four vocal soloists. But despite these formidable qualities the 9th Symphony has also become a popular classic: chances are you already know the tune to the "Ode to Joy," taken from the choral section of the symphony. The "Ode" has been embraced as a symbol of international brotherhood: when Germany was divided into two countries after World War II their joint Olympic team used it as their national anthem, and the European Union adopted it as well, supplementing but not displacing the national anthems of the individual countries.

If Beethoven was an old revolutionary when he wrote the 9th Symphony (he died 3 years later) the British composer Thomas Adès was a young revolutionary when he wrote Asyla. Adès early acquired a reputation for provocation which rivaled his musical talents: a British critic compared him to Damien Hurst (of pickled-shark and diamond-skull fame) and his opera Powder her Face included the first on-stage scene of fellatio in operatic history. But Adès has the musical goods as well, and Asyla (performed in its St Louis premiere this weekend) is a good introduction to his style. The title is deliberately ambiguous: "asyla" is the plural of "asylum" and implies both a madhouse and a place of refuge, and you can hear intimations of both meanings in this work. Adès has a strong personal voice which also incorporates many other styles of music-in Asyla you will hear melodies which sound positively Romantic (in the 19th-century sense) but he also invokes the driving style of techno music from a 1980’s nightclub. And if you need an extra-musical reason to like the guy, Adès was among the first to take advantage of the British civil partnership law (analogous to marriage for gay and lesbian couples): he and the video artist Tal Rosner formally registered as civil partners in 2006.

Music Director David Robertson will conduct the Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Chorus, with soloists Heidi Grant Murphy (soprano), Jennifer Dudley (mezzo-soprano), Brandon Jovanovich (tenor) and Jonathan Lemalu (bass-baritone). But don’t delay: the Friday and Saturday concerts are already sold out and only limited seats remain for Sunday. In response to this demand, the orchestra has added an open rehearsal on Thursday night (May 7, 7 pm) for which many tickets are available-and take it from me, a rehearsal can be just as satisfying and even more interesting than a formal concert. Ticket information is available in person from the box office at Powell Hall, by calling 314-534-1700 or 1-800-232-1880, or on the web at | Sarah Boslaugh

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