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Changes at SLSO, Gypsy Caravan hits brakes, top performances and more from year in classical music

Changes at SLSO, Gypsy Caravan hits brakes, top performances and more from year in classical music


St. Louis is blessed with an unusually fine classical music scene for a city of its size and resources. Here are some highlights of 2017.

Changes at the top

• There have been lots of comings and goings; right now it’s mostly goings. The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra says farewell to its music director of 13 years, David Robertson, at the end of this season. (It’s already said hello to the next one, Stéphane Denève.) Adam Crane, the SLSO’s senior vice president of external affairs and strategic initiatives, leaves for the New York Philharmonic after the broadcast of the orchestra’s New Year’s Eve concert Sunday.

• Meanwhile, Opera Theatre of St. Louis is looking for a new general director to replace Timothy O’Leary when he departs after the 2018 festival season to take the top job at Washington National Opera; music director Stephen Lord stepped into a different pair of shoes as music director emeritus at the end of June.

• After 20 years, St. Louis Chamber Chorus executive director Linda Ryder turned over the reins to her successor, Laura Frank, at the end of May. At the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society, longtime president Bill Ash stepped back into a volunteer role as director of education, with Kevin Ginty as the new president.

End of an era

The SLSO’s annual Memorial Day Gypsy Caravan sale — a major fundraising effort of the orchestra’s Volunteer Association — ended after 45 years because of a decline in shoppers and revenue, as well as an increase in the efforts needed to produce it.

Orchestral concert of the year

David Robertson, a fine solo quartet and the St. Louis Symphony Chorus and Orchestra gave a superb performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Mass in D major, better known as the “Missa solemnis,” in November. Beethoven is not usually Robertson’s strongest suit — he’s best with new music — but in the “Missa,” Robertson found a work by Beethoven to which he could give his full focus and persuasive abilities, in one of his best performances this year. The solo quartet — soprano Joélle Harvey, mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, tenor Stuart Skelton and bass-baritone Shenyang — were outstanding; Amy Kaiser’s chorus was in terrific voice, and the orchestra played magnificently.

Choral concert of the year

St. Louis Chamber Chorus, “A Time of Mystery” Artistic director Philip Barnes and his outstanding a cappella choir deliver six programs every year according to a unique formula: a program that explores a basic theme; a different venue each time, chosen to mesh with the program; frequent commissions of new choral works; lots of music by female composers. For this year’s Christmas concert, Barnes took settings old and new of the poem “O Magnum Mysterium,” anchored by the mass by Palestrina, and performed it at St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church in St. Charles. It was all beautifully performed, a Christmas concert that offers more than the standards.

Opera of the year

“The Grapes of Wrath,” by composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Michael Korie, in its new condensed version at Opera Theatre of St. Louis. There’s not a lot here in the way of hummable tunes, but it packs a dramatic punch and pleases harmonically. The production, led by OTSL artistic director James Robinson, was imaginative and effective; the large cast of more than 30 artists, led by mezzo-soprano Katharine Goeldner as Ma Joad, soprano Deanna Breiwick as Rosasharn and Tobias Greenhalgh as Tom Joad, was uniformly well-chosen.

Recital of the year

Washington University’s new Great Artists Series made an auspicious start this year with some, well, great artists. Baritone Nathan Gunn, accompanied by his wife and musical partner, Julie Gunn, offered a selection of songs in English to close the series May 5, in the E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall of the 560 Music Center.

Venue of the year

The Palau de la Musica in Valencia, Spain, the first stop in last winter’s three-city, four-concert tour by David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The performance, with works written in America — John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto, with Gil Shaham as (superb) soloist and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World” — was enthusiastically received by the large audience and set the tone for the rest of the tour.

Audition of the year

The Blues asked the SLSO to help find someone to sing the national anthem at a game. From 650 applicants, a team of judges from both organizations winnowed the list to 34 semi-finalists to sing at Powell Hall, where they performed behind a curtain, as if they were auditioning for the orchestra itself. Fourteen made the finals; nine of them were chosen to sing before a home game.

Educational success story of the year

The St. Louis Classical Guitar Society has continued to expand its Guitar Horizons classes in public schools since its founding three years ago, with 20 teachers working with 200 students in 22 schools, in St. Louis, Ferguson, Jennings and Normandy. Classes have an average of eight to 20 students, all learning the basics of playing classical guitar.

Deaths Conductor Georges Prêtre, 92

Tenor Nicolai Gedda, 91

Soprano Roberta Peters, 86

Clarinetist extraordinaire George Silfies, 88

Conductor-composer Stanisław Skrowaczewski, 93

Basso profondo Kurt Moll, 78

Soprano Roberta Knie, 79

Mezzo-soprano Kristine Jepson, 54

Singer-philanthropist Priscilla Robb “Pris” McDonnell, 94

Master of Czech music Jirí Belohlávek, 71

Conductor Sir Jeffrey Tate, 74

Musicologist Philip Gossett, 75

Director Sir Peter Hall, 86

Director Frank Corsaro, 92

“Singer of the World” baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, 55

Soprano Carol Neblett, 71

Mover and shaker Elizabeth Gentry Sayad, 83

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Sarah Bryan Miller is the classical music critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; she has also written on a variety of other topics.

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