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SLSO begs public: Save Powell Hall!

SLSO begs public: Save Powell Hall!

Save Powell Hall


The pleas are mounting, including one on a billboard on westbound I-64/40: “SAVE POWELL HALL.”

The former St. Louis Theater is not actually under the threat of the wrecking ball. The home of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra does face a musical onslaught in the form of Prokofiev’s “earth-shattering” “Scythian Suite,” to be performed by music director David Robertson and the SLSO on April 14 and 15. It’s a high-decibel piece, scored for “very large orchestra,” and it will make an impression on concertgoers.

“Do your part. Cushion the blow. Save your seat,” pleads the ad campaign. “Without a full house to absorb the sound, this thing will bring Powell Hall to the ground." It continues, "We need your butt in a seat. Bring others with you."

In fact, the Suite might be a pretty good classical starter piece for metalheads and others of that ilk. The second movement, entitled “The Evil God and the Dance of the Pagan Monsters,” was put to use by Emerson, Lake and Palmer on an album. That one should appeal to the Goth crowd for its title alone, come to that.

The tongue-in-cheek campaign, complete with its own webpage and a video, is getting some attention – and the offer of $22 tickets should clinch the deal. The concert also features famed pianist Leon Fleisher as soloist in Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances.

Here’s SLSO publications manager Eddie Silva’s “The Alarming History of the St. Louis Symphony and “Scythian Suite”:

April 3, 1959. Music Director Eduoard Van Remoortel conducts the St. Louis Symphony premiere of Prokofiev’s "Scythian Suite" at the Chase Park Plaza’s Khorassan Ballroom. The next morning, citizens of the city’s Central West End find that Kingshighway, Maryland, and Lindell are cordoned off to both pedestrian and street traffic. Although reports are never confirmed, there are rumors of brick falling from the Chase to the street during the performance. Dean Martin, in town for an engagement, says he will never stay at the Chase again if the St. Louis Symphony is playing there. “What a racket!” he is said to have exclaimed, scotch and cigarette in hand.

April 4, 1959. The Symphony is mysteriously moved to the Kiel Opera House for its next performance of "Scythian Suite". Although there are no reports of structural damage, decades later, when the Kiel is being restored as the Peabody Opera House, strange cracks are found in the auditorium area. One engineer says, “Only massive propulsions of sound could have created them. Something you’d expect from a Ted Nugent concert.”

August 18, 1971. Following the St. Louis Symphony performance of "Scythian Suite" at Powell Hall, the story goes, Music Director Walter Susskind turns to Assistant Leonard Slatkin and says, “I’m glad they just restored this place. We would have needed to build buttresses otherwise.”

October 8, 1977. Music Director Georg Semkow conducts the last performance of "Scythian Suite" at Powell Hall—that is until the upcoming program on April 14-15, 2012. It is said that the performance is such a revelation to Semkov, he changes his name back to the original Polish, Jerzy. A secret meeting of the Symphony Board is called the Monday after the final performance. Concerns for Powell Hall’s historic-registry status are voiced. “Let’s give the old place a break,” one Board member is supposedly to have said. “No Scythian Suite until, say, the 21st century,” he proclaims, as the Board burst into laughter at the absurdity of such a mandate.

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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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