The Chamber Music Society of St. Louis performs its signature musical works in an old-school manner: in a room, not an auditorium, and on a small scale, with one or two to a part rather than in a large ensemble. Patrons sit at bistro-style tables (with a nearby bar serving beverages) and have a better chance of appreciating the musical give-and-take of the performers.
CMSSL begins its second decade of performances Monday evening. Year 11 brings a pair of “Cookie Concerts,” special matinees funded for this season and next by the Pillsbury Foundation, and a collaboration with St. Louis Classical Guitar.
“Artistically, things remain the same,” says artistic and executive director Marc Gordon.
Gordon, who played English horn in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra from 1972 to 2005, typically hires his former colleagues for concerts, giving them a chance to play in small ensembles in a more intimate setting than Powell Symphony Hall.
“The big change is that we’ve grown so much: Our budget is now approximately a half-million dollars per year,” he says. The group recently was awarded three years of funding for its subscription series by the Centene Charitable Foundation.
Last summer, CMSSL went through a strategic planning process, which the board voted unanimously to adopt. “We’re looking for some help to take some things off my plate,” Gordon says, “and on a plan of succession for me.”
Over time, the original Monday evening concert in the upstairs auditorium at the Sheldon Concert Hall has grown to include a repeat performance on Tuesday night. The first of those is “No Place Like Home,” a program of works by American composers, including Howard Hanson, Cindy McTee, John Williams, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein and others, concluding with Antonin Dvorák’s String Quartet No. 12 in F major, the “American.”
“The Sheldon used to have a festival that focused on American music,” Gordon says. The CMSSL decided to take up the slack this year. Featured musicians include soprano Miran Halen, violinists Andrea Jarrett and Kyle Lombard, violist Chris Tantillo, cellist James Czyzewski, bassist David DeRiso, flutist Jennifer Nitchman, pianist Kelly Karamanov and harpist Megan Stout.
The next of CMSSL’s 11 programs this season, “Musical Tapas 2.0” on Nov. 11-12, features chamber music from around the world. Nic McGegan will conduct a brass-focused concert March 2, featuring SLSO principal horn Roger Kaza in the Telemann Horn Concerto and former SLSO trumpet Tage Larsen, now Chicago Symphony Orchestra second trumpet.
Later, March 23-24, is “Fantastic Classics.” Pianist Brian Woods grew up in University City. He’s the son of Pete Woods, an attorney and onetime student-athlete who played for Mizzou and in the NFL, and the grandson of Harriett Woods, still Missouri’s only female lieutenant governor, and former Post-Dispatch editor Jim Woods. Gordon promises that the young Woods is well worth hearing on his own merits.