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Enthusiastic SLSO concert thrills with U.S. premiere of Clyne's 'Pivot,' more
Concert review

Enthusiastic SLSO concert thrills with U.S. premiere of Clyne's 'Pivot,' more

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St. Louis Symphony Orchestra closes out season at Powell Hall

Music director Stéphane Denève conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra May 14, 2021, at Powell Hall. 

This is a good season for 21st-century female composers in St. Louis. We’ve heard the music of Sasha Johnson Manning of Britain and Melissa Dunphy of Australia performed by St. Louis Chamber Chorus, as well as music from Americans Jesse Montgomery and Carolyn Shaw, plus Brit Anna Clyne at the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Clyne’s “Dance” was performed in September, and this weekend her “Pivot” was introduced, a co-commission between the SLSO and BBC Symphony Orchestra. It was the North American premiere, with the composer in attendance.

“Pivot” takes its title and inspiration from the switching among various musical ideas and also from references to the Edinburgh Festival. A traditional fiddle tune, “The Flowers of Edinburgh,” furnishes one of the musical materials, but frequent changes in mood include moments reminiscent of the music of Leonard Bernstein, of movie music, more modern music and of course of Scottish music. At five minutes it’s brief, but energy-packed.

Guest conductor David Danzmayr is music director of the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, music director designate of the Oregon Symphony and honorary conductor of the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra, plus he’s a busy guest conductor. In Friday morning’s performance, his direction was clear but also powerful, enhancing the experience for audience and orchestra alike, and accompanying his soloist carefully. Curiously, he was the first person in a while to wear white tie and tails, which at other times have been standard wardrobe for a conductor.

Violinist Simone Porter, 25, who was the soloist in the 1881 “Scottish Fantasy” by German composer Max Bruch, wore plaid for the occasion. Although this piece really isn’t a concerto, Porter brought great passion and soulfulness to her performance, moving as she played, including a little bit of stepping around, seeming to help Danzmayr direct the orchestra with movements of her head, standing where she could see Danzmayr instead of out front like a concerto soloist, and performing with a clear, dark, beautiful tone.

In much of the music the volume of the orchestra threatened to cover her playing, but the last movement was more a display piece, with the most famous and glorious music in the piece, all very Scottish-sounding. During the ovation, Danzmayr gave a special bow to harpist Allegra Lilly.

The concert concluded with Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, subtitled “The Great.” (The numbering systems for Schubert’s symphonies are inconsistent, so the subtitle becomes important.) In this music, as the center of attention, Danzmayr seemed to spring to greater liveliness. The energy he brought increased the pleasure of the audience, and undoubtedly of Danzmayr and the orchestra as well. He conducts the orchestra instead of the audience, and his enthusiasm saw him almost dancing to the tempos. He often got so engrossed in conducting that he needed to turn two or three pages of the score at a time to catch up. In the slow movements, the tempos seemed rushed, but the last movement provided the most familiar music of the four: good, thrilling music.

When 8 p.m. Nov. 20 • Where Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand Boulevard • How much $15-$120; proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test required • More info 314-534-1700; slso.org

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