All-Beethoven program at the St. Louis Symphony


It has been a terribly long time since I have updated my blog. I have been writing a lot of program notes–mostly for the Dallas Symphony, and more on that in a future post–but I haven’t been blogging, and I apologize to the half-dozen or so of you that follow my lame ass.

My lameness aside, I am very, very excited about this weekend’s upcoming performance by the St. Louis Symphony. As most of you know, two of the pieces on this program, Three Equali for Four Trombones and the Mass in C, are very rarely performed. The St. Louis Symphony, in fact, hasn’t ever performed either of them. (The other piece, Symphony No. 8, is performed far more often but still not as often as many of his other symphonies: the even-number curse, perhaps.)

Without further ado, here is a link to my notes on the program. I’m also including a link to a profile on St. Louis Symphony Chorus Director Amy Kaiser, which I also wrote. Ms. Kaiser is celebrating her twentieth-anniversary season with the symphony this year, and we are all very grateful to her for making the Chorus one of the best in the country.

The St. Louis Symphony performs this all-Beethoven program on January 23 and January 24:

Click to access sls-jan15-insert2-4-final.pdf

An interview with Amy Kaiser, St. Louis Symphony Chorus Director:


Notes for “Joshua Bell Returns” (Smetana, Sibelius, Dvorák, Rautavaara)


My program notes for “Joshua Bell Returns,” St. Louis Symphony, November 29, November 30, and December 1 (Smetana, Sibelius, Dvorák, Rautavaara). I have a very good feeling that this concert will be extraordinary.

Click to access 3922.pdf

First SLSO Youth Orchestra concert of the season: 11/24/13

My program notes for the first SLSO Youth Orchestra concert of the season, on Buxtehude/Chávez, Pärt, Britten, and Dvorák. The Youth Orchestra concerts are free (well, except for a $1 service charge for tickets). You should go.

Click to access 4303.pdf

Get tickets for the concert here:

And yes, I realize that I am missing an important diacritical mark above, in a certain Czech composer’s name. I really ought to learn how to make that weird mark over the “r,” and I really ought to learn the name for it and stop calling it weird.

Kabalevsky, Saint-Saëns, Debussy, Shostakovich


Here is a link to my program notes for the final St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra performance of the season:

Click to access 3789.pdf

The concert takes place at Powell Hall on Saturday, May 18, at 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are free, with a $1 service charge. Ordering information is here:

There were last-minute space constraints with the YO program notes, which often happens, so the introduction to the Debussy piece got cut. (I understand why–it was the longest essay, even though it is by no means the longest work on the program–so this was the most logical paragraph to remove, and one I probably would have chosen myself if I’d been told to cut for space.) In the interest of completion, though, I’m pasting it here:

Like so many composers before and after him, Claude Debussy turned to literature for musical ideas, and the Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé was a particularly rich source. The men were not only friends; they were kindred spirits in their respective art forms. Both were preoccupied with the liminal, with elusive thresholds and ineffable states, with spaces and silences. Mallarmé’s irreducible, intentionally ambiguous verse jump-started postmodernism, anticipating the linguistic theories of Derrida, Kristeva, and Lacan. Debussy, for his part, revolutionized concert music with his setting of Mallarmé’s poem L’après-midi d’un faune (“The Afternoon of a Faun”), expanding the limits of tonality and symphonic structure. As the composer and conductor Pierre Boulez observed, the flute of the titular faun “brought new breath to the art of music.”

Christine Brewer with the SLSO tonight!

Sorry for the short notice, but in just under an hour (8:00 CT) anyone who isn’t fortunate enough to be at Powell Hall tonight can listen to the live broadcast of the world-renowned soprano Christine Brewer performing with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Here is a link about the program:

Here is where you can tune in if you’re not within the broadcast range of KWMU 90.7, St. Louis Public Radio:


And here is a link to the program notes (not written by me):

Click to access 3527.pdf

Happy birthday, Bartolomeo Cristofori, Piano Man


Happy birthday to Bartolomeo Cristofori, who invented the piano we know today,  more or less.

No one knows much about his early life, and no one knows how many pianos he built for his extremely wealthy and (I’m guessing) rather eccentric patrons. Only three of Cristofori’s original piano fortes survive today, all from the 1720s.

  • A 1720 instrument in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. This one was extensively altered by later builders. It’s still playable, but it probably sounds nothing like it did when new.
  • A 1722 instrument in the Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali in Rome, ravaged by worms and no longer playable.
  • A 1726 instrument in the Musikinstrumenten-Museum of Leipzig University, no longer playable, although recordings of it exist.

All three of these instruments have the same Latin inscription:


Translation: “Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, inventor, made [this] in Florence in [date].”


1722 version (see above).

In your honor, Signore Cristofori (may I call you Bart?), I’m going to listen to lots and lots of piano music today: Bach, Beethoven, Ligeti, Schubert, Chopin, Franck, Brahms, Debussy, possibly Prokofiev. Maybe some Monk and some Vijay Ayer, too. Oh, and why not throw in some Nicky Taylor and Johnnie Johnson while I’m at it?

And I will dust my beautiful 1926 Knabe parlor grand and rue my faithlessness.

Today’s soundtrack

The perfect soundtrack/antidote to a dreary, chilly day spent inside copy editing.Image

I imagine that it would be a wonderful soundtrack for other purposes, too, but  that’s its purpose today, chez René.

I know I haven’t been updating the blog in a few days. Real life intrudes obnoxiously sometimes.

And speaking of female composers…


My friend and fellow music addict Dean Minderman alerted me to this interesting story. Yet another reason to be proud of the St. Louis Symphony and our inestimable Maestro, David Robertson! I look forward to hearing Berg’s work premiered (no, not that Berg–I like him, too, of course).


Update: Here is a link to Ms. Berg’s web page if you want to read and hear more:

My Two Favorite Living Music Writers

This essay, a discussion of female composers and their scandalous lack of representation in the concert repertory, is beautifully written and incredibly smart. Inevitably, whenever I read anything by Alex Ross, my favorite living music critic, I am dazzled and overwhelmed by his crazy talent. When I have a writing deadline looming, I can’t even read anything under his byline because he makes me feel like I, along with almost every other music writer working today, should just STFU.

I could pick any passage at random to support my case for his brilliance, but this sentence I loved particularly: “In the end, these works evoke a universal desire: to seek beauty in shards of a damaged world, or failing that, to take shelter in silence.”

Here is a wonderful essay about piano lessons by my other favorite living music writer, the glamorous and hilarious concert pianist Jeremy Denk. Unfortunately, I don’t think you can read the whole thing if you don’t subscribe to The New Yorker. (You probably should subscribe, by the way.) In addition to being a great pianist, Denk is among the smartest, funniest, and most entertaining music writers alive. His talent is unfair and obscene. I highly recommend all his recordings. His CD of Bach partitas is astonishingly great, and I’m also very fond of the Charles Ives one and his collaboration with the violinist Joshua Bell, French Impressions. He has a brand-new CD for sale featuring works by Beethoven and Ligeti, but I haven’t bought that one yet. I’m sure I will love it, too.