Saturday, October 9, 2021

Powell Hall, North Grand Boulevard, St Louis, Missouri

The concert opened with Joan Tower’s Made in America (2005), a fifteen-minute piece scored for a relatively classical orchestra that threads ‘America the Beautiful’ (a late-nineteenth-century patriotic song covered by Ray Charles, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and others) through the course of this rather fine opus: pensive, striding, lyrically beguiling, agitated, and striving to a fast/loud if ambiguous conclusion.

Also born in 1938 is William Bolcom. His Violin Concerto in D (1983) is in three movements, opening with an immediately engaging melody, as if whistled nonchalantly, and introducing long-serving St Louis concertmaster David Halen. Typical of Bolcom, the music is eclectic, the moods various; stylistically quick-change, yes, although ultimately it’s all Bolcom, what he has absorbed musically (a range of stuff, he’s also a genre-crossing pianist, including Ragtime) and puts back as his, like Stravinsky. Following a witty/outdoor first movement the slow one carries an air of tragedy: eloquent, deeply felt and with a haunting refrain … whereas the attacca Finale is capricious: jazzy, playful, laidback, suddenly angst-ridden if not for long as the Concerto ends humorously. Halen (I warmly recall his Heldenleben solos in London with the touring SLSO, 1994) played the Bolcom with bravura and sympathy, and SLSO conductor laureate Leonard Slatkin (he conducted the Strauss back then, alongside Bernstein, Vaughan Williams, Bolcom, and encores by Gershwin and Glière) has this music at his fingertips. Twenty-five minutes spent in good musical company. We should hear Bolcom’s VC more often.

Tower and Bolcom were but a few years old when Bartók composed his ‘made in America’ Concerto for Orchestra for the Boston Symphony and Koussevitzky. Slatkin recorded it with SLSO during his tenure (the current music director is Stéphane Denève), adding the original ending, and he memorably conducted it in Detroit in 2019, In St Louis 2021 Slatkin led a well-prepared and -played performance, intense and shapely, considered, although your correspondent was suffering sleep-deprivation: London is six hours ahead of St Louis (8 p.m. kick-off there), but I heard every note, good sound, posted these words and then booked a ticket for the Land of Nod. Arrival time four-o’clock Sunday morning. This concert is played again this afternoon at 3., all SLSO Saturday evening concerts are broadcast live on STLPR