Tonight I went out with three friends to attend the opening night of the 2009-10 season of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. On the program were Mahler's Fifth Symphony and a relatively new piece called Azul by the Argentine-American composer Osvaldo Golijov.
The former featured significant solos by principal trumpet Susan Slaughter (now in the 40th and last season of her history-making career with the SLSO) and brand-new principal horn player Roger Kaza. The latter is a concertante work spotlighting the SLSO's brilliant young cellist Daniel Lee, along with guest artists Michael Ward-Bergeman (hyper-accordion, a kind of "electric accordion"), Jamey Haddad (late of Paul Simon's backup band) and Keita Ogawa, percussionists. All of the soloists acquitted themselves beautifully. Lee achieved some really unusual sound-effects on his newly-acquired, 300-year-old cello. Haddad and Ogawa, particularly in the third movement of Azul, were highly entertaining to watch, their movements dancelike as they switched from one exotic instrument to another. If I could get a recording of that piece, I would rather it was video than audio-only. It's really worth seeing.
The centerpiece of the night, however, was Mahler's tremendous symphony. One of my friends remarked afterward that it was like entering a whole new world, and it was good to get out of her own world for a while. Conductor David Robertson's pre-concert "perspectives" talk gave me a tantalizing taste of the late Michael Steinberg's book The Symphony: A Listener's Guide, which is now officially on the list of things I plan to write to Santa about. Steinberg has also written similar books on The Concerto (a thread I have been intending to introduce on this blog, whenever I feel I have done enough injustice to the symphony) and on Choral Masterworks, obviously another topic close to my heart.
IMAGES: Golijov; Steinberg.