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2 Weeks, 18 Composers, 36 Musicians – What You Need to Know About the SLSO’s Chamber Music Series

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

By Eric Dundon

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra patrons got reacquainted with historic Powell Hall recently when live concerts returned to the orchestra’s home for the first time in more than seven months. 

On the heels of the successful return of live concerts, the SLSO has introduced a series of chamber music concerts that spotlight the virtuosity and versatility of SLSO musicians through 12 intimate, small-scale concerts. The two-week chamber music series runs from October 28 through November 8 and includes six programs (each performed twice) with performances given by a variety of small ensembles, including strings and winds, of up to eight SLSO musicians.

Tickets are on sale now for the chamber music concerts at $25 and $45 and may be purchased by calling the SLSO Box Office at 314-534-1700.

The programs reflect Music Director Stéphane Denève’s vision for the 20/21 season of elevating voices, sparking dialogue, and celebrating diversity.

The SLSO's Chamber Music series features works by 18 composers, including six composers of today and four composers whose works are being played by the SLSO for the first time.

The composers featured in the series, 18 in total, range from early romantics to artists of today, with works by living composers making up one third of the programmed music. Pieces represents a wide range of voices, from the South American–influenced sounds of Gabriela Lena Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout to Shelley Washington’s Midwest voice in Middleground and Mendelssohn’s expressive Octet in E-flat major and Arnold Schoenberg’s evocative Verklärte Nacht.

Here is the full lineup of composers represented during the two-week chamber series.

Samuel Barber is considered by many to be a quintessential American composer. His Adagio for Strings has retained a permanent place in the orchestral canon while his Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and Violin Concerto evoke the essence of American sound. Barber wrote only one piece just for wind instruments: his Summer Music, which will receive its SLSO debut November 1 and 7.

Hear Barber’s Summer Music for wind quintet in concerts, November 1 and 7.

Valerie Coleman has been racking up the accolades and was named Performance Today’s 2020 Classical Woman of the Year. Her work often gives the musical perspective of people of color, with influences from African and Cuban musical cultures. Her wind quintet piece, UMOJA—the Swahili word for “unity”—was listed by Chamber Music America as one of the “Top 101 Great American Ensemble Works.” Her Tzigane is a high-charged, passionate journey through Eastern Europe, by way of the Romani.​

Hear Coleman’s Tzigane for wind quintet in concerts, November 1 and 7.


Claude Debussy is one of the foremost French composers, and one of SLSO Music Director Stéphane Denève’s favorite composers. Debussy’s La Mer was part of the Stéphane’s opening classical concert as SLSO Music Director in 2019. An impressionist, Debussy wrote dozens of works for all types of ensembles. His Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp, though, was originally written for a different trio. Debussy originally wrote the Sonata with oboe instead of viola, but decided that the viola’s timbre was more favorable. Since its 1917 premiere, Debussy’s instrumentation has become a standard for chamber music.

Hear Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp in concerts, October 30 and November 5.


Gabriela Lena Frank is one of the most prominent multicultural voices in classical music today. She found influences close to home: from her mother, of Peruvian and Chinese ancestry, and father, of Lithuanian and Jewish ancestry. Winner of a Latin Grammy and nominated for Grammys as both a composer and a pianist, Frank also holds a Guggenheim Fellowship and a USA Artist Fellowship, given each year to fifty of the country’s finest artists. The SLSO’s performances of selections from Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout are the orchestra’s first time performing music by this inspiring artist.

Hear selections from Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout for string quartet in concerts, October 31 and November 8.

Katherine Hoover grew up in rural West Virginia and pursued her musical studies all the way to the prestigious Eastman School of Music, studying flute and composition. In the 1950s, Hoover was the only woman in her composition classes, a fact that stuck with her throughout her career. She became involved with women's arts organizations and strove to bring the works of women composers to the public's notice. Her Reflections is a set of variations on a short sequence from an ancient Norwegian festival.

Hear Hoover’s Reflections for solo flute in concerts, October 30 and November 5.

Jacques Ibert is an orchestral chameleon, having chosen not to ascribe to any particular genres throughout his career. Despite not attaching himself to a style, Ibert enjoyed a successful and prolific composing career, writing operas, ballets, incidental music, and works for soloists and orchestras.

Hear Ibert’s Trois pieces brèves (Three Short Pieces) for wind quintet in concerts, November 1 and 7.

György Ligeti has been described as "one of the most innovative and influential among progressive figures of his time." His works span across musical categories, from opera, to organ works, to orchestral and chamber works. His Six Bagatelles for wind quintet were derived from a set of eleven pieces written for solo piano.

Hear Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles for wind quintet in concerts, November 1 and 7.


Missy Mazzoli’s music has been performed by the finest musicians across the globe. In 2018 she became one of the first two women to receive a main stage commission from the Metropolitan Opera and was nominated for a Grammy award. In Vespers, a violin leads its own shadow through an electronic hallway shimmering with bells, organ, and voices.

Hear Mazzoli’s Vespers for Violin in concerts, October 29 and November 7.

Felix Mendelssohn, was a prodigious musician and composer, even rivaling Mozart. Between ages 12 and 14, he wrote 12 string symphonies and by age 15, had written his first symphony for full orchestra. Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major—composed at age 16—remains a standard of chamber music today. The Octet reflects Mendelssohn’s youth—it is full of energy and brilliance and was described as “one of the miracles of nineteenth-century music.”

Hear Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major in concerts, October 31 and November 8.

Jessie Montgomery as described by Music Director Stéphane Denève, is a “bright new star” in today’s orchestral music landscape. She is an ardent supporter of African-American and Latinx musicians through a two-decade-long affiliation with The Sphinx Organization. Her relationship with the SLSO is somewhat new, and already flourishing. The orchestra, in its return to concerts at Powell Hall, performed Montgomery’s Starburst as its opening work.

Hear Montgomery’s Strum for string quartet in concerts, October 31 and November 8.


Maurice Ravel, during the 1920s and ‘30s, was regarded by many as France’s greatest living composer. We know why—his Bolero and Daphnis et Chloé are some of the most respected orchestral works. Ravel was just as much a composer for chamber ensembles, creating almost as many works for small ensembles as he did for full orchestra. His Introduction & Allegro features harp, clarinet, flute, and string quartet, a piece commissioned in the early 1900s by the Érard Company to showcase it new double-action pedal harp.

Hear Ravel’s Introduction & Allegro in concerts, October 30 and November 5.

Arnold Schoenberg is often regarded as the quintessential atonal composer. In his Transfigured Night, however, his adventurous chromaticism always returns to a tonal home. The work follows the story of a Richard Dehmel poem, ultimately about acceptance, which shook audiences at its 1902 premiere. 

Hear Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) for string sextet in concerts, October 29 and November 7.

Franz Schubert lived a short 31 years, leaving behind a vast catalogue of works for voice, chamber ensembles, and orchestra. His compositions for voice often informed his other works, including his Octet in F major for winds and strings. The theme of the first movement is derived from Schubert's song The Wonderer, while the fourth movement is based on a theme from his drama, The Friends of Salamanca.

Hear Schubert’s Octet in F major (selections) in concerts, October 30 and November 4.

Caroline Shaw is a New York-based musician—vocalist, violinist, composer, and producer—who performs in solo and collaborative projects. She was the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013 for her Partita for 8 Voices, written for the Grammy-winning group, Roomful of Teeth, of which she is a member. Her Entr’acte for string quartet is structured, according to a program note, “like a minuet and trio, riffing on that classical form but taking it a little further.”

Hear Shaw’s Entr’acte for string quartet in concerts, October 30 and November 4.


Richard Strauss is perhaps best known for his large-scale orchestral works that fill the stage. His An Alpine Symphony, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and A Hero’s Life are core pieces of the orchestral repertoire, but he composed nearly two dozen works for chamber orchestra, including his Sextet from Capriccio, his final opera. Capriccio allowed Strauss to look back on his professional life. For 50 years he had collaborated with poets and playwrights and theater directors, balancing his needs with theirs, balancing popular appeal with artistic integrity.

Hear Strauss’ Sextet from Capriccio in concerts, October 29 and November 7.

Germaine Tailleferre was one of “The Six”—a consortium of French composers who worked together beginning in the 1920s. Although Tailleferre generated dozens of pieces of music, her work is often overshadowed by other members of The Six, including Arthur Honegger and Francis Poulenc. She composed her Sonata for Harp midway through her career. SLSO Principal Harpist Allegra Lilly’s performance will mark the first time a work by this prolific composer has appeared on an SLSO program.

Hear Tailleferre’s Sonata for Harp in concerts, October 30 and November 5.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky—where to start? From The Nutcracker to Symphony No. 6, “Pathetique,” Tchaikovsky is one of the most influential composers of all time. His Souvenir de Florence for string sextet is one of Tchaikovsky’s well-known works for chamber ensembles. He titled the work after visiting the famed Italian city while composing his opera The Queen of Spades.

Hear Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence for string sextet in concerts, October 28 and November 6.


Shelley Washington is a thoroughly modern musician. The composer, performer, collaborator, and educator draws on elements from jazz, rock, and American folk, new and old. Her music confronts social injustices. Middleground is a celebration of Washington’s childhood in Missouri and Kansas. It’s a road movie in musical form, taking us in a car alongside her family and friends.

Hear Washington’s Middleground for string quartet in concerts, October 28 and November 6.

Eric Dundon is the SLSO's Public Relations Manager.


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