By Eric Dundon
Powell Hall bedecked in elegant garland and glittering ornaments.
The laughs shared between friends and family members.
The sounds of live music enveloping you in warmth and joy.
There is so much to love about each holiday season with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and 2021 is no different. From Thanksgiving through January 2, your SLSO performs 19 concerts that will lift your spirits and remind us of the power of music.
View the entire concert calendar here.
Here are five highlights from the SLSO’s holiday season 2021:
The Return of Choruses
Vocal music is back at Powell Hall! Two holiday programs feature the SLSO’s two resident choruses: the St. Louis Symphony Chorus and the IN UNISON Chorus.
The IN UNISON Chorus—an ensemble that focuses on the performance and preservation of music from African American and African traditions—joins the orchestra and dazzling singer/pianist Oleta Adams on December 9 for the annual Gospel Christmas concert. This evening is a soulful celebration of holiday music that includes gospel arrangements of traditional carols including “O Holy Night” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” to a reimagined rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from George Frideric Handel’s Messiah.
On December 11-12, members of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus join the orchestra for a fun-filled performance of Miles Goodman’s score to The Muppet Christmas Carol.
SLSO Musicians in the Spotlight
“The reality is,” wrote performing arts critic Chuck Lavazzi for KDHX in an October 2021 review, “that the orchestra’s musicians all play so well so consistently.”
And in December, the talents of four SLSO musicians will be front and center as they take the soloist position in front of the orchestra, featured on works that span from the Baroque era to today.
Stately Baroque music kicks off the holiday season in style. Although the Baroque era took place 300 years ago, the music still feels fresh and new, warming blustery winter days with charm and grandeur. On December 3-5, a trio of SLSO string musicians play Baroque music with frequent guest conductor Nicholas McGegan in a program that features music by J.S. Bach and C.P.E. Bach.
Cellist Yin Xiong delivers the first SLSO performances of C.P.E. Bach’s Cello Concerto in A, while the viola team of Beth Guterman Chu and Andrew François step forward in J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6.
By the end of December, music from three centuries ago gives way to music composed in 2021. The SLSO’s annual New Year’s Eve Celebration concerts feature Principal Horn Roger Kaza in the world premiere of Voyageur Fantasy, a horn concerto that celebrates Missouri’s history.
Composed by University of Missouri professor and composer Stefan Freund, the piece evokes the settling of Missouri using a traditional French/Canadian melody, commissioned to celebrate the bicentennial of the state.
Holiday Music at Powell Hall… and Beyond
Many families and friends have long-established traditions of attending the Mercy Holiday Concerts at Powell Hall. The beauty of the hall, plus a fun photo op with Santa Claus himself, makes for a memorable night out with loved ones. This year, the SLSO is also bringing the musical traditions of the holidays to the western part of the St. Louis metro area.
On December 15-16, the Mercy Holiday Celebration comes to the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts at Lindenwood University in St. Charles. The Lindenwood Theater at the Scheidegger is a Broadway-style theater that is elegant and intimate, seating near 1,200 patrons.
The holiday celebration includes traditional melodies including “Greensleeves,” “Silent Night,” and “We Three Kings,” as well more recent tunes including the audience favorite Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson and selections from the Alan Silvestri score to the 2004 animated film, The Polar Express.
After a 21-month hiatus, film presentations return to Powell Hall! The orchestra performs the score to two films this holiday season: The Muppet Christmas Carol (three concerts, December 11-12) and Disney and Pixar’s Up (January 2, 2022).
For those who have never seen a film in Powell Hall: the film plays on a big screen while the SLSO performs the score along with the movie. Stephanie Childress, the SLSO’s Assistant Conductor, leads all four of these film concerts.
Families with children are encouraged to attend these concerts, which serve as a perfect introduction to the orchestra, while demonstrating how important music is to cinematic storytelling.
A New Roaring ‘20s
The 1920s was a time of innovation and excitement for orchestral music: American composers including Aaron Copland, Walter Piston, and Florence Price were coming into their own. While some Russian composers including Igor Stravinsky had achieved notable success, others including Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich were just ascending to take their position as some of the most influential composers of the 20th century. And some of the most popular works for orchestra premiered, including Gustav Holst’s The Planets and Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome.
Emerging music including jazz influenced the sounds of orchestral compositions in the 1920s. Few people were as inspired by jazz by the American composer George Gershwin, who rose to fame with his own brand of jazz-infused orchestral compositions that have withstood the test of time.
The SLSO and Music Director Stéphane Denève pay homage to this trailblazer of American orchestral music in its annual New Year’s Eve Celebration concerts—that’s right, concerts, as in plural. For people who may have plans to usher out 2021 in the evening, a matinee concert is offered this year.
Denève programmed several Gershwin works, including the popular piano piece Rhapsody in Blue, played by Michelle Cann in her SLSO debut. Denève chose this theme as an optimistic hope for a new Roaring ‘20s.
Tickets begin at $15 for classical concerts and $30 for Live at Powell Hall concerts. View the SLSO’s health and safety protocols here.
Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Manager.