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New SLSO Album of Music by Bernstein and Williams Coming April 2024

By Eric Dundon

 

Mark your calendars for April 26, 2024. That’s the date that the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s storied library of records expands with the latest release. The SLSO’s new album features music from two of the most accomplished American composers in history: Leonard Bernstein and John Williams, and is the inaugural SLSO recordings with Stéphane Denève, The Joseph and Emily Rauh Pulitzer Music Director.

 

The album features violinist James Ehnes, a frequent collaborator of the SLSO, performing the solo parts in both Bernstein’s Serenade after Plato’s Symposium and Williams’ Violin Concerto No. 1.


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The album includes music by Leonard Bernstein and John Williams.

“The music in this album holds great personal meaning for me,” Denève said. “I was 10 years old when I first saw E.T. the Extraterrestrial and discovered the music of John Williams. I can never thank John adequately for his wondrous music. A perfect musical companion, Bernstein’s Serenade is also a masterwork offering a vast array of emotions.”

 

Both works revolve around love: Bernstein’s Serenade was inspired by musings on love from Plato’s philosophical text, Symposium. The violin is the central figure in Bernstein’s piece, which was written for soloist, strings, and percussion.

 

“Bernstein wrote a virtuosic solo violin part that guest soloist James Ehnes made utterly his own,” wrote the St. Louis American in a review of the January 2023 program that included Bernstein’s Serenade.


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Composer John Williams, center, was present for rehearsals of his Violin Concerto No. 1 with James Ehnes, left, Stéphane Denève, and the SLSO in November 2019.

Williams’ work was arguably inspired by and eventually dedicated to his deceased wife, with contemplation and angst most apparent in the lyrical second movement. Williams was present at the SLSO rehearsals, working together with the SLSO, Denève, and Ehnes to perfect the piece for recording.

 

Reviewing the original November 2019 concert for KDHX, performing arts critic Chuck Lavazzi described Ehnes’ playing as “unwavering in its strength and intensity.”

 

Ehnes is a frequent guest of the SLSO, making his debut with the orchestra in 2007, and collaborating with the orchestra six times since then on a variety of music including concertos by Alban Berg, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and Camille Saint-Saëns. He is one of the most sought-after violinists on the international stage, and regularly collaborates with many of the world’s top orchestras and conductors. He will return to St. Louis in January 2025 to perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.

 

“Working with such wonderful friends as Stéphane and the artists of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, on music that means so much to me, has been a dream come true,” Ehnes said. “I hope listeners will enjoy the experience of listening as much as we enjoyed the experience of recording these two timeless masterpieces.”

 

By combining these two concert pieces, this album centers the symphonic work of Bernstein and Williams, two composers closely associated with their music for films. The SLSO gave the world premiere of Williams' Violin Concerto No. 1 in 1981. The album was recorded in front of live audiences at historic Powell Hall in November 2019 (Williams) and January 2023 (Bernstein). The album is slated for physical and digital release on all major streaming platforms through the Pentatone label on April 26, 2024.

 

“I could not dream of better partners for this recording of two classic American violin concertos than my dear friend James Ehnes and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra,” Denève said.


“I am so proud of this album and of the virtuosic performances by our musicians and James.”

 

This SLSO release is the latest in a robust history of recordings that has resulted in nine Grammy Award wins and 60 nominations. Most recently, the SLSO, in conjunction with Blue Engine records, released the first commercial recording of Wynton Marsalis’ Swing Symphony in July 2019. The SLSO won the 2014 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance for the Nonesuch release of John Adams’ City Noir, conducted by former Music Director David Robertson.


 

Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Director.

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