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Better Together—Creating Community Through Music

By Justino Gordón-LeChevalié

 

For more than 140 years, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra has enriched lives through the transformative power of music. Key to the SLSO’s enduring impact has been nurturing a range of community partnerships that expand access to symphonic music. As the organization looks to the future, collaborations with artists, social service agencies, schools and educators, and other institutions will play an increasingly vital role in sustaining the SLSO as a vibrant community asset.


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Members of the SLSO IN UNISON Chorus, as well as several other singing groups, join together for a collaborative concert at Powell Hall in May 2023..

 

Earlier this year, the SLSO adopted an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion action plan aimed at fostering a deeper sense of belonging across the organization. A central component of the plan leverages partnerships throughout the region to advance inclusion and welcoming to the SLSO.  Whether through artistic collaborations that enhance the symphonic music experience and demonstrate the vitality of the St. Louis arts scene or partnerships that reduce barriers to entry, the SLSO has crystallized community partnerships throughout the region as a key priority today and into the future. 

 

Artistic Partnerships

The opening weekend of the 2021/2022 season saw the start of a new artistic partnership between the SLSO and The Big Muddy Dance Company. Through a cello concerto titled DANCE by English composer Anna Clyne, SLSO audiences experienced the intersection of dance and live music—and a preview of how Stéphane Denève, The Joseph and Emily Rauh Pulitzer Music Director, sees symphonic music interacting with other art forms.

 

“Music is storytelling,” Denève said. “I am energized by how our artform coalesces with others to enhance the experience of live music.”

 

The joint artistic expression between the SLSO and The Big Muddy Dance Company first experienced in 2021 returns in the 2023/2024 season, the orchestra’s 144th. Kirven Douthit-Boyd, choreographer for DANCE and now Artistic Director of the company, set Adam Schoenberg’s Picture Studies to choreography, performances of which will be conducted by Denève, and enhanced by dancers at the Stifel Theatre on March 16-17.  

 

“Dance adds another layer to how we hear music,” Douthit-Boyd said about collaborating with the SLSO.

 

Dance is just one example of collaborations that add another artistic layer to the 23/24 season. Visual art meets the symphonic world on January 27-28 in the Musical Fables program. Artist Gregoire Pont’s visual representation of Albert Roussel’s The Spider’s Feast will be projected in the Stifel Theatre as the orchestra gives the first St. Louis performances of 1912 ballet-pantomime. And during performances of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, the 2008 Academy Award-winning short film of the same name by Suzie Templeton will allow audiences to imagine the classic story in a new way.

 

The February 10 Lunar New Year concert at Lindenwood University’s J. Scheidegger Center for Performing Arts will welcome a Chinese Dragon Dance team from the Chinese Education and Culture Center, one of several artistic collaborations that reflect the diversity of the St. Louis region on stage. 

 

Expanding the boundaries of symphonic programming, recent collaborations included a West African drum performance from the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ percussion ensemble at a Family Concert and Karthak dance demonstration, a Southeast Asian art form, at an Education concert. 


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Karthak dance, a southeast Asian tradition, was demonstrated at an Education concert. (photo by Brendan Batchelor)

 

Social and Institutional Partnerships

Beyond artistic collaborations, the SLSO engages in many partnerships with St. Louis institutions, all in service to the region through music. Maureen Byrne, SLSO Vice President of Education and Community Programs, is at the forefront of developing and maintaining the 130-plus active partnerships with the orchestra. And that number keeps growing. 


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Olivia Rulin Zhang, an erhu player, joined the SLSO for a Family Concert in February 2023, reflecting the musical traditions of China. (photo by Brendan Batchelor)

“Partnerships, whether they’re artistic or educational or social, are a part of SLSO’s DNA,” she said. “We’re better when we work together.” 

 

Longstanding initiatives like the IN UNISON Program build bridges between communities. The SLSO’s signature community engagement initiative enlists more than 90 singers from predominantly Black churches across the metro area to form the nearly 30-year-old IN UNISON Chorus. College Connections provides middle and high school music students immersive college visits with more than half a dozen higher education institutions. Music Without Boundaries, another long-running community program, welcomes refugees and immigrants to the SLSO through partnerships with the International Institute, Welcome Nieghbor STL, and St. Louis Mosaic Project.

 

New in the 2022/2023 season, the SLSO launched its ACCESS program in a bold strategic alliance with social services agencies in the region, broadening access to music by providing more than 3,000 free tickets to clients served through organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Beyond Housing, Pianos for People, and others.

 


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The University of Missouri–St. Louis is a longtime SLSO partner, providing space for concerts at UMSL’s Touhill Performing Arts Center. (photo by Brendan Batchelor)

For some institutions with whom the SLSO has a long-running collaboration, the partnership is multi-faceted. Collaborations with the University of Missouri–St. Louis, for example, are deep and varied. The university is a long-time partner in the IN UNISON Academy, the academic arm of IN UNISON that provides support for college students pursuing degrees in music field. It is a College Connections partner. It hosts SLSO’s Peer to Peer program and has provided rehearsal space for the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra. And, this season, it is a Presenting Partner, hosting many SLSO concerts at UMSL’s Touhill Performing Arts Center while the orchestra’s home at Powell Hall undergoes expansion and renovation.

 

“The University of Missouri–St. Louis is proud to partner with the SLSO in many ways that uplift our students, faculty, staff and communities,” UMSL Chancellor Kristin Sobolik said. “Our shared vision of elevating the excellence of St. Louis arts and culture and supporting tomorrow’s leaders is an alignment of our missions in service to the St. Louis region.”

 

The SLSO's tapestry of intentional partnerships reveals an orchestra woven into the fabric of the city and region. As SLSO prepares to reopen Powell Hall in 2025, the SLSO is positioned at the intersection of arts and people—a hub for community, grounded in collaborations that engage the region's population. 

 

Justion Gordón-LeChevalié is the SLSO's Communications and Publications Coordinator.

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