By Eric Dundon
For the first time since February 2017, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra musicians are packing their instruments, updating their passports, and going on an international tour. Music Director Stéphane Denève and the orchestra embark on a four-country, five-city tour of Europe March 23-31, representing St. Louis at some of the world’s top concert venues.
Where is the SLSO going?
The tour—the SLSO’s first European visit with Denève—includes stops at some of Europe’s most-celebrated concert halls and cities famous for its historic ties to classical music. The first stop is the Vienna Konzerthaus in Vienna, Austria, a city steeped in classical music tradition with ties to many of classical music’s titans: Ludwig van Beethoven, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and others.
Home to the National Orchestra of Belgium, the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium, opened in 1929 and is the tour’s second stop. The SLSO’s appearance here concludes the annual Klara Festival, a weeks-long classical music festival that converges the world’s top classical music talent.
A newer venue, the Muzikgebouw Eindhoven in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, is the third city on the tour and is committed to social cohesion and connection.
The fourth stop of the tour, The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, is one of the world’s top symphonic venues, known for its superb acoustics and home to the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
The final stop on the tour is the Auditorio Nacional de Música in Madrid, Spain, home to the National Orchestra of Spain and other ensembles. The largest classical music venue in Spain, the SLSO last visited this venue in 2017, part of a three-city tour of the country.
Who is going with the SLSO on tour?
The internationally acclaimed pianist and recording artist Víkingur Ólafsson will join the SLSO on tour. He has accrued more than 260 million streams of his recorded works for piano, ranging from the music of Baroque master Johann Sebastian Bach to minimalist luminary Philip Glass. Now one of today’s most sought-after artists, Ólafsson’s multiple awards include Gramophone magazine’s 2019 Artist of the Year, Opus Klassik Solo Recording Instrumental (twice), and Album of the Year at the 2019 BBC Music Magazine Awards.
A newer face to St. Louis, Ólafsson made his SLSO in November 2021, performing Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor with Denève conducting. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called described his playing as having “great clarity, precision and tunefulness,” while KDHX said his performance “simply could not be beat.”
Since Ólafsson’s debut in St. Louis, he and Denève collaborated at the New York Philharmonic in 2022 on Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G.
What will the orchestra perform?
Ólafsson will perform one of the most widely recognized piano concertos, Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. Known for its dramatic opening, it appears in films, television shows, and video games, including Red Sparrow (2018) and Civilization V.
The concert ends with another orchestral warhorse, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. Last performed by the SLSO in October 2019, Symphonic Dances is a "desert island” work for Denève. An orchestra showpiece, Symphonic Dances utilizes motifs from Russian church music throughout.
To open the program, Denève programmed a lesser-known work by Rachmaninoff’s Russian compatriot, Sergei Prokofiev: The Love for Three Oranges Suite. While performed only a handful of times at Powell Hall, the SLSO took it on a six-state tour in 1959 with then-Music Director Edouard van Remoortel.
Can I see the program in person?
Yes! St. Louisans can bid bon voyage to its beloved orchestra at a one-night-only concert at Powell Hall on Thursday, March 16. Ólafsson will make his second appearance in St. Louis to perform Grieg’s Piano Concerto.
Why go on tour?
Touring presents an opportunity to represent St. Louis and Missouri on the international stage. “It is an honor to represent St. Louis on the global stage, serving as cultural ambassadors for the city and country we so dearly cherish,” said Marie-Hélène Bernard, SLSO President and CEO.
Touring also allows the orchestra to hear itself in different venues and bring those experiences back to Powell Hall. St. Louis has the second-oldest orchestra in the country and sharing it with the world spotlights the city’s civic assets.
“St. Louisans have long known that the SLSO is world-class and now the world gets to hear firsthand what we are talking about,” Jason Hall, Chief Executive Officer of Greater St. Louis, Inc., said. “The SLSO will shine on the global stage and shine the spotlight on the tremendous cultural assets we have here in St. Louis.”
Has the SLSO toured before?
Yes! In fact, the SLSO has a deep history of touring that dates to the early 20th century. The SLSO first toured regionally, appearing in towns in Missouri and Illinois. Newspaper records indicate the orchestra made its debut in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, prior to World War I and has since visited the town 100 miles south of St. Louis more than 20 times.
The orchestra's first performance in New York City’s famed Carnegie Hall was in 1950. Regular performances at that venue have charmed critics and audiences alike ever since. Most recently, the SLSO performed John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary at Carnegie Hall with the St. Louis Symphony Chorus as part of the composer's 70th birthday celebration.
International tours began in 1978 with the first European tour, including three concerts at the Athens Festival in Greece. In the more than 40 years since that first tour, the SLSO has given concerts in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The SLSO’s most recent international tour was a three-city tour of Spain under former Music Director David Robertson with violinist Gil Shaham and trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger in February 2017.
The SLSO also tours extensively throughout the Midwest, collaborating regularly with higher education institutions including the University of Missouri, Indiana University-Bloomington, the University of Illinois, and the University of Nebraska.
Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Director.