Holidays at Powell Hall

The leaves have fallen, the air is chilled. Winter is here, promising frigid days and ice-rink

roads. But the turn of season also promises the warmth of the holidays: beloved traditions,

visits from friends and family…and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday celebration!

This SLSO Holiday season is full of variety: from a full concert performance of Tchaikovsky’s

The Nutcracker to the scores from Home Alone and Beauty and the Beast performed live; from Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to the IN UNISON Chorus’ Gospel Christmas. From the annual Mercy Holiday Celebration to Stéphane Denève’s first BMO Wealth Management New Year’s Eve Celebration.

But let’s rewind. For the hard-working librarians at the SLSO, the holidays come early.

Not in December, or October, but all the way back in the summertime. While St. Louisans

are sunbathing in Forest Park or cheering for their beloved Cardinals, the SLSO librarians are

poring over scores and parts to “Jingle Bells” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”


In order to have parts on music stands in time for the SLSO’s holiday concerts, the SLSO’s

three librarians—Elsbeth Brugger, Henry Skolnick, and Amanda Tallant—start preparing for

December concerts while the weather is still warm, in August or September.


Since they spend months thinking about, writing about, and dealing with music for the

holidays, it seemed only right to speak with Elsbeth, Henry, and Amanda about their own

holiday traditions.


Elsbeth grew up in Switzerland, so the holiday season was quite different, she

says. Christmas trees had real candles, “which I loved,” and the season was less

commercial. She still thinks of the season as “very reflective,” and finds herself listening

to traditional Christmas tunes with sacred origins, like “Silent Night.”


Nothing could be further from “Silent Night” than the music Hank remembers from

his childhood: listening to Christmas with the Chipmunks with his family. So fond are

these memories that Hank still listens to that album…on vinyl! Hank, an active professional bassoonist, will typically play several gigs in December on baroque bassoon. This is when the baroque period really shines, with strains of Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio ringing out across the world.


The SLSO Library

But Hank also tries to limit his travel as much as possible, so that he can host family and cook. He particularly loves to bake pecan and orange scones, which he nibbles on while sitting on the couch and watching the whirlwind of his son opening presents.


Amanda is drawn to one tradition above all: holiday lights. She seeks them out no matter what city she is visiting. Her late Decembers are usually warm and sunny, as she typically visits family in Florida. And Amanda adds what she calls a “healthy stress” to her holiday season: saving all of her gift shopping for Christmas Eve!


For Hank, the holiday season “crescendos” to New Year’s Eve. He loves and collects different champagnes to pop at midnight, typically to the sounds of Strauss waltzes. In fact, so much does he love Strauss’ Tritsch-Tratsch Polka that he named his two chickens Tritsch and Tratsch.


Elsbeth also loves a New Year’s waltz, and likes to sit back and bask in the Vienna Philharmonic’s annual New Year’s Day concert on a day that she says “is a time to rest and relax.”


Amanda agrees. New Year’s Day is a time to clean and reset. But don’t ask her for her pledges for the coming year. Amanda doesn’t commit to New Year’s resolutions, believing instead that “whatever happens, happens.”


CHRISTMAS PLAYLIST

Walking the halls of Powell Hall, we gathered some Holiday song picks from SLSO’s staff and musicians. They are as varied as our Holiday programming!


“Greensleeves”

The Waitresses: “Christmas Wrapping”

“Sleigh Ride”

Mariah Carey:

“All I Want for Christmas”

“Little Drummer Boy”

“O Come O Come Emmanuel”

John Legend’s album:

A Legendary Christmas

“The Holly and the Ivy”

Vince Guaraldi’s music for

A Charlie Brown Christmas

“O Holy Night”

Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song”

“O Come All Ye Faithful”

Trans Siberian Orchestra: Any of the Christmas albums

"White Christmas"

By Tim Munro, the SLSO's Creative Partner.

This article appears in the December 2019 edition of Playbill.

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