SLSO Welcomes International Institute of St. Louis for Concert About Home

By Eric Dundon


When Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider took the podium to lead the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in his first of a two-week artist residency with the SLSO, the music he led orbited around a theme of home. There was a performance of Bedřich Smetana’s Má vlast, the composer’s elegy to his homeland. Pianist Ingrid Fliter danced and dazzled in Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto, created as a musical and family home for the Schumanns.


To open the concert, Szeps-Znaider chose an introspective and deeply personal take on the meaning of home.


Staff and constituents with the International Institute of St. Louis visit with SLSO musicians Becky Boyer Hall, back left, and Alvin McCall following the October 30 SLSO concert. The opening piece of the program, Karim Al-Zand’s Luctus Profugis: Elegy for the Displaced, was inspired by the ongoing European refugee crisis.

Karim Al-Zand’s Luctus Profugis: Elegy for the Displaced laments the European refugee crisis that gripped the continent in the mid- and late-2010s.


“It was a very poignant way to open the concert,” Szeps-Znaider told St. Louis Public Radio during an interview at the concert’s intermission.


The October 30 concert’s special guests made the performance even more poignant.


As the St. Louis region begins to welcome Afghans displaced by conflict in their home country, the SLSO welcomed the International Institute of St. Louis (IISTL) to enjoy the concert and its deeply personal message as part of the SLSO’s Music Without Boundaries program.


IISTL mentorship program members—refugee teens and adult volunteers from the community—joined IISTL staff for the concert.


“I’m not a connoisseur of classical music, but I was carried away, blown away by the performance,” Arrey Obensen, the President and CEO of IISTL, told St. Louis Public Radio about the performance of Al-Zand’s music.


For 100 years, IISTL has welcomed immigrants and refugees, creating a pathway for new St. Louis neighbors to thrive. Obensen said IISTL aims to help foster a more inclusive and prosperous community.


“When we heard about the inspiration for this program, and Al-Zand’s piece in particular, it was natural to extend an invitation to our longtime friends at the IISTL,” said Maureen Byrne, SLSO’s Associate Vice President of Education and Community Partnerships. “We were thrilled to welcome IISTL staff and mentorship program participants to Powell Hall for a program that has a deep connection to their institution and mission and to them as individuals. The power of music was palpable that night and we were honored to be a part of that.”


The partnership between the SLSO and IISTL dates back more than 15 years to a longtime community program: Music Without Boundaries. Since 2005, Music Without Boundaries has used the power of music to foster a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, our region and its diverse cultural resources, both among immigrant/refugee populations, as well as between them and the native-born population.


Toward those goals, Music Without Boundaries provides free admission and transportation for immigrants/refugees to special SLSO performances throughout the year, supports specialized orchestral outreach tailored to program partners, and presents unique and intimate fellowship opportunities between immigrant/refugee friends and SLSO musicians.


Obensen celebrated not only the partnership between the SLSO and IISTL, but the response of the St. Louis community in welcoming refugees to the region.


“This community has been incredibly helpful and has come out in ways that we couldn’t have imagined,” he said.


Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Manager.