Stéphane Denève, Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, says it best: “I think to go forward, you always have to glance a little bit out the rear window and see what is successful from the past, what is good, what is not good, and what can be better.”
History sparks dialogue, and music can be a compelling way to inspire conversation. For Stéphane, a particular milestone in the SLSO’s history stands out: the SLSO became the first major American orchestra to have a majority of musicians who were female.
“I realized coming here and working with everybody that the traditions in St. Louis have a real spirit, because of the women here,” Stéphane says.
It’s through that lens that Stéphane crafted the SLSO’s 2020/2021 season. Shaped around the idea of equality, the 20/21 season, which was announced on February 4, elevates the voices of women, encouraging a dialogue about the impact of music in our society.
Stéphane explains his intent with this idea: “This season, we hope to inspire a dialogue with our audiences around some of the most important ideas of today: where we’ve been, where we are going, and how we give a voice to people who haven’t been heard in the past.”
Perhaps no other piece summarizes the season better than Haydn’s Symphony No. 64, which the SLSO will perform for the first time in the 20/21 season. Haydn’s nickname for the symphony is “Tempora mutantur,” which translates to “the times are changed, and we are changed with them.” The season begins with an homage to powerful women with a performance of former SLSO Composer-in-Residence (1985-1988) Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 1. Throughout the season, the SLSO’s programming elevates the voices and stories of people who have, and are today, working towards greater equality.
It’s also a season of celebration, as we mark Kevin McBeth’s 10th anniversary as director of the IN UNISON Chorus and honor Amy Kaiser’s 26 years as director of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, as she plans to retire at the end of the season.
For the 20/21 season, Stéphane programmed a variety of works that showcases the SLSO’s great versatility: respected works of the classical canon alongside music of our time that Stéphane believes will be the repertoire of the future. Audiences will hear classical favorites including Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8, and the first SLSO performances of Florence Price’s Symphony No. 3, Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony, Mozart’s Symphony Nos. 36 and 38, Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 1, and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra.
Celebrated music from the stage is featured throughout the season, including Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite, Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite, a concert version of Puccini’s operatic masterpiece Turandot, Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite, and Gershwin’s Porgy Bess: A Symphonic Picture.
Stéphane also looks to today and to tomorrow for inspiration. Twenty-five pieces are new to the SLSO, thoughtfully selected by Stéphane. Eighteen are by composers of our time, including world premieres by Stacy Garrop and a piece written especially for the St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus. Composers of today, including Jessie Montgomery, Andrea Tarrodi, Caroline Shaw, Joan Tower, and Helen Grime contribute to the conversation through their pieces programmed throughout the season. They join other composers of our time, including John Adams, Thomas Adès, Tan Dun, Sebastian Fagerlund, Jake Heggie, James MacMillan, Wynton Marsalis, and Bent Sørensen, in a season that celebrates the voices of today. Adventurous and curious programming that has become a signature of the SLSO continues with Stéphane.
Stéphane also programs works about women who changed history, like Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, Lola Montez, the Virgin Mary, Delilah, and others. The SLSO explores the lives of these influential historical figures through a two-week festival November 10-22: History. Her Story. Our Future. The SLSO gives a megaphone to the voices of these women in two classical concerts, including the first SLSO performances of Honegger’s oratorio Joan of Arc at the Stake, stage directed by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Artistic Director James Robinson. The exploration of these powerful women transcends time, and the festival will spark a genuine dialogue about powerful women today, through special events, speakers, and additional concerts including SLSO Crafted, Live at the Pulitzer, and a Youth Orchestra concert.
Stéphane and the SLSO continue the Artist-in-Residence program with recent Grammy winner Nicola Benedetti. A virtuosic performer and dedicated educator, she will shape energetic programs in her two weeks with the orchestra and touch the lives of young people in St. Louis.
Joining Nicola are some of the world’s great artists, who will lend their voices to this season of dialogue. Artists familiar and loved by St. Louisans join the SLSO again, like pianists Emanuel Ax and Kirill Gerstein; violinist Leila Josefowicz; vocalist Christine Goerke; and conductors Gemma New, Leonard Slatkin, Cristian Măcelaru, and Nicholas McGegan. Several artists make long-awaited returns, eager to share in Stéphane’s vision, like pianists Leif Ove Andsnes and Hélène Grimaud, and conductor Jane Glover. A number of artists new to the SLSO already are making their marks on the classical music landscape: conductors Elim Chan and Thomas Søndergård; pianists Beatrice Rana, Lise de la Salle, and Alice Sara Ott; violinist Simone Porter; and vocalists Gaëlle Arquez, Janai Brugger, Jonathan Burton, and David Leigh. Artists who recently made triumphant debuts with the SLSO return: conductor Karina Canellakis, and vocalists Jennifer Johnson Cano and Siobhan Stagg. And artists who make a staggering difference in today’s world will leave their mark on St. Louis: violinist Nicola Benedetti, the SLSO’s new Artist-in-Residence who devotes countless hours to her foundation that reaches young musicians; violinist Hilary Hahn, who will lead a special concert for the youngest classical music lovers; and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, who champions women’s causes internationally.
The combination of programming, artists, and the SLSO’s warm, engaging sound reflects Stéphane’s keen desire to reflect what is important in today’s world.
“We celebrate the fact that the world is changing,” he says, the words coming directly from his soul. “It's not perfect, as we all know. There's not a universal path towards equality. But I believe that it's going in the right direction in many places. I think it's time to celebrate that and to communicate that as good news.”
The 20/21 season features the entire SLSO family. The St. Louis Symphony Chorus will perform on five programs in total: one with guest conductor Karina Canellakis performing works by Brahms and four with Stéphane: Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, Poulenc’s Stabat Mater and Dialogues of the Carmelites, and Puccini’s Turandot.
The SLSO celebrates the 26th anniversary of Amy Kaiser as Director of the chorus and her retirement at the end of the 20/21 season. In her final season as chorus director, four of the choral works are new to Kaiser. “How exciting to end a 50-year career with discovery and adventure,” she said.
The St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus—which specializes in the performance and preservation of music from African and African-American cultures—will perform on a classical program for the first time in more than ten years, joining Stéphane on April 30-May 1 for the world premiere of a new work, commissioned especially for the chorus. The SLSO celebrates Kevin McBeth, who will mark his tenth anniversary directing the IN UNISON Chorus.
The St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra begins its 51st season with an appearance on NPR’s nationally syndicated show From the Top in September and with its concerts at Powell Hall in November, March, and June. Founded in 1970 by SLSO Conductor Laureate Leonard Slatkin, the Youth Orchestra has had a significant impact on the region's young musicians and celebrated its 50th anniversary during the 2019/2020 season.
Each year, the SLSO welcomes more than 40,000 guests to concerts between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. The SLSO continues its holiday traditions with a wide array of seasonal performances that bring the holiday spirit to life. Led by IN UNISON Chorus Director Kevin McBeth, the SLSO and the St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus peform its popular annual concert, A Gospel Christmas (December 10, 2020). Powell Hall will be filled with enchantment for the Mercy Holiday Celebration concerts. The festive performances feature timeless classics, carols, familiar favorites, and a visit from Santa Claus (December 18-20, 2020). Conductor Laureate Leonard Slatkin will help St. Louis ring in the New Year with the annual New Year’s Eve Celebration Concert. The program is a fun-filled evening full of magical music and unforgettable surprises (December 31, 2020). IN UNISON Chorus Director Kevin McBeth will lead the SLSO and the IN UNISON Chorus in its annual concert, Lift Every Voice, celebrating African-American culture and music with a soulful celebration of song. The chorus is among the first symphony choruses to specialize in music of African and African-American cultures. This concert is supported by Bayer Fund (February 19, 2021).
The SLSO Crafted concert series expands in the 20/21 season to three concerts. These happy-hour concerts, starting at 6:30pm on Fridays, present one hour of music with commentary from Stéphane, and include food and drinks before and after the concert. The 20/21 dates are November 13, 2020, March 5, 2021, and May 7, 2021, with works by Saint-Saëns, Schmitt, Sibelius, Strauss, and others.
Live at Powell Hall
Through the SLSO’s Live at Powell Hall concerts, audiences experience a wide range of music: popular artists, films on the big screen, and tributes to crowd-favorite musicians. Live at Powell Hall concerts open with the final installment of the Harry Potter saga: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Part Two (September 11-13, 2020). The SLSO continues its journey through the Star Wars universe with performances of the score to Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (April 15-18, 2021). A full schedule of 20/21 Live at Powell Hall concerts will be announced in Spring 2020.
Live at the Pulitzer
The Pulitzer Arts Foundation and the SLSO continue their unique partnership, St. Louis Symphony: Live at the Pulitzer. These intimate concerts are the intersection of art and music, with SLSO soloists and chamber ensembles performing works from the 20th and 21st centuries. Begun in 2004, the programming for each Pulitzer concert complements current exhibits at the Tadao Ando-designed Pulitzer building. The 20/21 Pulitzer series are curated in partnership with SLSO Creative Partner Tim Munro and are a key part of Denève’s and the SLSO’s continued commitment to music of our time. Programs and details about events in the 20/21 season will be announced in August 2020.
Included in Denève’s weeks leading the SLSO this season, he will conduct the ceremonial opening of the SLSO’s season with the free Forest Park concert for the St. Louis community on September 16, 2020. Over the past 50 years, the SLSO has performed 33 free community concerts in Forest Park. In 2004, this special event became an annual tradition, thanks to the generosity of Mary Ann Lee, and serves as the unofficial start of the orchestra’s season. Another SLSO tradition returns in December, with Conductor Laureate Leonard Slatkin ringing in 2021 with the SLSO at the annual New Year’s Eve concert.
Stéphane is excited to welcome audiences to the SLSO’s 20/21 season, to be part of thrilling musical experiences and join in conversations about some of the most pivotal issues of today. Curated subscriptions are available for Friday mornings, Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday afternoons. For greater flexibility, individuals can create custom subscription of five or more concerts. Subscriptions are available now at slso.org or by calling 314534-1700. Single tickets for the 20/21 season go on sale July 15.