By Justino Gordón-LeChevalié
Just a short walk from Powell Hall’s doors stands The Sheldon, a performance space with its own celebrated history. The Sheldon has welcomed a diverse array of talents, from the artistic expressions of Ernest Hemingway, B.B. King, and Renée Fleming. Known for its excellent acoustics, The Sheldon has been favorably compared to other notable venues around the world and serves as a cherished part of St. Louis’s cultural fabric.
It is in this rich musical setting that the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra launched an exciting new collaboration in the 2023/2024 season: Live at The Sheldon. This chamber music series, curated and performed by SLSO musicians, inaugurates the orchestra’s most robust chamber music offerings in recent years. Many SLSO patrons and musicians have long hoped for more chamber music opportunities.
“There is a huge appetite for chamber music within our community,” said Ian Kivler, the SLSO’s Artistic Administrator.
The Live at The Sheldon series, which is generously sponsored by the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation, aims to satisfy this craving, while also showcasing SLSO artists in a uniquely intimate setting.
Chamber music, sometimes described as "the music of friends," traces its roots back to the Renaissance. Originally, it wasn't performed in concert halls or by professional ensembles. Instead, it flourished in small, intimate rooms—or chambers—among friends who gathered to play new music for the sheer joy of it. This informal setting fostered a unique bond among the musicians as well as between the musicians and their audience, devoid of the barriers of a stage. Over the centuries, while the setting of chamber music has evolved to include more formal performances, its essence remains rooted in the joyous, social, and musical connections that defined its early origins. SLSO Concertmaster David Halen, who curated the February 7 Live at The Sheldon alongside SLSO Principal Second Violinist Alison Harney, explained many composers created some of their finest works for chamber ensembles, thus allowing audiences to connect more closely with each individual instrument.
Halen and Harney’s concert, which also features Principal Violist Beth Guterman Chu, Associate Principal Cellist Melissa Brooks, and Principal Keyboardist Peter Henderson, includes iconic chamber music by Antonín Dvořák and Maurice Ravel. Maurice Ravel's String Quartet, composed in 1903, is a strong example of the beauty and complexity found in chamber music. Ravel, with his intricate harmonies and textures, showcases the quintessential characteristics of chamber music: the interplay between instruments soloing and accompanying each other in turns, a wide range of dynamic variations, and rich, lyrical themes.
Structurally, The Sheldon’s auditorium features a raked design–meaning it’s sloped to enhance visibility for the audience–but the stage itself is also slightly inclined, ensuring optimal viewing of the performers across the entire stage.
“There is a special charm in performing this kind of music in The Sheldon's hall,” Halen said, nodding to The Sheldon’s European architectural pedigree that has proven ideal for unamplified concerts. “Its design brings the audience close to the music, creating an immersive experience. The acoustics are also well-suited for chamber music, allowing every subtle distinction to be heard.”
From the musician's perspective, the series offers a treasured opportunity to explore a different facet of their artistry.
“Our musicians have a deep affinity for chamber music. It's a different kind of challenge and joy compared to symphonic pieces,” Kivler said. “There's a level of intimacy and communication in chamber groups that can be difficult to find elsewhere.”
Live at The Sheldon not only fulfills the musicians’ aspirations to delve deeper into chamber repertoire, but also allows them to connect more personally with their audiences and each other.
After the February 7 performance, there are two additional Live at The Sheldon concerts: Wednesday, March 6 and Sunday, April 7. In March, Curator and Principal Timpanist Shannon Wood and ten additional SLSO musicians have put together a concert that features a quartet for clarinet, horn, cello, and side drum by Bohuslav Martinů as well as Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale. In April, Curators Roger Kaza (Principal Horn) and Julie Thayer (Fourth Horn) will perform pieces by Richard Wagner, Paul Hindemith, Jean Sibelius, and W.A. Mozart—to name a few.
Included in each Live at The Sheldon program is also a world premiere by composers from the Mizzou New Music Initiative. This initiative, pivotal in fostering the creation and performance of new music at the University of Missouri, has previously collaborated with The Sheldon and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. These partnerships exemplify each institution’s role in expanding the reach of today’s composers and helping to shine a light on new voices within Missouri's vibrant music scene.
Get your tickets for upcoming Live at The Sheldon concerts here.
With a focus on presenting repertoire and musical voices that are less frequently or have never been showcased in full orchestral performances, the SLSO is committed to fulfilling this demand through the Live at The Sheldon series.
The Live at The Sheldon series stands as a significant addition to the SLSO’s portfolio, striking a chord with the community's desire for intimate musical experiences. The series pivots towards personal engagement with the remarkably talented SLSO musicians in a setting that shows off their artistry on an individual level.
Justino Gordón-LeChevalié is the SLSO's Communications and Publications Coordinator.