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Q&A: A Conversation with Live at the Pulitzer Curator Christopher Stark

By Eric Dundon

An enduring partnership begun in 2004, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s collaboration with its Grand Center neighbors, the Pulitzer Arts Foundation presents bold and adventurous chamber music through St. Louis Symphony Orchestra: Live at the Pulitzer.

SLSO violinist Shawn Weil performs the world premiere of Christopher Stark’s 2nd Nature in March 2022 at a St. Louis Symphony Orchestra: Live at the Pulitzer concert.

This season, the three-program series is curated by St. Louis-based composer Christopher Stark, recipient of the 2023 Rome Prize and an Associate Professor of Composition at Washington University in St. Louis. Stark programmed the series with more than a dozen composers of today, continuing the tradition of responding to the art on display at the museum through the music selected. Stark’s curation includes many leading musical voices of today that include Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award winners.

This interview with Christopher Stark was condensed and edited for clarity and length.


SLSO: Talk about your relationship with St. Louis Symphony Orchestra: Live at the Pulitzer. What's your impression of this series?

Christopher Stark: I started attended concerts at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation the second I moved to St. Louis, which was in 2014. It's by far the premiere contemporary music series in St. Louis, and it's been very cool to see it evolve with the various program curators. It takes place in an unbelievable building in an unbelievable space to listen to music. The series is like a crazy hidden gem.

SLSO: What do you view as unique about this series?

CS: One aspect that sets this series apart is not necessarily that I am curating it, but I'm given this cool challenge to match the music to exhibitions that are happening in the museum. That is a big difference from a lot of contemporary music series. There's art up in this room, and the music has to have some relationship to this art so that the audience can have a full experience.

SLSO: What was your thought process as you approached the curation of programs?

CS: I listen to a ton of music, and I always have. I have pieces of music that I'm thinking about constantly that I would love to program someday. I had a conversation with the team at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, who were incredibly interesting people. They gave me an amazing presentation of the exhibitions that take place over the next year. I started with talking to the curators, and then studied the artists—taking a deep dive into their work—and then found music that matches the zeitgeist, the aesthetic of that art.

SLSO: Did you have any guiding principles that you wanted to explore with the programming?

CS: As a baseline, the programming had to be diverse. In 2023, it's not even a question. Secondly, the music must reflect the art and provoke thought about the work. For example, the upcoming exhibition of art by Sarah Crowner operates in these bright colors with these geometric patterns. It feels abstract, but it's linear and vibrant. I thought of composers I know who write music which I think of as creating “bright” music, using certain kinds of harmonies, compared to other composers who write more dense harmonic material that might come across as maybe a deep purple or dark maroon.

SLSO: What do you say to someone who has never attended a Live at the Pulitzer concert?

CS: I think we're in the midst of a massive transformation in contemporary classical music. Composers have reengaged with their communities and with their audiences. I think it comes from this feeling of being socially engaged and socially active and wanting to sort of be a part of a community. I think that audiences will find it very easily accessible because of that. I would want to be there to see that happening because of that new social and civic engagement that composers are going through right now.


Eric Dundon is the SLSO's Public Relations Director.


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