By Caitlin Custer
For one week this spring, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra hit the road to bring music to three midwestern universities. In all, they performed three concerts, gave 24 masterclasses, participated in three panel discussions, and visited two elementary schools.
Tuesday, March 22
The first stop of the week was the Lied Center at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The orchestra brought the same program they performed the previous weekend in St. Louis with Music Director Stéphane Denève: James Lee III’s Chuphshah: Harriet’s Drive to Canaan, George Gershwin’s Concerto in F with pianist and previous SLSO artist-in-residence Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony. At each concert, the SLSO also performed the Ukrainian National Anthem.
After the concert, it was a quick jump back to St. Louis before more travel.
Wednesday, March 23
A small group of SLSO musicians went ahead to Indiana University Bloomington to give masterclasses to students at the renowned Jacobs School of Music. They visited studios for almost every orchestral instrument.
Thursday, March 24
Four musicians visited two second grade classrooms at Rogers Elementary School, giving students an up-close experience of a string quartet, while another group of musicians visited a college class to speak on a panel on Community Engagement in the Arts.
Stéphane arrived that afternoon and tried on his professor hat with a visit to a conducting class. They talked through stylistic choices—like interpreting dynamics and articulations and finding publisher errors—in one of Stéphane’s favorites, Claude Debussy’s La mer.
Much of their discussion came back to deeply engaging with the music itself and what the composer may have intended. “It is always better,” Stéphane said, “to ask the right question than to always have the answer.”
Shortly afterwards, Stéphane led the IU Philharmonic Orchestra in rehearsal, while SLSO Assistant Conductor Stephanie Childress was next door leading a side-by-side rehearsal with the IU Chamber Orchestra and SLSO musicians.
Principal Clarinet Scott Andrews sat between two students and shared insights with them, commenting later that it was especially rewarding to have high-level conversations about music with them. The students called it an “incredible experience,” and “great to play alongside [Scott] and feel like a professional.”
Meanwhile, Jean-Yves Thibaudet gave a masterclass in Auer Hall.
Friday, March 25
The SLSO's last day in Bloomington was full of rewarding teaching experiences before an exciting concert.
Musicians Will James, Xiomara Mass, Shawn Weil, and Cally Banham, along with Vice President and General Manager Erik Finley, visited a seminar for entrepreneurship in music. They talked about their projects outside of the SLSO, how to sustain their work, and how to make balance a priority in their lives.
The next stop was Fairview Elementary School, where a string quartet of Erin Schreiber, I-Jung Huang, Shannon Williams, and Yin Xiong visited with first and sixth grade students. It was the first time the school had a guest presenter since the beginning of the pandemic. Each musician demonstrated their favorite technique on their instrument, before playing a short excerpt for the students.
In the afternoon, SLSO administrators Erik Finley, Audrey Kwong, and Caitlin Custer took part in a panel on leadership in arts administrators. Students came from several disciplines, including arts management, nonprofit management, public policy, and music.
Finally, it was time for the concert at IU Auditorium. Audience members filled the 3200-seat theater, laughing as Stéphane brought his signature humorous remarks to the stage.
Saturday, March 26
There was one more stop to make before heading home: the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois—a regular host to the SLSO for decades. Musicians Jonathan Chu, Jelena Dirks, David Kim, and Erin Schreiber gave masterclasses in the afternoon. After the stunning performance in Krannert's Foellinger Great Hall, audience members and area musicians made their way backstage for autographs and to share their enjoyment of the concert.
Caitlin Custer is the SLSO's Communications Manager.