By Tim Munro
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra has long championed the work of living composers. Leonard Slatkin put gas in the tank, David Robertson found new highways and byways, and now Stéphane Denève takes us on a long, rich musical journey, making a deep commitment to the music of our time.
One program that puts living composers centerstage is the St. Louis Symphony: Live at the Pulitzer series. Tim Munro, the SLSO’s Creative Partner, writes about the series’ shift during the 2020/2021 season, as well as new performances to look forward to. And he introduces an exciting new SLSO initiative.
During the 2020/2021 season, the St. Louis Symphony: Live at the Pulitzer series found creative ways to get the work of living composers into the world. The SLSO’s amazing musicians took part in three inventive videos, each reflecting on the meanings of the word “home.” All are available through the SLSO’s YouTube page.
Shelley Washington’s Middleground, performed by a quartet from the SLSO, takes us in the car with her on a family road trip through her childhood in Missouri and Kansas. Nathalie Joachim’s Dam Mwen Yo, passionately performed by cellist Elizabeth Chung, is a celebration of the strong women of Haiti. “This piece is representative of these ladies,” Nathalie says. “My ladies.”
Alice Chance’s Until We Gather Again paints a portrait of a choir who can no longer meet. The piece was originally commissioned by The Australian Music Centre’s Peggy Glanville Hicks Initiative 2020 with additional support from Leichhardt Espresso Chorus. For this video, Chance worked with both the St. Louis Symphony Chorus and IN UNISON Chorus. “I wanted to unearth the stories of these choruses—their experiences, their hopes for themselves and each other. To illuminate that which has continued to hold us all together in recent times,” Chance said.
Back at the Pulitzer
In September, St. Louis Symphony: Live at the Pulitzer was back, live. The series transformed the Pulitzer Arts Foundation’s Park-Like into a forest filled with birds. Park-Like is an acre of grass paths, native plants, small hills—the perfect home for the piccolos and percussionists of John Luther Adams’ songbirdsongs.
In November, we ventured inside for a program about the people, places, and things we love, performed by four SLSO string players. Anna Clyne giving her full heart to her late mother’s words, Edmund Finnis painting an intimate portrait of a sibling relationship, and Ted Hearne and Gabriella Smith reveling in music they adore.
On March 8 and 9, we look forward to another journey. St. Louis Symphony: Live at the Pulitzer visits ancient Israel, modern South Africa, and Argentina. And in Christopher Stark’s 2nd Nature—receiving its belated world premiere performance—violin, electronics, and video allow us venture deep into the natural world.
Stark and SLSO violinist Shawn Weil used a grant from Utah’s Barlow Endowment to travel across Asia, where they listened. “I recorded insects in the mountains of Northern Thailand,” says Stark, "and cicadas in Tokyo parks.” He transformed these sounds into an immersive musical environment.
“Shawn is one of the most energetic people I’ve met in my life.” His energy fed the piece. “There is no down-point in the piece.” Stark’s ultimate goal, though, was “to create something that has a little bit of wonder in it.”
On May 18, we welcome a rising star. Don’t say a word is a collection of “feminist rager-lullabies” by composer and avant-folk vocalist Annika Socolofsky.
She updates old lullabies, teaching radical new lessons. Her cycle, performed by Socolofsky with a virtuoso ensemble from the SLSO, is beautiful, passionate, rage-filled.
“Lullabies are the only truly safe performing space that we have,” says Socolofsky. “Every other space has some kind of audience, so you can’t be truly candid. If you’re singing to your child, you can truly say what you need to say.”
A fascinating new initiative will give St. Louis audiences the first taste of America’s brightest young musical talents. Each year, a group of composers will be introduced into a multi-year relationship with the SLSO.
Each composer will have the opportunity to work with many parts of the organization, building their skills through collaborations that might include the Live at the Pulitzer series, the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, the Symphony Chorus, the IN UNISON Chorus.
Part of this new initiative will appear on January 30. The first cohort of composers will work alongside composer John Adams and SLSO Assistant Conductor Stephanie Childress on a workshop performance and recording of works for orchestra.
A forthcoming announcement will include the names of the first group of composers and many more details of their relationship with the SLSO.
Tim Munro is the SLSO's Creative Partner. A writer, broadcaster, and Grammy-winning flutist, he lives in Chicago with his wife, son, and badly behaved orange cat.