By Eric Dundon
Stéphane Denève is only in his second year as Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, but a contract extension announced March 30 guarantees he will be the artistic leader of the organization through at least spring 2026.
The extension runs through the 2025/2026 season, or Denève’s seventh season as Music Director.
“St. Louis is my musical home, and I am truly over the moon to deepen my relationship with this wonderful community in the years to come,” he said.
Denève’s original contract was for three years, running from the 2019/2020 season through the 2021/2022 season. He began his partnership with the SLSO in 2003 as a guest conductor, leading the orchestra seven times over the next 14 years, until his appointment as the SLSO’s next Music Director in 2017, succeeding David Robertson. He guest conducted the orchestra once again before one year as Music Director Designate in the 2018/2019 season.
Since his tenure began, Denève has fully embraced St. Louis’ people, culture, and traditions, including conducting the free Forest Park concert on Art Hill, held each season as a gift to the St. Louis community. His first concert as Music Director was in front of more than 15,000 people in September 2019. In the 18 months since then, he has developed deep relationships and a rich collaboration with the entire SLSO family and St. Louis community, a result of his genuine warmth, openness, and superb communication.
SLSO musicians reacted to the news with excitement.
Jonathan Chu and Jennifer Nitchman, Co-Chairs of the SLSO Musicians’ Council, said, “The musicians of the SLSO are thrilled to continue our collaboration with Stéphane Denève with this contract extension. We are inspired and energized by his boundless enthusiasm, optimism, and dedication to connecting with our community through powerful musical performances. It is a true joy to look forward to our future with Stéphane after the difficulties of the past year.”
Artistically, Denève draws acclaimed performances from the orchestra and its resident choruses. His deep network has attracted top artists to St. Louis, while his appointment of 10 musicians to the orchestra to date and the selection of Stephanie Childress as the SLSO’s new Assistant Conductor maintains the SLSO’s reputation as a top orchestral destination for musicians internationally.
His concerts have been met with praise from audiences and critics alike, who have noted his ability to produce amazing performances of repertoire across genre and time.
His inaugural season’s programs juxtaposed the French repertoire for which he is a world-renowned interpreter with the SLSO’s own decades-long commitment to American music. Denève also retains a firm commitment to music of today, commissioning and introducing new works to the SLSO repertoire by composers including Anna Clyne, Guillaume Connesson, Stacey Garrop, Nathalie Joachim, Aaron Jay Kernis, James MacMillan, Jessie Montgomery, Kevin Puts, and many other voices of our time.
Under Denève’s leadership, the SLSO has focused on making music accessible to all and striving to help all who engage with the SLSO feel a sincere sense of welcome and belonging. In his inaugural season, Denève facilitated the introduction of $15 tickets to classical concerts, lowering the economic barrier to the SLSO. In addition, he launched Stéphane Seats, a program that has to date welcomed more than 230 students, teachers, and community partners to attend his concerts for free. He also oversaw the creation of SLSO Crafted, an innovative concert experience in collaboration with the St. Louis culinary community that welcomed new audiences to Powell Hall. In his second season as Music Director—one which was also defined by the global pandemic—his vision for the expansion of the SLSO’s accessibility via media was realized with the launch of a video streaming initiative using the SLSO’s newly installed high-definition robotic camera system. He conducted the first digital concert, made available for free on the orchestra’s website. Since March 2020, the SLSO has reached more than 3 million people on air and online and around the world.
“As we look toward a post-pandemic future together, I am fully committed to listening to and growing with our community. I very much hope to make the SLSO even more diverse, inclusive, and accessible to our local and international audiences and supporters,” he said.
Denève continues to envision an SLSO that maintains its rich artistic legacy while becoming more accessible, focusing on voices of today and the musicians of tomorrow through an emphasis on music education.
“In the time Stéphane has been Music Director, he has continued to build on the celebrated artistic legacy of the SLSO while advancing the next era of the orchestra,” said SLSO President and CEO Marie-Hélène Bernard. “He inspires all of us with his signature joy and warmth, encourages dialogue, emphasizes education, breaks down barriers, and flexes the organization’s creative mettle.”
A look at Stéphane's tenure so far
Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Manager.