By Eric Dundon
Almost 100 years ago, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra wowed audiences in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, at its first concert in the southeast Missouri city in four years.
Rudolph Ganz, then the SLSO’s Music Director, led the concert at Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO)—then known as Southeast Missouri State Teachers College—on April 9, 1922, the final concert in a tour of the American south that brought the orchestra to a dozen or more cities. The orchestra took a train from Memphis to Cape Girardeau for its engagement at SEMO.
Articles from the Southeast Missourian newspaper indicated the growing excitement of having a “large city” orchestra visit the town of 10,000 people just north of the Missouri Bootheel.
“The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra will be greeted by an enormous audience,” reads an article in the Missourian two days before the concert. Most concertgoers, many from the surrounding small towns, were expected to arrive by automobile, the article reported, but some were expected to travel by train.
According to the newspaper, the concert was a resounding success, prompting several encores by the orchestra. The program could be considered a “Pops” concert of the time, with several shorter pieces and selections from larger pieces. The program included: Overture to Mignon by Ambroise Thomas; Allegro Moderato from Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, “Unfinished”; selections from Édouard Lalo’s Spanish Symphony, featuring violinist Michel Gusikoff; Le Rouet d’Omphale by Camille Saint-Saëns; two Hungarian Dance by Johannes Brahms; and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave. The only announced encore was Georg Schumann’s Dance of the Nymphs and Satyrs.
Gusikoff, in most instances, would be the star of the show. Appointed the concertmaster of the Russian Symphony Orchestra of New York at age 19, he was a virtuoso and reportedly was the youngest concertmaster in the world at the time. But the orchestra itself seemed to overshadow the big-name soloist.
The crowd “applauded so vigorously as to show the big orchestra their every effort was appreciated,” so Ganz and the SLSO presented several unannounced encores. Ganz programmed Gabriel Pierné’s March of the Little Lead Soldiers specifically to appeal to the many children in the audience, though—in words that sound reminiscent of the welcoming remarks given by current SLSO Music Director Stéphane Denève—he said, “I believe the older folk will enjoy them as well.”
Other encores included Jacques Offenbach’s Baracolle from The Tales of Hoffman, Percy Grainger’s Shepherd’s Hey, and Edward MacDowell’s To A Wild Rose.
At the conclusion of the concert, the college’s president remarked that he had already requested the SLSO return to Cape Girardeau the following year. The orchestra previously visited the town four times prior to World War I. The newspaper remarked that if the SLSO were to return to SEMO, the president of the college would need to invest in a larger auditorium.
Since the 1922 concert, the orchestra has visited Cape Girardeau at least 21 times, most recently in 2018 under the direction of former Resident Conductor Gemma New.
The concert a century ago demonstrates the long-standing partnerships the SLSO’s builds and maintains with education institutions. The SLSO has nurtured relationships with many other colleges and universities in the state, including Washington University, the University of Missouri (in Columbia and St. Louis), Saint Louis University, Missouri S&T University, and others. The SLSO has also continued relationships with universities across the Midwest, including the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Indiana University-Bloomington, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
In March 2022, Music Director Stéphane and Denève and the SLSO embark on a three-university concert tour to Nebraska, Indiana, and Illinois, presenting concerts with music by George Gershwin, James Lee III, and Sergei Rachmaninoff, with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet joining the orchestra.
Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Manager.