Thursday, December 14, 2017

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of December 14, 2017

As always, the choices are purely my personal opinion. Take with a grain (or a shaker) of salt.

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New This Week:


A Christmas Carol
The Fox Theatre presents The Nebraska Theatre Caravan's musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol Thursday and Friday at 7:30 PM, Saturday at 2 and 7:30 PM, and Sunday at 1 and 6 PM, December 14 - 17. "A Christmas Carol features a spirited ensemble of 23 performers who bring Dickens' fable of redemption to life on a magical set created by noted designer James Othuse. A full array of timeless carols such as "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Away In a Manger" and "Here We Come A-Wassailing" are interwoven within the classic story of a tight-fisted, middle-class merchant Ebenezer Scrooge and all the beloved characters from Dickens' 1843 novel." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

My take: "I have always thought of Christmas time," wrote Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol, "as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys." These days such a notion is considered politically radical, which makes partaking of the Dickens classic that much more important. Go though and enjoy.


Webster University's Conservatory of Theatre Arts presents Aristophanes's comedy Lysistrata Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through December 17. "How do you end a war that seems never ending? Aristophanes' famous play, Lysistrata, takes on this question as it centers on the lives of the soldiers' wives toward the end of the Peloponnesian War. One woman, Lysistrata, under the impression that a man's libido is ultimately his driving force in life, comes up with an interesting peace solution: to deny their husbands and lovers sexual relations until they can settle on a peace agreement that will end the war. However, Lysistrata's strategy effectively creates even more conflict than before as the sexes begin to feud with each other. Aristophanes' play is both comic, poignant, and revealing as it examines gender relations that somehow still feel relevant thousands of years later." Performances take place at the Stage III Auditorium on the Webster University campus. For more information, www.webster.edu or call 314-968-7128.

My take: While I can be a bit leery of updates of theatrical classics, this one appears to get it right. "What a romping, merry hoot!" writes Steve Callahan at KDHX. "The adaptation by Ellen McLaughlin is some eleven years old but it's wonderfully fresh and is widely produced. Director Jamie McKittrick has put together a marvelous energetic trash-punk world full of music, dance and a whole lot of hilarious talk that I could never repeat on the air." And its anti-war message is sadly still relevant.

 

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly
Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly through December 24. "In this winning and witty sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the bookish middle child of the Bennet family finally has her day. Constantly overshadowed by her four sisters, Mary Bennet finds hope for a new life beyond her family from an unexpected holiday romance. Austen fans and first-timers alike will find much to love in this alluring comedic tale." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

My take: Looking for a family friendly Christmas theatre treat that isn't based on Charles Dickens or Jean Shepherd? Allow me to recommend most heartily. This ingenious play by Lauren Gunderson (Silent Sky) and Margot Melcon does for Pride and Prejudice what Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead did for Hamlet by taking a minor character and thrusting her into the spotlight so that her story can be told. It's a beautifully done tribute to the values that have been at the heart of this season's celebrations for thousands of years: family, friends, light, and love. Oh, yeah: it's also funny as hell. Don't miss it.


Bob Becherer and Merry Keller
Second Presbyterian Church presents The Secret of Christmas: A Christmas Cabaret with singers Merry Keller and Bob Becherer and pianist Ron Bryant on Sunday, December 17, at 3 pm. "Join Bob, Merry, Ron and friends for a warm, tender and fun Christmas Cabaret. You are certain to hear many of your favorite Christmas songs and will leave with a happy heart, a lighter stride in your step and joy to celebrate the holiday season." Second Presbyterian Church is at 4501 Westminster Place in the Central West Enc. For more information: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3174143.

My take: What could be better at this time of year than seasonal favorites performed by a pair of outstanding local singers? I have known Bob and Merry for some years now from the St. Louis Cabaret Conference and other local venues. You'll be in good hands here, trust me.

Held Over:

Steel Magnolias
Photo: Justin Been
Stray Dog Theatre presents the comedy/drama Steel Magnolias Thursdays through Saturdays through December 16. "All the ladies who are 'anybody' flock to Truvy's beauty salon where she dispenses shampoos and free advice. Filled with hilarious repartee and good ol' Southern charm, the play explores the lives of six remarkable women and the special qualities that make them truly touching, funny, and marvelously amiable company in good times and bad." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

My take: A hit on Broadway in 1987 and in cinemas in 1989, Steel Magnolias is a heartfelt tribute to the resiliency of its small town characters and to the importance of friendship in hard times. In his review for Ladue News, Mark Bretz notes that Stray Dog Artistic Director Gary Bell "directs with a sure and steady touch, maintaining the focus on Harling's fun-loving but also tender script."

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Symphony Preview: Christmas time is here

This article originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

Kevin McBeth and the IN UNISON® Chorus
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If you can't wait until December 25th to open your presents, take heart; the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra has some musical stocking stuffers for you right now.

December 14: Kevin McBeth leads the IN UNISON® Chorus in A Gospel Christmas -- The originally scheduled soloist, Grammy Award-winning jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves, has had to cancel due to unexpected health concerns. Appearing in her place will be St. Louis native Brian Owens, an accomplished singer and recording artist in his own right. The program will include Gospel favorites, popular Christmas tunes, and Yuletide classics like Adolphe Adam's "Oh Holy Night," with tenor Robert Jackson doing the high-flying solo. There's even a soulful version of the "Hallelujah Chorus" from "Handel's Messiah: a Soulful Celebration" by Paul David Wilson. Tenor Curtis McGruder will be the featured soloist for that one.

Celebrating its 21st season with the SLSO, the IN UNISON® Chorus is "an all-volunteer, 120-voice auditioned ensemble that performs a variety of musical styles, with a focus on the interpretation, performance, and preservation of the music of African-American and African cultures." Kevin McBeth, who became director of the chorus in 2011, is Director of Music at Manchester United Methodist Church and serves as full-time administrator for the Music Ministry, which includes 18 choral and handbell ensembles, involving nearly 500 youngsters and adults.

Note that this show always sells well and, in fact, only a limited number of tickets are available as this is being written.

Doug Labrecque
December 15-17: The Mercy Holiday Celebration -- Resident Conductor Gemma New leads the orchestra and Holiday Festival Chorus (consisting of students from local schools and colleges conducted by Kevin McBeth) in a program of traditional carols and seasonal pop songs. The featured soloist is singer and actor Doug Labrecque, whose stage credits include the roles of both the Phantom and Raoul in the Harold Prince production of Phantom of the Opera.

The program this year includes one of my all-time favorite Christmas medleys, Leroy Anderson's A Christmas Festival, along with selections from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, a mix of traditional and contemporary holiday songs, a "Holiday Sing-Along," and a suite from Alan Silvestri's score for the film Polar Express. There will also presumably be the annual "surprise" visit from Santa (usually played by the ever-charming Whit Richert). "Pops" events like this are usually big moneymakers for the orchestra and great fun as well. Only a dedicated Scrooge could complain.

The Bach Society at Powell Hall
December 19: The Bach Society Christmas Candlelight Concert -- Soloists Scott Kennebeck , Martha J. Hart and Sari Gruber join the Bach Society Chorus and Orchestra for Handel's Messiah and the usual assortment of traditional holiday carols. What makes this annual program truly special, though, is the candlelight procession that starts the second half.

The lights dim, and the members of the Bach Society walk down the aisles singing, each with an electric candle. If you're lucky enough to be sitting downstairs in the orchestra section, you find yourself surrounded by singers - some carrying the melody, some harmony, enveloping you in a constantly changing kaleidoscope of sound. Charles Ives would have loved it. It's a St. Louis tradition and every music lover should get to experience it at least once.

This isn't an SLSO event, but the SLSO is handling the ticketing and it does take place in Powell Hall, so I figured it's fair game for this article.

December 21-23: The Music of John Williams -- SLSO Music Director David Robertson is a great admirer of the work of famed film composer John Williams, and his concerts of Williams film music have become something of a holiday tradition in recent years.

John Williams receiving the
2009 National Medal of Arts
from President Obama
Mr. Williams, who will turn 86 in February, is probably the best known and most frequently recorded film music composer of the last 100 years. He's certainly one of the most honored, with five Oscars, four Golden Globes, 22 Grammys, seven BAFTA awards, and, for all I know, a partridge in a pear tree. With 49 Oscar nominations, he is the second most-nominated individual in that award's history. His most visible work has been for blockbusters like Jurassic Park, the first Harry Potter film, the Indiana Jones films, and the Star Wars series, but Mr. Williams's involvement with the film music business extends all the way back to his days as a jazz keyboardist and film and TV studio pianist. Remember piano riff for Peter Gunn? That's him.

The program for this year hasn't been released yet, but the SLSO web site promises music from ET, Schindler's List, The Cowboys, Superman and Star Wars. If the concert two years ago was any indication, I'd expect selections from the Harry Potter films as well and if a program this close to Christmas doesn't include the popular "Christmas Memory" song from that Home Alone, I'll eat my mistletoe.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Review: Lyric Opea of Chicago's spectacular "Turandot"

This article originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

Stefano La Colla
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
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Turandot is one of the most popular and, in many ways, most controversial of Puccini's operas. Left unfinished at the time of the composer's death in 1924, it has never been given a fully satisfactory finale. At the opera's premiere, in fact, legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini stopped the performance after the last note actually composed by Puccini, turned to the audience, and said, "At this point the Master laid down his pen."

These days, the common practice is to move on to a triumphal final scene, assembled from Puccini's sketches by Franco Alfano, in which Turandot declares her love for Prince Calàf and everyone more or less lives happily ever after.

In the program for the Lyric Opera of Chicago's exemplary production of Turandot, which runs through January 27th, 2018, director Rob Kearley talks about the many challenges a stage director faces in dealing with this theatrically compelling but often bizarre work, including the question of that final scene. He finally decided to go with Alfano's finale, despite acknowledging that it "cannot be said to represent the master's vision" and that it "leaves one feeling compromised." Sometimes, I imagine, the weight of history is just too great.

Stefano La Colla and Amber Wagner
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Which makes a certain amount of sense, as the oppressive presence of the dead hand of history is part of the subtext (intentional or not) of the opera. Based on an old Persian fairy tale as retold by Italian playwright Carlo Gozzi, Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni's libretto tells the story of the misandryst Chinese princess Turandot. In revenge for the torture and murder of her ancestress, Turandot forces her many suitors to answer three riddles to win her hand. Failure means death, and as the opera opens the body count is already fairly high, but Turandot seems unwilling (if not unable) to escape her past.

Witnessing the execution of the latest loser, Prince Calàf falls instantly in lust with Turandot despite warnings from his blind father Timur, the slave Liù (in unrequited love with Calàf), and palace functionaries Ping, Pang, and Pong. He answers her riddles, poses one of his own, and finally wins her, generating his own share of death and misery along the way.

That's the Cliff's Notes version, anyway. Wikipedia has a far more detailed synopsis. The bottom line, though, is that Turandot and Calàf are two of the more appalling characters in operatic literature. The former is clearly unhinged; the latter a callow youth determined to possess his lust object regardless of who gets hurt (quite literally, in Liù's case) in the process. Puccini's music redeems them somewhat, but ultimately Turandot's story is a fairly unpleasant business, which is why Alfano's happy ending feels so false.

Zachary Nelson, Rodell Rosel, and Keith Jameson
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Despite all that, the Lyric Opera production delivers plenty of musical and theatrical excitement. That finale is still creepy, but it's also undeniably thrilling. Such are the contradictions of Art.

The role of Turandot is difficult for many reasons. She doesn't sing a note until the second scene of Act II, at which point she needs to quickly dominate the stage. In the next act, she has to completely change from cold autocrat to swooning lover after a single forced kiss from Calàf. It's a hell of a challenge, but soprano Amber Wagner, whose big, rich voice enhanced Lyric's Tannhäuser two years ago, is more than up to it. When she describes the horror that made her the avenging angel she has become (the aria "In questa reggia" in II, 1), she's riveting, while her sudden defrosting in the next act feels equally real. That's no small accomplishment.

Tenor Stefano La Colla makes Calàf's obsession with Turandot as credible as possible, and does so with a solid-gold voice. He gives the character the irresistible energy that he needs. I do wish he hadn't decided to break character to bow to the audience after "Nessun dorma," though.

Maria Agresta
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
The commedia dell'arte trio of Ping, Pang, and Pong might have been nothing more than comic relief in the hands of lesser composers and librettists, but Puccini and company added a layer of complexity to them in their second-act trio, in which they lament their service to the homicidal Turandot and long for bucolic homes. Baritone Zachary Nelson (Ping) and tenors Rodell Rosel (Pang) and Keith Jameson (Pong) have voices that blend beautifully and bring out the pain that coexists with the trio's sarcastic humor.

Every Puccini opera has a suffering heroine. In the case of Liù that means both romantic yearning and physical torture. Italian soprano Maria Agresta (who will be replaced in January by Janai Brugger) makes an auspicious Lyric debut in this role, turning in a performance of lyrical beauty and passion. Also making his first appearance at Lyric, tenor Josh Lovell cuts an imposing figure as Emperor Altoum and bass Patrick Guetti is nicely menacing as the Mandarin who reads Turandot's decree at the beginning of the opera.

Andrea Silvestrelli shines in the small but important role of the deposed king Timur. I had just seen him the night before as the stern Nourabad in Lyric's Pearl Fishers, and the contrast between them demonstrated his range as an actor.

The chorus and children's chorus carry much of the narrative weight in Turandot, especially in the vast blocks of exposition that constitute the first act. Chorus Master Michael Black can be justifiably proud of their remarkable work here, as they sing with overwhelming power and precision. Bravi, all.

Sir Andrew Davis leads his massive forces, including the offstage brass, in a reading of the score which, while tending to favor slower tempi in many places, nevertheless delivers all the drama one could wish.

Josh Lovell and Amber Wagner
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
I can't complete this review without heaping praise on Allen Charles Klein's opulent and evocative sets and costumes. Originally designed for the Dallas Opera, they create a compellingly surreal atmosphere. Vividly suggesting a semi-mythical China, the set is dominated by a rather deranged-looking dragon and a massive scrying globe. I had a Lord of the Rings flashback when Turandot's massive eye suddenly appears in it in Act I. The elaborate costumes, with their massive, flowing sleeves and striking colors, complete the effect. Masks and makeup inspired by classical Peking opera add to the overall impact.

Mr. Kearley's direction pulls this all together to create a theatrical experience of stunning power. Yes, all of Puccini's unsolvable problems are still there--as, I expect, they inevitably must be--but this all works so well that it ultimately doesn't matter. If you want to understand why this flawed masterpiece continues to appeal to audiences, make your way to Lyric Opera of Chicago before their Turandot orders her last execution on January 27, 2018. You won't regret it.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of December 11, 2017

A Behanding in Spokane
Photo: Patrick Huber
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St. Louis Actors' Studio presents A Behanding in Spokane through December 17. "In Martin McDonagh's first American-set play, Carmichael has been searching for his missing left hand for almost half a century. Enter two bickering lovebirds with a hand to sell, and a hotel clerk with an aversion to gunfire, and we're set for a hilarious roller coaster of love, hate, desperation and hope." Performances take place at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

The Hawthorne Players present The Best of Hawthorne: Cowboy Christmas on Saturday, December 16, at 2 and 7 pm. "These boot scootin' versions of Christmas favorites will take folks back to the golden era of the singin' cowboys such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and will also feature more modern numbers by artists like George Strait and Michael Martin Murphey. Even the likes of Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Riders in the Sky will be represented. Songs from singin' cowgirls like Dale Evans, the Davis sisters and Suzy Bogguss will also be part of the show. This rousing holiday hoedown will be great entertainment for folks of all ages." The performance takes place at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 921-5678 or visit hawthorneplayers.com.

The Cabaret Project and The Improv Shop present The Blue Velvet Lounge Saturday, December 16, at 8 pm. "The Cabaret Project teams up with The Improv Shop to co-present their dynamic, fully improvised theater piece featuring live jazz standards - direct from the mythical Blue Velvet Lounge. Each performance features eight smart, funny improvisers who create the stories and sagas of the patrons of the Blue Velvet Lounge - on the spot. Surrounded by live jazz vocal standards, this character driven story is a different show each night it's performed. The Blue Velvet Lounge is a perfect evening out for lovers of cabaret and comedy. Food and drink available at the Improv Shop." The performance takes place at The Improv Shop, 3960 Chouteau in The Grove. For more information: thecabaretproject.org.

Peabody Opera House presents A Charlie Brown Christmas Live On Stage on Friday, December 15, at 6:30. “A Charlie Brown Christmas Live On Stage encompasses each of your favorite scenes from the original animated television show. It even expands the storyline into greater detail with more fun, more music, more finding the true Christmas spirit. This Peanuts Experience also includes an intermission and, after the final bow, the show crescendos into a celebration of song as the audience is invited to join the Peanuts gang in singing Christmas favorites.” The Peabody Opera House is at 14th and Market, downtown. For more information: peabodyoperahouse.com.

The Fox Theatre presents The Nebraska Theatre Caravan's musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol Thursday and Friday at 7:30 PM, Saturday at 2 and 7:30 PM, and Sunday at 1 and 6 PM, December 14 - 17. "A Christmas Carol features a spirited ensemble of 23 performers who bring Dickens' fable of redemption to life on a magical set created by noted designer James Othuse. A full array of timeless carols such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Away In a Manger” and “Here We Come A-Wassailing” are interwoven within the classic story of a tight-fisted, middle-class merchant Ebenezer Scrooge and all the beloved characters from Dickens' 1843 novel." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents The Christmas Killer through December 31. " Welcome to the party sponsored by Chatty Cathy, (and the "Misfit Toys"). We certainly hope that you can find a good home for one of our toys! Of course, it'll be a fun party as long as the wrong element doesn't show up! We're talking about Ricky Stitch, of course. Gee! I hope nothing bad happens to him! Anyway, you'll meet lots of characters tonight. In fact, you'll be a character too! Whether you'd like to participate a lot, or just a little, we promise you great holiday fun when you attend 'The Christmas Killer!'" The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

The Bankside Repertory Theatre Company presents the American premiere of The Devil's Passion by Justin Butcher Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. through December 16. "This thought-provoking, one-man "passion play" presents the story of Jesus through the eyes of Satan. And he's not happy. " Performances take place at the Jacoby Arts Center, 627 E. Broadway in Alton , IL For more information: www.banksiderep.com.

R-S Theatrics presents the drama The Flick Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 6:30 p.m. through December 23. "THE FLICK welcomes you to a rundown movie theatre in Worcester County, MA, where Sam, Avery and Rose are navigating lives as sticky as the soda under the seats. The movies on the big screen are no match for the tiny battles and not so tiny heartbreaks that play out in the empty aisles." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Black Box Theatre, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: r-stheatrics.com.

Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates
Metro Theatre Company presents Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates through December 22. In this timeless story, Hans and Gretel Brinker strive to provide for their family and prove their own worth by entering a local speedskating contest - first prize is a pair of gleaming silver skates! The play culminates with a spectacular St. Nicholas Day race on the stage of The Grandel Theatre stage. Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates celebrates generosity, helping others and is an exhilarating tale of courage and determination." Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: metroplays.org.

Tim Schall and Carol Schmidt
The Stage at KDHX presents Holiday Swing with singer Tim Schall, along with Carol Schmidt on piano and Ben Wheeler on bass, on Thursday, December 14, at 7:30 pm. "Tim Schall is one of the leading voices in the St. Louis cabaret scene. He brings a sophisticated take to seasonal classics such as What Are You Doing New Year's Eve, Let It Snow, Little Drummer Boy and lots more." The performance takes place at The Stage at KDHX, 3524 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: kdhx.org/events.

Metro Theatre Company presents A Joyful Noize! on Saturday, December 16, at 2 pm. "Joyful Noize! features some of St. Louis' best pop and rock n' roll musicians (Lydia Caesar, Grant Essig, Jeff Faulkner, Jim Ousley, Paul Kriege, Radomir Ratkovic) coming together to play holiday rock n' roll favorites from bands like the Beach Boys, U2, Train, Norah Jones, Chuck Berry and more at the beautifully renovated Grandel Theatre. After the concert, there will be a signing party for the Joyful Noize! Tales from the Season comic book - three amazing holiday stories written by Jim Ousley with artwork from a group of talented St. Louis artists." The performance takes place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: metroplays.org.

Webster University's Conservatory of Theatre Arts presents Aristophanes's comedy Lysistrata Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through December 17. "How do you end a war that seems never ending? Aristophanes' famous play, Lysistrata, takes on this question as it centers on the lives of the soldiers' wives toward the end of the Peloponnesian War. One woman, Lysistrata, under the impression that a man's libido is ultimately his driving force in life, comes up with an interesting peace solution: to deny their husbands and lovers sexual relations until they can settle on a peace agreement that will end the war. However, Lysistrata's strategy effectively creates even more conflict than before as the sexes begin to feud with each other. Aristophanes' play is both comic, poignant, and revealing as it examines gender relations that somehow still feel relevant thousands of years later." Performances take place at the Stage III Auditorium on the Webster University campus. For more information, www.webster.edu or call 314-968-7128.


Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly
Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly through December 24. "In this winning and witty sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the bookish middle child of the Bennet family finally has her day. Constantly overshadowed by her four sisters, Mary Bennet finds hope for a new life beyond her family from an unexpected holiday romance. Austen fans and first-timers alike will find much to love in this alluring comedic tale." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Murder on 34th Street through December 31. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis's Imaginary Theatre Company presents the children's musical The Nutcracker, with music and lyrics by the late Neal Richardson, opening on Saturday, December 16, with performances at 11 am and 3 pm, and running through December 23. "Marie is a little lonely after her family moves to a new town, but when her Godfather arrives with some mysterious Christmas Eve packages, she finds magic in very unlikely places. One of Godfather's gifts is a wooden nutcracker that appears to be nothing more than an ugly toy, but Marie soon discovers there may be more than meets the eye. The Nutcracker leads Marie on a magical adventure full of evil mice, dancing fairies and distant lands, showing her along the way that friends may not be so hard to find and that the magic of Christmas can last the whole year through." Performances take place in the Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall High School, 530 East Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves. For more information: repstl.org.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents the drama Remnant Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through December 23. There will be shows at 2 and 8 pm on Saturday, December 23. “In a desolate future, a family unwraps presents from the past. This was the first Mustard Seed production and we're excited to revisit it - the cast is 3 women and 2 men and it's set in a post-apocalyptic time when language has unraveled and customs like “Christmas” are mysterious and challenging.” Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

Equally Represented Arts presents The Residents of Craigslist, an "original, found-text play created entirely from Craigslist posts," Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm, December 13 - 16. The evening includes a yard sale/silent auction, a 50/50 raffle, and "performances by famous local bands and musicians." Performances take place at Centene Center for the Arts, 3547 Olive in Grand Center. For more information: eratheatre.org.

Second Presbyterian Church presents The Secret of Christmas: A Christmas Cabaret with singers Merry Keller and Bob Becherer and pianist Ron Bryant on Sunday, December 17, at 3 pm. "Join Bob, Merry, Ron and friends for a warm, tender and fun Christmas Cabaret. You are certain to hear many of your favorite Christmas songs and will leave with a happy heart, a lighter stride in your step and joy to celebrate the holiday season." Second Presbyterian Church is at 4501 Westminster Place in the Central West Enc. For more information: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3174143.

Max and Louie Productions presents Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins December 15 - 31. “Dubbed by her critics as the “Dire Diva of Din”, passionate music lover and wealthy socialite, Florence Foster Jenkins enjoyed a remarkably successful concert career even though she was unburdened by talent and deliriously tone deaf.Her story is told through the eyes of her pianist, Cosme McMoon. A truly talented musician, he regards her at first as a little more then an easy way to pay the rent, but his initial contempt gives way to reluctant admiration, then friendship and a unique kind of love.” Performances take place at the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Dr. in Grand Center. For more information, visit maxandlouie.com.

Steel Magnolias
Photo: Justin Been
Stray Dog Theatre presents the comedy Steel Magnolias Thursdays through Saturdays through December 16. "All the ladies who are "anybody" flock to Truvy's beauty salon where she dispenses shampoos and free advice. Filled with hilarious repartee and good ol' Southern charm, the play explores the lives of six remarkable women and the special qualities that make them truly touching, funny, and marvelously amiable company in good times and bad." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents An Unforgettable Nat King Cole Christmas starring Evan Tyrone Martin through December 17. "The multi-talented Evan Tyrone Martin, warmly resonates the velvety vocal style of musical legend Nat King Cole in An Unforgettable Nat King Cole Christmas. Martin intimately relates Cole's musical journey: from his upbringing in the Chicago church, to shuffling along the jazz scene, to his emergence as a popular music icon. Classic tunes include “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “L-O-V-E,” “Smile” and of course holiday favorites. " The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: playhouseatwestport.com.

Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.
For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's Events Calendar.
Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of December 11, 2017

Rich O'Donnell
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Hearding Cats Collective presents Mellow Metal on Sunday, December 17, at 8 pm. "St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Virtuoso percussionists Tom Stubbs, Shannon Wood, and Rich O'Donnell (SLSO principal percussionist, retired) will explore the varying and abstract capabilities of metallic percussion instruments, sharing the marvelous sonorities of metal percussion instruments which non-percussionists rarely get to experience" The performance takes place at the St. Louis Artists' Guild, 12 N. Jackson in Clayton. For more information: heardingcatscollective.org.

The St. Louis Chamber Chorus presents A Time of Myserty on Sunday, December 17, at 3 p.m. "Hear our region's finest a cappella choir in a concert that eschews the crass commercialism of today, and recaptures the spirit of wonder at Christ's birth in a lowly stable, two thousand years ago. Musical settings of the sacred text O Magnum Mysterium from Palestrina, Francis Poulenc, Raquel Cristóbal, Judith Bingham and Morten Lauridsen (USA) embody that mystery." The concert takes place at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Parish, 601 N. 4th Street in St. Charles, MO. For more information: www.chamberchorus.org.

Gemma New
Gemma New conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, along with the Holiday Festival Chorus conducted by Kevin McBeth, in the Macy's Holiday Celebration Friday and Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., December 15-17. "Celebrate the most wonderful time of year with your STL Symphony and Holiday Festival Chorus performing a concert full of timeless holiday classics. The music and smiles on children's faces when visiting with jolly ol' St. Nick will be sure to leave you with a holiday feeling unlike any other. Join us and experience for yourself why thousands of St. Louisans make this their annual holiday tradition." The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The St. Louis Symphony presents A Gospel Christmas with the St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus conducted by Kevin McBeth, on Thursday, December 14, at 7:30 p.m. "Grammy Award-winner and renowned jazz vocalist, Dianne Reeves, joins the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and IN UNISON Chorus led by Kevin McBeth to ring in the holiday season with music from her album, Christmas Time Is Here, performing unforgettable jazz renditions of favorite holiday classics and more. Don't miss this soulful celebration sure to warm your heart with holiday cheer." The concert takes place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The Town and Country Symphony Orchestra presents a Holiday Concert on Sunday, December 17, at 2:30 p.m. "Continuing our season of sharing the stage, our coming Holiday Concert will feature three local choirs combining their voices in celebration of the Holidays. The Rising Generations Youth Choir, St. Louis Concert Choir, and the United Hebrew Choir will all sing with TCSO and share music from movies, carols, classics, and celebrations from many faiths." The performance takes place in Ridgway Auditorium at The Principia, 13201 Clayton Road. For more information: tcsomo.org.

The Washington University Department of Music presents a Flute Choir Concert on Monday, December 11, at 7:30 pm. The concert takes place in the Pillsbury Theatre at the 560 Music Center at 560 Trinity in University City. For more information, music.wustl.edu.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Review: An unorthodox "Four Seasons" with Avi Avtal and Jory Vinikour at the St. Louis Symphony

This article originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

Jory Vinikour
Photo: Nuccio di Nuzzo
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The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's mini-Baroque festival (see my preview for details) concludes this weekend with a continuing emphasis on the works of Antonio Vivaldi. Joining Vivaldi this weekend, though, are his fellow Venetian Alessandro Marcello and a younger German guy named J.S. Bach. You might have heard of him.

The concert Friday morning--part of the coffee concert series with doughnuts courtesy of Krispy Kreme--got off to an appropriately caffeinated start with a lively performance of the overture to Vivaldi's 1734 opera L'Olimipade. Directed from the harpsichord by this week's guest conductor, Chicago-born harpsichordist Jory Vinikour, the reading was appealingly bright and graceful, with pristine playing by the small complement of SLSO strings. Mr. Vinikour was kept quite busy, rapidly switching from the keyboard to artfully shape phrases for the musicians, but it all worked very well.

Mr. Vinikour next took the solo spot in a last minute program change, performing Bach's Italian Concerto for solo harpsichord. Composed in an ornamental style "after the Italian taste" (as Bach described it), the work uses the upper, softer manual (keyboard) of the harpsichord for what would the solo material in a full concerto with the lower and louder manual used to represent the tutti (orchestral) sections. It is, as Mr. Vinikour pointed out in spoken commentary prior to his performance, one of the few instances in which Bach actually provides dynamic markings in his music.

Avi Avital
The dynamic contrasts sounded a little less marked than they might have been Friday morning, probably because his instrument was lightly amplified to compensate for the fact that harpsichords were never meant to fill spaces as large as Powell Hall. Even so, it was an elegant bit of work, with some particularly sensitive playing in the Andante second movement, and Mr. Vinikour's technique was impressive throughout.

The first half of the morning's festivities concluded with another outstanding solo performance, this time from Principal Oboe Jelena Dirks in the D minor concerto by Marcello. Although Marcello was not an operatic composer, his concerto nevertheless has a kind of dramatic sensibility, as Benjamin Pesetsky points out in his program notes. Ms. Dirks's performance brought out that theatricality quite effectively, especially in the melancholy second movement, and she handled the virtuoso turns of the Presto finale with ease. Although focused strongly on her sheet music, she nevertheless communicated well with both Mr. Vinikour and her fellow musicians. It's good to see members of the band in the spotlight, especially when they acquit themselves this well.

The second half of the concert was devoted to an intriguing example of old wine in a new bottle: Vivaldi's popular The Four Seasons with the solo part played on mandolin by the Israeli virtuoso Avi Avital.

Jelena Dirks
The substitution makes some sense, in that the violin and the mandolin share the same range and tuning, but the two instruments differ very strongly otherwise. The violin is capable of a wider dynamic range and can produce much more sonic variety. The mandolin can produce the same notes, but it can't necessarily produce the same musical effect.

To my ears, the substitution worked best in the dance-inspired movements, like the Allegro [Danza pastorale] that concludes "Spring" or the opening Allegro of "Autumn." Moments that called for a more singing tone, like the Largo second movement of "Winter," felt much less effective. And, of course, the mandolin's softer voice meant that many notes simply couldn't be heard, despite the fact it was miked. If you listen to the broadcast of this concert Saturday night, though, that issue will likely be resolved in the mixing booth.

Those misgivings aside, this was still a very fine Four Seasons, largely thanks to Mr. Avital's remarkable musicianship. His technique was frankly stunning and it was a joy to see how engaged he was with both the orchestra and with Mr. Vinikour, who once again conducted from the keyboard. He was always connected to the emotion in the music, whether directing a wistful serenade to the violins or practically leaping from his chair during the closing thunderstorm of "Summer."

This isn't going to eclipse the last SLSO Four Seasons I saw (Ward Stare and Jennifer Koh back in 2011, for the record) by any means, but it was certainly entertaining and appealing. I'm glad I saw it, and I recommend you do the same, especially in light of the high quality of the program as a whole.

There are two more performances of this program, Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm, December 9 and 10, at Powell Hall in Grand Center. After that, the SLSO performs a series of holiday concerts, with the regular season resuming on January 12th.

Review: A whimsically colorful "Pearl Fishers" at Chicago Lyric Opera

This article originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

Mariusz Kwiecheń and the company
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
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Georges Bizet's 1863 opera The Pearl Fishers (Les pêcheurs de perles) is a classic example of a weak libretto bolstered by a very strong score. The Lyric Opera of Chicago production, which originated with San Diego Opera in 2004, takes it up a notch with theatrically canny direction by Andrew Sinclair, colorfully fanciful sets and costumes by Zandra Rhodes inspired by Indian and Balinese art and, most importantly, really splendid singing by all four members of the cast.

Nobody expected much from the 24-year-old Bizet when he was handed the libretto of The Pearl Fishers. Yes, he had just won the prestigious Prix de Rome, but his big hit Carmen was still 12 years in the future and his only previous opera was the one-act Le docteur miracle. Indeed, he only got the commission by the Théâtre-Lyrique because a noble patron had given the company a large endowment specifically to stage operas by Prix de Rome winners.

No surprise, then, that the team of Eugène Carmon and Michel Carré put only minimal effort into a hastily assembled mashup of the then-current novel L'île de Celan et ses curiosités naturelles (roughly, "The Isle of Ceylon and Its Natural Attractions") and La vestale, an 1807 opera by Gaspare Spontini about a vestal virgin whose hormones get the better of her.

The story about Ceylon pearl fishers Zurga and Nadir, lifelong friends driven apart by their mutual love for the priestess Leïla, makes little dramatic sense, but Bizet surprised everyone by setting it to some irresistible music. "Au fond du temple saint," the Act I duet in which the two men swear that their earlier infatuation with Leïla will never part them again has become something of an operatic Greatest Hit and the rest of the score is filled with equally appealing stuff.

Andrea Silvestrelli and Marina Rekeba
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecheń, so impressive in the title role of Lyric's Eugene Onegin last season, once again commands the stage as Zurga, whose election as king of the pearl fishers is interrupted by the unexpected return of Nadir after years of absence. Mr. Kwiecheń's authoritative voice and credible acting go a long way towards mitigating the role's absurdities. Tenor Matthew Polenzani's passionate Nadir is equally worthy of praise, clearly sung and smartly acted. Their "bromance" duet was warmly received the night we saw the show.

Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka displayed a soaring, gravity-defying voice in Leïla's Act II "Comme autrefois dans la nuit sombre," a vocally elaborate number in which she recalls her earlier romance with Nadir. Like her co-stars, Ms. Rebeka delivered a fully realized character, and her second act love duet with Mr. Polenzani struck real sparks.

Bass Andrea Silvestrelli rounds out the cast, giving vocal and dramatic weight to the small but pivotal role of the stern high priest Nourabad.

The clarity and power of the Lyric Opera chorus has never failed to impress me in the past and their work here is no exception. Bizet has given them some prime material, like the hymn to Brahma that closes the second act, and they more than do it justice. The orchestra did well by the score as well, under Sir Andrew Davis's experienced direction.

Dancers in Act II
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
In his program note, director Andrew Sinclair acknowledges the theatrical weakness of the opera's libretto and talks about the small tweaks he has made to give it a bit more coherence. When Nadir makes his first appearance, for example, Mr. Sinclair has Zurga greet him with a dismissing pro forma handshake, suggesting that there is still some bad blood between them. The tension continues during "Au fond du temple saint," which begins with the two singers on opposite sides of the stage. They don't actually come together until the final moments of the number, which gives the song more dramatic weight and hints at the gulf that might still exist. It's one of many strong choices that add credibility without undercutting the intentions of the opera's creators.

Mr. Sinclair has also added a dancing chorus, with choreography by John Malashock that feels strongly inspired by Indian and Indonesian folk traditions. The dancers play a strong narrative role, adding visual interest to elaborate choral numbers like the Act II scene in which Zurga condemns Nadir and Leïla to death for blasphemy.

Combine all that with those imaginative visuals from Ms. Rhodes and the result is a Pearl Fishers that is a delight to both the eye and ear. Bizet and his librettists never had it so good.

Lyric Opera's The Pearl Fishers runs through Sunday, December 10th, at their theatre in the Chicago Loop, alternating with their equally splendid production of Puccini's Turandot. Both are well worth a trip to the Windy City.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of December 8, 2017

As always, the choices are purely my personal opinion. Take with a grain (or a shaker) of salt.

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New This Week:

A Jewish Joke
Photo: Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theater presents A Jewish Joke through December 10. "During the 1950's, the great era of Jewish humor, we meet irascible comedy screenwriter Bernie Lutz who is about to open a big movie. When he discovers to his surprise -- and chagrin -- that his name appears on Senator Joseph McCarthy's infamous "black list," Bernie is confronted with the dilemma of naming names and implicating his writing partner in order to save himself and his career. This poignant solo comedy shows one small man facing the tough American events of the mid-20th century. A story as relevant today as it was during the McCarthy era." Performances take place in the Marvin and Harlene Wool Studio Theater at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur. For more information: www.newjewishtheatre.org or call 314-442-3283.

My take: With the paranoia-drenched fascism McCarthy championed on the rise again, this play feels sadly timely. "The deceptively straightforward show reflects on a time in U.S. history when citizens were encouraged to turn against each other with suspicion and distrust," Tina Farmer reminds us in her review for KDHX. "Though filled with a keen sense of humor, the lesson of this poignant tale is one we would be well advised to heed in today’s tumultuous times."


The King and IPhoto: Matthew Murhpy
The Fabulous Fox presents Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I through December 10th. "Set in 1860's Bangkok, the musical tells the story of the unconventional and tempestuous relationship that develops between the King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher whom the modernist King, in an imperialistic world, brings to Siam to teach his many wives and children. Winner of the 2015 Tony Award® for Best Musical Revival." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

My take: This show is a classic for some very sound reasons, and this tour of the recent Lincoln Center revival appears to be a good one. "[Director Bartlett] Sher's re-telling of this iconic show pays homage to the classic," writes Shannon Cothran in her KDHX review, "reviving memorable scenes and choreography from Jerome Robbins, but the story doesn't feel stale: Every bow, smile, and turn of the wrist feels fresh and delightful".


Steel Magnolias
Photo: Justin Been
Stray Dog Theatre presents the comedy/drama Steel Magnolias Thursdays through Saturdays through December 16. "All the ladies who are 'anybody' flock to Truvy's beauty salon where she dispenses shampoos and free advice. Filled with hilarious repartee and good ol' Southern charm, the play explores the lives of six remarkable women and the special qualities that make them truly touching, funny, and marvelously amiable company in good times and bad." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

My take: A hit on Broadway in 1987 and in cinemas in 1989, Steel Magnolias is a heartfelt tribute to the resiliency of its small town characters and to the importance of friendship in hard times. In his review for Ladue News, Mark Bretz notes that Stray Dog Artistic Director Gary Bell "directs with a sure and steady touch, maintaining the focus on Harling’s fun-loving but also tender script."

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Symphony Preview: Concerto Italiano

This article originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

Probable portrait of Vivaldi, c. 1723
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This weekend (December 8--10) the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is continues its mini Baroque festival with the emphasis on the music of one of the most prolific composers of the period, Antonio Vivaldi (1678--1741). Unlike last week, when it was all Vivaldi all the time, this time around Antonio has some company: his fellow Venetian Alessandro Marcello (1669-1747) and a younger German guy named J.S. Bach. You might have heard of him.

The concerts will open with music by Vivaldi, though: the overture to his opera L'Olimipade, first performed in 1734. The libretto by Pietro Metastasio, whose work would prove so popular with composers in the 18th century, involves a lot of sturm und drang at the ancient Greek Olympics. The opera is rarely (if ever) performed today, but you needn't worry about that to enjoy the spirited overture.

The Bach piece (which comes next) is actually a late addition to the program, which originally included concertos by Corelli and Torelli, with British harpsichordist, organist, and conductor Laurence Cummings at the podium. But Mr. Cummings cancelled at the end of October, to be replaced by Chicago-born harpsichordist Jory Vinikour. Then, just a week ago, the Corelli and Torelli works were replaced by Bach's Italian Concerto, to be played by Mr. Vinikour.

The thing about the Italian Concerto is that it's neither Italian nor a concerto. It is, instead, a work for a two-manual harpsichord (i.e. one with two keyboards) "after the Italian taste" (as Bach described it), in which the different manuals of the instrument are used to represent the solo and tutti (orchestral) sections of a full concerto.

Statue of J.S. Bach in Leipzig
Bach wasn't the first composer to come up with this idea and he would be far from the last, but he was apparently one of the most skilled. Even Bach's pupil Johann Scheibe, who could sometimes be critical of his former teacher, had to admit, in a 1739 review, that Bach's was a "pre-eminent" example of the form: "Who is there who will not admit at once that this clavier concerto is to be regarded as a perfect model of a well-designed solo concerto? It would take as great a master of music as Mr. Bach to provide us with such a piece, which deserves emulation by all our great composers and which will be imitated all in vain by foreigners."

Scheibe, as you might have gathered from that last sentence, was a bit of German snob when it came to music, regarding the more ornamental Italian style of composition as overly complex and complicated. This was, in fact, his chief beef with Bach: his style of composition was too Italian.

That means Mr. Scheibe would probably not have appreciated the piece that closes the first half of the concert, Marcello's D minor Oboe Concerto. Not only is it very Italian, but it also, as Benjamin Pesetsky points out in his program notes, shows a strong operatic influence. "The first movement, Andante e spiccato," he writes, "could be a mid-tempo aria, while the Adagio is lyrical and mournful. The vigorous finale, Presto, resembles the "rage" arias of Baroque operatic heroes." In the solo spot for the concerto will be SLSO Principal Oboe Jelena Dirks.

The concerts will conclude with Vivaldi's popular The Four Seasons, in an unusual arrangement for mandolin and orchestra by the noted Israeli mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital, who will also play the solo part. That may sound a bit odd but, given that (as Mr. Pesetsky points out) the mandolin and violin share the same range and tuning, not as odd as you might think.

In its original form The Four Seasons was composed around 1720 (as with many aspects of Vivaldi's life, dates are foggy) and originally published as part of a set of twelve concertos titled Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione ("The Contest Between Harmony and Invention"). Each of the four three-movement concertos describes--often very vividly--aspects of a particular season. They were even accompanied by sonnets (anonymous, but probably by Vivaldi himself) that provide narratives for each concerto. You'll find English translations in this week's SLSO program notes.

Alessandro Marcello
Painter unknown
Combine that almost cinematic tone painting with Vivaldi's gift of melody and you have music that was destined to be popular. And it was, at least during Vivaldi's time. After his death, though, that all changed. Interest in his work faded, and copies of his music became scarce.

That began to change in 1926 when a boarding school in Piedmont discovered a huge cache of old manuscripts, including hundreds of works by Vivaldi. It aroused the interest of scholars and conductors, including Bernardino Molinari (1880-1952), who was then the conductor of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia.

He was also, as it happened, about to become a guest conductor at the St. Louis Symphony.

In January of 1928, Molinari brought the four newly rediscovered concertos that make up The Four Seasons to St. Louis for what would turn out to be their first American performances. He stretched the four concertos out over an entire month--"like the magazine serial stories," as the Post-Dispatch music critic, Thomas B. Sherman, wryly observed in his review of the first set of concerts. "Spring" was performed in a pair of concerts on Friday and Saturday, January 6 and 7. "Summer" was the following week, and the final two concertos were performed in concerts on January 27 and 28.

Mr. Sherman loved the SLSO performances, in any case, calling them "ingratiating, warm, and transparent" and describing the strings as "rich and unified." The Four Seasons would not appear as a unit on an SLSO program until 25 years later, when Vladimir Golschmann conducted them on February 20, 1953.

Interesting footnote: the Vivaldi was somewhat overshadowed in the January 27-29 concerts by the piano soloist. It was the "young Russian pianist" Vladimir Horowitz, who had arrived in the USA just two weeks before and had already created a sensation with the New York Philharmonic under Sir Thomas Beecham. Mr. Sherman loved Horowitz ("a powerful tone and a sparkling and expertly controlled technique") but hated the piece he played, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, calling it "as dull a thing as the noted Muscovite expatriate has ever done." History has rather overruled him that one.

The essentials: Jory Vinikour conducts The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with soloists Avi Avital, mandolin, and Jelena Dirks, oboe, on Friday at 10:30 am, Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 3 pm, December 8--10. The performances take place at Powell Hall in Grand Center.