Sunday, October 19, 2014

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of October 20, 2014

[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 web site.

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Photo: John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents Agatha Christie's thriller And Then There Were None Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through October 25. "Ten strangers, each with something to hide - or fear - are lured to a remote island by an unseen host. With no way to leave, the guests begin to share their dark secrets-and then, one by one, they die. Based on the best-selling mystery novel of all time, this thriller contains perhaps the most unpredictable plot ever devised by Agatha Christie." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Photo: Peter Wochniak
Upstream Theater presents Sophocles' Antigone through October 26. "This ancient drama deals with the tragedy that ensues when society's demand for the rule of law conflicts with an individual's moral imperative-a conflict that recent events in our city have given unforeseen and unwanted resonance." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including show times: upstreamtheater.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents A Big Easy Murder through October 26. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

That Uppity Theatre Company presents The Big, Fat LGBT Everything You Need to Know Show of Shows on Thursday, October 23. 'The Big, Fat LGBT Everything You Need to Know Show of Shows is a 50-minute fun and fact-filled romp through the realities of LGBT life that uses sketch comedy, song, dance, audience participation and more. Highlights include “Straight as a Second Language,” “Is She/He, Isn't She/He?” and the game show “Fact or Fiction.”' For more information, visit uppityco.com or call (314) 995-4600.

Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents the St. Louis premiere of the musical Bonnie and Clyde Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through October 25. The show is "a kind of horror Romeo and Juliet story, exploring the culture that created this infamous couple and their two-year murder spree, the moral ambiguity of Prohibition and the Great Depression, and a national cult of celebrity that turned these damaged, dangerous kids into national folk heroes, in their twisted quest for dignity in a time of national humiliation. Bloomberg News called the show, 'a pop romance about the American nightmare.' Today, in this time of economic distress in America, this story seems more relevant than ever. Not only could it happen again; it does." Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road. For more information, visit the web site or call 314-534-1111. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Photo: John Lamb
New Jewish Theater presents The Diary of Anne Frank through November 2. "The iconic story of Anne Frank who hid with her family and four others in the annex of her father's factory. In this gripping and transcendently powerul new adaptation of the original story based on Anne's diary, we see Anne as a living, lyrical, intensely gifted young girl who confronts her rapidly changing life and the increasing horror of the time with astonishing honesty, wit and determination.This young girl's remarkable diary has become a testament to the human spirit and illuminates Anne's unwavering belief in justice and love. This moving, true story is essential viewing for every generation - a new adaptation for a new generation." 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. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The Fox Theatre presents Dirty Dancing-The Classic Story on Stage Tuesdays through Sundays, October 21-November 2. "Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story On Stage is an unprecedented live experience, exploding with heart-pounding music, passionate romance and sensational dancing. Seen by millions across the globe, this timeless love story features the hit songs “Hungry Eyes,” “Hey Baby,” “Do You Love Me?” and the heart-stopping “(I've Had) The Time Of My Life.” It's the summer of 1963, and 17-year-old Frances 'Baby' Houseman is on vacation in New York's Catskill Mountains with her older sister and parents. Mesmerized by the racy dance moves and pounding rhythms she discovers in the resort's staff quarters, Baby can't wait to be part of the scene, especially when she catches sight of Johnny Castle, the resort's sexy dance instructor. Passions ignite and Baby's life changes forever when she is thrown in to the deep end as Johnny's leading lady, both on-stage and off." The Fox Theatre is at 517 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Steve Ross
The Presenters Dolan present An Evening With Steve Ross on Friday and Saturday, October 24 and 25, at 8 PM as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. "He's magic. Cabaret legend Steve Ross takes us to old New York, to London between the wars, to Paris and Vienna in the 20's and 30's, where everyone goes out to hear music, and everyone has words and wit and charm. Whether he showing us Coward, Porter, Hart, Kern or Weil, it is as if for the first time."   The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

Windsor Theatre Group presents Forever Broadway Saturdays and Sundays at 2 and 5 p.m., through October 26. "This is a family-friendly revue of gorgeous and fun melodies. Performances are at 2 pm and 5 pm on both Saturdays and Sundays. Some of the best singers in the metropolitan area will perform solos, duets and chorus selections of some of well-known numbers, as well as some less-remembered tunes from Broadway shows throughout the years. The audience will also be treated to extraordinary dancing." Performances take place at The Historic Ozark Theatre, 103 E. Lockwood in Webster Groves. For more information: 314-832-2114.

KTK Productions presents the musical Grease through October 26. Performances take place at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4716 Macklind. For more information: kurtainkall.org or call 314-351-8984.

Alton Little Theater presents the comedy Kosher Lutherans Thursdays through Sundays through October 26 at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. "Kosher Lutherans centers on Hanna and Franklyn, the seemingly perfect couple who desperately want to have a child of their own, but are unable to do so. As the couple begins to wonder if they’ll ever become parents, they have a chance encounter with a God- fearing pregnant girl from Iowa who offers to let the couple adopt her out-of-wedlock baby. Just before the adoption papers are signed, Hanna and Franklyn discover the girl is unaware that they are Jewish. Knowing the revelation could throw a ratchet into the whole works, the couple poses as Lutherans to appeal to the girl’s apparent Midwestern sensibilities. But how far are they willing to go to have a family?" For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

Catalyst Communications Theatre presents the Variety Children’s Theatre production of the Disney musical The Little Mermaid Friday through Sunday, October 24-26. Performances take place at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the UMSL campus. For more information: www.varietychildrenstheatre.org.

Alfresco Productions presents the musical Little Shop of Horrors Friday through Sunday, October 24-26. Performances take place at the Alfresco Art Center, 2401 Delmar in Granite City, IL. For more information: (618) 560-1947 or www.alfrescoproductions.org.

Slaying Dragons presents Loop on Saturday, October 25, at 2 PM at St. Louis County Library-Natural Bridge Branch. "Have you often felt that your thinking circles in a kind of loop? Do you know someone whose mind seems to cause this person to repeat thoughts unrelated to a given situation? Here is your chance to experience what it is like to be a part of a family that is living with the daily turmoil of a loved one caught in such a “loop” while trying to decide the fate of this person. " The free performance “will be followed by a brief question and answer session led by a mental healthcare provider”. For more information, visit www.slayingdragons.org or call 314-596-1219.

The Presenters Dolan present Antonio Rogriguez in Memories, Mistakes, and Movin' On on Thursday, October 23, at 8 PM as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. "One of our town's best young actors and singers, Antonio has just moved to Chicago to play his trade up there. He comes back to make his cabaret debut, with a show that looks at taking on a new life in a new place, with the profound formation of St. Louis and its theater world. With many fresh, new songs and standards. A true talent." Henry Palkes is pianist and music director. The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream through November 9. "Magic, merriment and romance all unite in one of Shakespeare's most beloved and imaginative comedies. Starry-eyed lovers escape to an enchanted forest full of lust and bewitchment, where mischievous fairies play tricks, bumbling actors rehearse for a love-play and couples pursue one another, all under the light of the moon." Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

St. Louis Shakespeare presents Much Ado About Nothing through October 25. "As one pair of (reluctant) lovers engages in a merry war of wits, another becomes innocent victims of a villainous plot to destroy their happiness. But thanks to the dogged persistence of a truly remarkable keeper of the peace, love prevails at last in one of Shakespeare's most popular romantic comedies." Performances take at the Forissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 314-361-5664 or visit stlshakespeare.org.

Dramatic License Productions presents Rembrandt's Gift October 23-November 9. "A New York couple is about to be evicted because of his hoarding. A marriage is in jeopardy and something has to give. Suddenly, Rembrandt Van Rijn, the famous Dutch painter steps through the mirror to save the day, or does he save himself? A magical and romantic “dramedy” about love, marriage, aging, passion and ART. Don't miss the regional premiere of Tina Howe's fantastical treat!" Performances take place at Dramatic License Theatre located at the upper level of Chesterfield Mall (near Sears and across from Houlihan's Restaurant). For more information, call 636-220-7012 or visit dramaticlicenseproductions.org.

Family Musical Theater presents the musical The Rocky Horror Show through October 25 at the Ivory Theatre, 7622 Michigan. For more information, visit familymusical.org or call 314-571-9579.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Zombie Love! (No Biting) through November 2. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

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 October 20, 2014

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John Storgårds
John Storgårds conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and violin soloist Heidi Harris in Mendelssohn's "Violin Concerto" Sibelius's "Symphony No. 1," and Paufnik's "Landscapes" Friday and Saturday, Ocrober 24 and 25, at 8 p.m.  "Our own STL Symphony Associate Concertmaster Heidi Harris will perform Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, a popular masterpiece of the violin repertoire that makes the heart sing.  Known as the musical voice of his country, Sibelius captured the essence of Nordic landscapes in works such as his First Symphony." The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center.  For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Steven Jarvi conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in "Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo," a special Family Concert featuring Saint-Saëns's "Carnival of the Animals" on Sunday, October 26, at 3 p.m. "The STL Symphony and the Saint Louis Zoo join forces to show audiences just how musical animals can be! This playful program, based on John Lithgow’s popular children’s book, features Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, Henry Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk and more." The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center.  For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents The Perseid String Quartet with pianist Diana Umali on Thursday, October 23, at 8 PM.  “The Perseid String Quartet returns to the Tavern for a program that includes Mozart’s famous Quartet No. 14, K. 465, known as the “Dissonance” quartet for the highly unusual and unstable harmonies used in the introduction. On the second half, the quartet teams up with pianist Diana Umali for Schumann’s Piano Quintet, Op.44, an emotive and often boisterous work which the composer said gave “his creative imagination…a new lease on life." The concert is free, donations are accepted and a percent of sale goes to support the performers. Come and enjoy dinner and a drink as we share this beautiful music!”  The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood.   For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Third Baptist Church presents an organ concert by Tim Jansen, Music Director, St. Anthony of Padua Church, on Friday, October 24, at 12:30 PM as part of its free Friday Pipes series.  "Join us on Fridays at Third Baptist Church for Friday Pipes, the free organ recital series celebrating the restoration of the church's 72-rank Kilgen/Möller pipe organ. Each week a different performer will be presenting a program of classical, church, and theatre organ music in the beautiful sanctuary of Third Baptist. This season's performers come from across the USA, and even from around the world. Free parking is available in the church lots on Washington Avenue." Third Baptist Church is at 620 N Grand.  For more information: www.third-baptist.org

Joseph Gascho
kickstarter.com
The Washington University Department of Music presents a harpsichord recital by Joseph Gascho on Wednesday, October 22, at 7:30 p.m. The program includes works by J.S. Bach and Buxtehude, and C.P.E. Bach.  "Harpsichordist Joseph Gascho enjoys a multifaceted musical career as a keyboard artist, conductor, teacher and producer. In 2002, he won first prize in the Jurow International Harpsichord Competition. His most recent recording, Españoletas, featuring Harmonious Blacksmith and percussionist Glen Velez, will be released this summer. Recent performing highlights include concerts with the National Symphony at Carnegie Hall, the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra, and conducting Idomeneo for the Maryland Opera Studio. A graduate of the Peabody Institute and the University of Maryland, he taught harpsichord and chamber music at George Washington University before accepting his most recent post at the University of Michigan." The performance takes place at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City, MO.  For more information: music.wustl.edu

The Washington University Department of Music presents a guitar recital by Kirk Hanser of the Washington University faculty on Friday, October 24, at 7:30 p.m.  "The performance will feature music by American composers, including Robert Beaser, Brian Head, Andy York, Michael Hedges, and local bandleader/composer Kim Portnoy. Many friends will be joining Hanser onstage during the evening, including flutist Paula Kasica and guitarist John McClellan." The performance takes place at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City, MO.  For more information: music.wustl.edu

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chuck's theatre choices for the weekend of October 17, 2014

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:

Photo: John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents Agatha Christie's thriller And Then There Were None Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through October 25. "Ten strangers, each with something to hide - or fear - are lured to a remote island by an unseen host. With no way to leave, the guests begin to share their dark secrets-and then, one by one, they die. Based on the best-selling mystery novel of all time, this thriller contains perhaps the most unpredictable plot ever devised by Agatha Christie." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

My take: There's nothing profound about Christie's classic whodunnit, and the plot twist, while clever when first used in the novel on which the play is based, has become something of a cliche by now. I speak from experience; I've done the show. Still, reviews for this production have been uniformly good. At the Post-Dispatch, Judy Newmark praises the "chic set" and "vivid performances." On the Stage Door blog, Steve Allen lauds director Gary Bell's "eye for detail and heightened suspense." Mark Bretz at Ladue News calls it "a nifty whodunit designed to entertain." Well, you get the idea. It's a ripping yarn and it runs for another two weekends.

Upstream Theater presents Sophocles' Antigone through October 26. "This ancient drama deals with the tragedy that ensues when society's demand for the rule of law conflicts with an individual's moral imperative-a conflict that recent events in our city have given unforeseen and unwanted resonance." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including show times: upstreamtheater.org

My take: This new adaptation of the Sophocles classic by David Slavitt is getting its world premiere at Upstream, and notices have generally been very good. "Meticulously directed by artistic director Philip Boehm and featuring superb performances by a stellar cast," writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "Upstream’s presentation shows the timelessness and enduring perceptive power of Sophocles’ observations of human foibles." At broadwayworld, Chris Gibson calls Slavitt's adaptation "the most intriguing and accessible version I've ever seen. With the inclusion of a dash of humor to the proceedings he's also managed to enhance the dramatic depth of the tale. Upstream Theater's current production is masterful and powerful in equal measure, providing a memorable experience that demands to be seen."

Photo: John Lamb
New Jewish Theater presents The Diary of Anne Frank through November 2. "The iconic story of Anne Frank who hid with her family and four others in the annex of her father's factory. In this gripping and transcendently powerful new adaptation of the original story based on Anne's diary, we see Anne as a living, lyrical, intensely gifted young girl who confronts her rapidly changing life and the increasing horror of the time with astonishing honesty, wit and determination.This young girl's remarkable diary has become a testament to the human spirit and illuminates Anne's unwavering belief in justice and love. This moving, true story is essential viewing for every generation - a new adaptation for a new generation." 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: I should note at the outset that this is a new adaptation of Anne Frank's diaries by Wendy Kesselman based on the older dramatization by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett that most of us have seen in the past. "The current production by The New Jewish Theatre is simply heart wrenching in its exquisite and engaging execution," writes Chris Gibson at broadwayworld.com. "A wonderful cast and sensitive direction allow this true and tragic tale to blossom fully." Other reviews have been equally effusive. At the Jewish Light, for example, Bob Cohn calls it "heart-stopping." 'Nuff said.

Karen Mason
The Presenters Dolan present Karen Mason: Secrets of the Ancient Divas on Friday and Saturday, October 17 and 18, at 8 PM as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. "The star of Mamma Mia!, Hairspray, Sunset Boulevard and Wonderland, and a 10-time MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets) Award winner, Karen Mason comes to town with her new show, Secrets of the Ancient Divas. The show pays homage to some of Karen's personal idols, including Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, Barbra Streisand." The performances take place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

My take: Mason is a major star. Reviewing this show for the Chicago Tribune back in 2012, Howard Reich observed that "Mason's new show reminds us that bona fide divas remake the songs to suit their needs (and then ours). By that measure, Mason ranks among the most creative of them." Mason's show continues off a month-long procession of local and national talent at the Gaslight Cabaret Festival (including new shows from local stars like Ken Haller and Meghan Kirk) that started last weekend with Katie McGrath's "Love in the Desert". If you love cabaret, you won't want to miss these shows.

Over Due Theatre presents the musical Side Show Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, through October 19. "While the Great Depression rages through America, an unlikely pair is beginning their rise from freaks trapped in an exploitative carnival underworld to Vaudeville and Hollywood stars. Based on the true story of famous Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, the Tony-nominated musical Side Show follows the Hiltons' journey of stardom, romance, and heartbreak with the sisters coming to terms with the question "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" Featuring a moving blend of Rock, Pop, Vaudeville, and Classic Broadway music styles, this surreal spectacle cannot be missed!" Performances take place at the Olivette Community Center, 9723 Grandview Drive, in Olivette, MO. For more information, call 314-210-2959 or visit overduetheatrecompany.com

My take: Side Show is, no doubt, one of the most unusual musicals to come along in recent years, and Over Due deserves praise for taking on a difficult piece. "Fine voices abound" in this cast, according to KDHX's Steve Callahan. "The whole cast—from Geek to Bearded Lady to Reptile Man and the others—are wonderfully committed to their roles. They generously share with us their great love for this show."

The St. Lou Fringe presents international Fringe performer Rosie Bitts in her one-woman play Stories of Love and Passion Friday and Saturday, October 17 and 18, at 8 p.m. " Rosie mixes cabaret, burlesque, and storytelling to create a roller coaster ride of a show that takes the audience from laughter to tears to titillation within the span of an hour. Bitts' play is a spectacle for the senses featuring fabulous live music (Bitts sings soulfully and is accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Jeff Poynter), gorgeous costumes, and some very cheeky burlesque." Opening for Bitts on Friday will be The Wide-Eyed presentation of Whores, a raw and heartfelt exploration of modern-day relationships in which three women find their voices in a world that compels most to silence. On Saturday Oct 18, Vip the Clown presents Insufficiently Sober, in which the art of physical comedy is used to explore the shame and trauma associated with alcoholism in a bittersweet tribute to Vaudeville-era storytelling. Performances take place at the Kranzberg Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlfringe.com.

My take: I'm including this just because it's such an intriguing concept and because the Em Piro and the folks at the Fringe continue to push the entertainment envelope locally. Good on them.

Held Over:

Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents the St. Louis premiere of the musical Bonnie and Clyde Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through October 25. The show is "a kind of horror Romeo and Juliet story, exploring the culture that created this infamous couple and their two-year murder spree, the moral ambiguity of Prohibition and the Great Depression, and a national cult of celebrity that turned these damaged, dangerous kids into national folk heroes, in their twisted quest for dignity in a time of national humiliation. Bloomberg News called the show, 'a pop romance about the American nightmare.' Today, in this time of economic distress in America, this story seems more relevant than ever. Not only could it happen again; it does." Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road. For more information, visit the web site or call 314-534-1111.

My take: Frank Wildhorn, the composer of Bonnie and Clyde, is nothing if not eclectic when it comes to his choice of material. His shows include The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Civil War, and Wonderland: Alice's New Musical Adventure. Even if this were not a much-praised production, it would be worth seeing for Wildhorn's contribution alone. But, has it happens, the show has gotten plenty of good reviews locally. Writing for broadwayworld.com, Chris Gibson calls it "brilliant." "You'll be blown away by how engaging the story and characters are," he says, "and you'll be humming the score as you walk out the doors because it's just so incredibly and infectiously catchy." The St. Louis Theatre Snob concurs: "Under Jeffrey Richard Carter's musical direction, the New Line Band is tight, handling Wildhorn's score of depression-era blues, folk, gospel and rockabilly superbly...Seeing this production makes it hard to understand why it didn't last longer in NYC." Over at the RFT, Malcom Gay says it "should be on anyone's Most Wanted list." So maybe it should be on yours as well.

Symphony Preview: Celebrity soloists glitter at the Red Velvet Ball on Saturday, October 18

Lang Lang
stlsymphony.org
As I wrote in a previous post, it's a musical doubleheader at the St. Louis Symphony this weekend: the regular series concerts on Friday and Sunday with Leonard Slatkin, the orchestra, and violin soloists Celeste Golden Boyer and David Halen; and the annual "Red Velvet Ball" fundraiser concert on Saturday night with David Robertson conducting and international celebrity pianist Lang Lang in the solo spot. Here's a preview of the latter.

The Red Velvet Ball concert is only part of a formal fundraising event that includes premium seating, pre-concert cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, dinner and post-concert cocktails, dessert, and dancing. It's a dressy (and pricey) affair in which the orchestra and a fair percentage of the audience are decked out in their best formal attire. It always features a big name soloist, and superstar pianist Lang Lang is all that beyond a doubt.

Described as "the hottest artist on the classical music planet" by the New York Times, the 32-year-old Chinese pianist says he was inspired to learn the piano when he saw the classic Tom and Jerry cartoon "The Cat Concerto" at the age of two. By the age of five he was already appearing public recitals. He won the Xing Hai Cup Piano Competition in Beijing in 1994 and the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Pianists in Japan the following year. Since then his unique mix of technical proficiency, artistic taste, and charismatic performance style have made him an international, genre-crossing superstar—the "the J. Lo of the piano," in the words of the great keyboard virtuoso Earl Wild.

Tchaikovsky in 1906
en.wikipedia.org
Mr. Lang will be playing Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 1," an enduring chestnut that always gets a warm response. The lively melodies (some appropriated from Ukrainian folk sources) and flashy piano part never fail to appeal. It has had plenty of exposure at Powell over the last few years, with splendid (and very different) performances by Kirill Gerstein (September 2013) and Yefim Bronfman (April 2011). What will Mr. Lang do with it? I don’t know, but based on his work to date it's likely to be compelling.

The concert will open with J.S. Bach's "Suite No. 2 in B-minor," BWV 1067, which features a prominent role for the flute. It was, like many of Bach's works, written for the government—specifically, for the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, where Bach was the resident composer and music director from 1717 to 1723.

The prince was fond of what symphony program annotator Paul Schiavo (in his notes for a performance of the Bach "Suite No. 1" in October 2012) described as "lively secular instrumental music", and Bach filled the bill nicely with an appealing site of six dances preceded by a short "French overture" (the name possibly refers to the fact that the form first appears in the operas of Jean Baptiste Lully) with its characteristic majestic opening followed by a main section.

Mark Sparks
stlsymphony.org
If some of the recordings of the Bach suites in my collection are any indication, it’s easy to treat this music as weighty stuff. Even in his "light" music, after all, Bach couldn’t stop being a genius at counterpoint. Still, I would expect Mr. Robertson to deliver a performance that remains true to the suite’s terpsichorean origins.

The solo flute role will be taken by SLSO Principal Flute Mark Sparks. It's not the first time he has been in the spotlight. As recently as last March he performed the Christopher Rouse "Flute Concerto" with the symphony and has appeared as a soloist with orchestras all over the world. Great as it is to have an international celebrity like Lang Lang playing with the orchestra, it's at least as gratifying to see a member of the orchestra take center stage.

The essentials: David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and soloists Lang Lang, piano, and Mark Sparks, flute, in Bach's "Orchestra Suite No. 2" and Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 1" Saturday, October 19, at 8:30 p.m. The concert is part of the annual Red Velvet Ball formal fundraising event and takes place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, visit the web site.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Symphony Notes: Berlioz takes a trip with Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra October 17 and 19

stlsymphony.org / Steve J. Sherman
It's a double-header this weekend at the St. Louis Symphony, with the regular season program on Friday and Sunday conducted by Leonard Slatkin and a special superstar "Red Velvet Ball" concert with David Robertson on the podium on Saturday. Let's start with the former.

Former Music Director Leonard Slatkin, who led the St. Louis Symphony during what was possibly its period of highest international visibility, has made a number of return visits to Powell Hall since his tenure here ended—most recently this past April. That was certainly a triumph, so I think we can expect good things when he conducts the orchestra and soloist David Halen Friday and Sunday.

The concerts will open with "Einstein's Dream," a 2004 work by Mr. Slatkin's wife Cindy McTee and apparently a late substitution for the originally-scheduled opener, Slatkin's own "Endgames" (which will have its world premiere with the Detroit Symphony in November). "Albert Einstein," writes the composer in her program notes, "gave much thought to issues of space and time, and he dreamt of finding a theory of everything, or a broad, mathematical structure that would fully explain and link together all known phenomena. My piece celebrates this dream." Running around 14 minutes, the seven sections of "Einstein's Dream" have titles like "Warps and Curves in the Fabric of Space and Time" and "Pondering the Behavior of Light."

Cindy McTee
billholabmusic.com
The last McTee piece the symphony presented was "Double Play, " which I found to be great fun when I encountered it last January. If a similar playful spirit is at work in this one, it should be well worth hearing. Violin soloist for the work will be Second Associate Concertmaster Celeste Golden Boyer, who was so impressive three years ago in the Saint-Saëns "Introduction and Rondo capriccioso"

The first half of the concert closes with another work for violin and orchestra, Max Bruch's 1866 "Violin Concerto No. 1." It was his most popular work—which was a pity, as he didn't make a dime from it. As Renee Spencer Saller writes in the program notes, Bruch "sold the publishing rights to his first violin concerto for a pittance in a one-off deal that didn’t allow him a share of future royalties. Even worse, his subsequent compositions were nowhere near as popular." Bruch wrote many other worthy pieces (I've always been fond of his 1880 "Scottish Fantasy" myself), but none of them matched the phenomenal popularity of this first concerto.

Max Bruch
en.wikipedia.org
You'll understand why when you hear it. Bruch was a bit of a musical conservative, affiliated with Brahms and the German Romantic tradition rather than with Liszt, Wagner, and the whole "New Music" crowd, who held Brahms and company in such contempt. That means he wasn't afraid to write beautiful melodies or to play the virtuoso card in this concerto. As an anonymous annotator writes at the web site for the British classical music station, Classic FM, "[t]he dazzling, virtuosic passages, particularly in the glorious finale, really do make the violin sing as it soars again and again, almost from within the orchestra, to ever loftier heights. The second movement, meanwhile, is pure romance: beautiful, heart-breaking themes, woven delicately within soulful orchestral accompaniment." Symphony Concertmaster David Halen will be doing the solo honors.

In case you think drugs began to influence music in the 1960s, let me draw your attention to the piece that closes this weekend's concerts: Hector Berlioz's 1830 "Symphonie fantastique," Op. 14. Leonard Bernstein once famously described it as "the first psychedelic symphony in history, the first musical description ever made of a trip, written one hundred thirty odd years before the Beatles," and he wasn't really exaggerating that much.

Subtitled "An Episode in the Life of an Artist," the work tells, in dramatic and musically explicit terms, the story of a "young vibrant musician" who becomes sexually obsessed with an "ideal" woman. He dreams of her in the first movement; unsuccessfully pursues her at a ball in the second; and flees to the country to escape his longing in the third. In the fourth movement "March of the Scaffold" (often performed by itself) he overdoses on opium (the LSD of the early 19th century) and dreams he is being beheaded for her murder. The work ends with the hallucinatory "Dreams of a Witches' Sabbath," in which the protagonist envisions himself at an infernal dance, presided over by the object of his affection, now transformed into a demon.

Berlioz in 1832
Painting by Émile Signol
The idea for the "Symphonie" came from Berlioz’s own obsession with the Irish Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson, whom he wooed for years and finally won after convincing her to attend a performance of the piece. The composer never tried to kill her, but he did threaten to kill himself with an opium overdose if she didn’t marry him—which she did. The marriage did not end well, but that’s another story.

Unlike the marriage, the music lasted, although it was fiercely controversial. Parisians had just gotten used to the idea of Beethoven when along came this wildly dramatic bit of excess scored for a massive orchestra and accompanied by a narrative that was, to say the least, lurid. Younger composers like Liszt and Saint-Saëns loved it but traditionalists like Mendelssohn were appalled. Even today, a good performance is still a pretty wild ride.

The essentials: Conductor laureate Leonard Slatkin conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and soloist David Halen, violin, in Bruch's "Violin Concerto No. 1," Berlioz's "Symphonie Fastastique," and "Einstein's Dream" by Cindy McTee Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., October 17 and 19. The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of October 13, 2014

[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 web site.

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Photo: Justin Been
Stray Dog Theatre presents Agatha Christie's thriller And Then There Were None Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through October 25. "Ten strangers, each with something to hide - or fear - are lured to a remote island by an unseen host. With no way to leave, the guests begin to share their dark secrets-and then, one by one, they die. Based on the best-selling mystery novel of all time, this thriller contains perhaps the most unpredictable plot ever devised by Agatha Christie." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

Upstream Theater presents Sophocles' Antigone through October 26. “This ancient drama deals with the tragedy that ensues when society's demand for the rule of law conflicts with an individual's moral imperative-a conflict that recent events in our city have given unforeseen and unwanted resonance.“ Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including show times: upstreamtheater.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents A Big Easy Murder through October 26. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents the St. Louis premiere of the musical Bonnie and Clyde Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through October 25. The show is "a kind of horror Romeo and Juliet story, exploring the culture that created this infamous couple and their two-year murder spree, the moral ambiguity of Prohibition and the Great Depression, and a national cult of celebrity that turned these damaged, dangerous kids into national folk heroes, in their twisted quest for dignity in a time of national humiliation. Bloomberg News called the show, 'a pop romance about the American nightmare.' Today, in this time of economic distress in America, this story seems more relevant than ever. Not only could it happen again; it does." Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road. For more information, visit the web site or call 314-534-1111. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Carol Schmidt
The Cabaret Project and 88.1 KDHX present the monthly Cabaret Open Stage Night on Wednesday, October 17, from 7 to 10 PM at the Tavern of Fine Arts. The Master of Ceremonies this month is KDHX senior performing arts critic Chuck Lavazzi and the music director is Carol Schmidt. Bring your favorite seasonal songs and be prepared for the big sing-along! If you're planning to sing, be prepared to do one or two songs and bring music, preferably in your key. It's also recommend that you have your song memorized. The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt at Waterman in the Central West End. There's free parking in the lot right across the street. For more information, visit tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com or call 314-367-7549.

Photo: John Lamb
New Jewish Theater presents The Diary of Anne Frank through November 2. "The iconic story of Anne Frank who hid with her family and four others in the annex of her father's factory. In this gripping and transcendently powerul new adaptation of the original story based on Anne's diary, we see Anne as a living, lyrical, intensely gifted young girl who confronts her rapidly changing life and the increasing horror of the time with astonishing honesty, wit and determination.This young girl's remarkable diary has become a testament to the human spirit and illuminates Anne's unwavering belief in justice and love. This moving, true story is essential viewing for every generation - a new adaptation for a new generation." 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.

Windsor Theatre Group presents Forever Broadway Saturdays and Sundays at 2 and 5 p.m., through October 26. "This is a family-friendly revue of gorgeous and fun melodies. Performances are at 2 pm and 5 pm on both Saturdays and Sundays. Some of the best singers in the metropolitan area will perform solos, duets and chorus selections of some of well-known numbers, as well as some less-remembered tunes from Broadway shows throughout the years. The audience will also be treated to extraordinary dancing." Performances take place at The Historic Ozark Theatre, 103 E. Lockwood in Webster Groves. For more information: 314-832-2114.

KTK Productions presents the musical Grease October 17-26. Performances take place at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4716 Macklind. For more information: kurtainkall.org or call 314-351-8984.

Lindenwood University presents Heaven Can Wait by Harry Seagall Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., through October 18. “Mr. Jordan is checking passengers who are to depart in an airplane for the Hereafter. The routine is interrupted by the arrival of Joe Pendleton, an attractive prizefighter, who refuses to admit he is dead, and it is revealed that Joe is not scheduled to arrive for another 60 years! But Joe can't return to Earth because his manager had his body cremated! The search is on as Heaven attempts to locate a permanent body for Joe, who in the meantime is sent to earth in an interim body, falls in love, and is forced to deal with a murderous couple. Can he keep his new true love? Can he stay alive long enough for Heaven to find a new body? For now, Heaven Can Wait!' Performances take place in the Emerson Black Box Theatre at the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts on the Lindenwood campus in St. Charles, MO. For more information, call 636-949-4433 or visit lindenwood.edu/center.

Karen Mason
The Presenters Dolan present Karen Mason: Secrets of the Ancient Divas on Friday and Saturday, October 17 and 18, at 8 PM as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. "The star of Mamma Mia!, Hairspray, Sunset Boulevard and Wonderland, and a 10-time MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets) Award winner, Karen Mason comes to town with her new show, Secrets of the Ancient Divas. The show pays homage to some of Karen's personal idols, including Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, Barbra Streisand." The performances take place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

Alton Little Theater presents the comedy Kosher Lutherans Thursdays through Sundays, October 16-26, at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. "Kosher Lutherans centers on Hanna and Franklyn, the seemingly perfect couple who desperately want to have a child of their own, but are unable to do so. As the couple begins to wonder if they’ll ever become parents, they have a chance encounter with a God- fearing pregnant girl from Iowa who offers to let the couple adopt her out-of-wedlock baby. Just before the adoption papers are signed, Hanna and Franklyn discover the girl is unaware that they are Jewish. Knowing the revelation could throw a ratchet into the whole works, the couple poses as Lutherans to appeal to the girl’s apparent Midwestern sensibilities. But how far are they willing to go to have a family?” For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

Clinton County Showcase presents the musical Little Shop of Horrors through October 19. Performances take place at the Avon Theater, 525 North 2nd Street Breese IL. For more information, visit ccshowcase.com.

Photo: Lon Brauer
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream October 15-November 9. "Magic, merriment and romance all unite in one of Shakespeare's most beloved and imaginative comedies. Starry-eyed lovers escape to an enchanted forest full of lust and bewitchment, where mischievous fairies play tricks, bumbling actors rehearse for a love-play and couples pursue one another, all under the light of the moon." Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

St. Louis Shakespeare presents Much Ado About Nothing October 17-25. "As one pair of (reluctant) lovers engages in a merry war of wits, another becomes innocent victims of a villainous plot to destroy their happiness. But thanks to the dogged persistence of a truly remarkable keeper of the peace, love prevails at last in one of Shakespeare's most popular romantic comedies." Performances take at the Forissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 314-361-5664 or visit stlshakespeare.org.

Fontbonne University presents the musical Nunsense October 16-19. “When the Little Sisters of Hoboken discover that their cook has accidentally poisoned 52 of the sisters, and they are in dire need of funds for the burials, they decide to put on a variety show. We meet Reverend Mother Regina, a former circus performer; Sister Mary Hubert, the Mistress of Novices; a streetwise nun from Brooklyn named Sister Robert Anne; Sister Mary Leo, a novice who is a wannabe ballerina; and the delightfully wacky Sister Mary Amnesia, the nun who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head. Featuring an audience quiz and comic surprises, this show has become an international phenomenon.” Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information: fontbonne.edu or call 314-719-8061.

Affton CenterStage Theatre Company presents The Odd Couple (Female Version) on Saturday and Sunday, October 17 and 18. Performances take place in the Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road. For more information, call 636-349-6880 or visit www.afftoncenterstage.org.

Family Musical Theater presents the musical The Rocky Horror Show October 17-25 at the Ivory Theatre, 7622 Michigan. For more information, visit familymusical.org or call 314-571-9579.

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville presents Carlo Gondoni's comedy The Servant of Two Masters Wednesday through Sunday, October 15-19. The performances take place on the campus in Edwardsville, IL. For more information, call 618-650-2774.

Over Due Theatre presents the musical Side Show Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, through October 19. “While the Great Depression rages through America, an unlikely pair is beginning their rise from freaks trapped in an exploitative carnival underworld to Vaudeville and Hollywood stars. Based on the true story of famous Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, the Tony-nominated musical Side Show follows the Hiltons' journey of stardom, romance, and heartbreak with the sisters coming to terms with the question "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" Featuring a moving blend of Rock, Pop, Vaudeville, and Classic Broadway music styles, this surreal spectacle cannot be missed!” Performances take place at the Olivette Community Center, 9723 Grandview Drive, in Olivette, MO. For more information, call 314-210-2959 or visit overduetheatrecompany.com Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

St. Charles Community College Young People's Theatre presents Sleepy Hollow October 17-19. Performances take place in the Donald D. Shook Fine Arts Building on the campus at 4601 Mid Rivers Mall Drive in Cottleville, MO. For more information, call 636-922-8050 or visit stchas.edu.

The St. Lou Fringe presents international Fringe performer Rosie Bitts in her one-woman play Stories of Love and Passion Friday and Saturday, October 17 and 18, at 8 p.m. " Rosie mixes cabaret, burlesque, and storytelling to create a roller coaster ride of a show that takes the audience from laughter to tears to titillation within the span of an hour. Bitts' play is a spectacle for the senses featuring fabulous live music (Bitts sings soulfully and is accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Jeff Poynter), gorgeous costumes, and some very cheeky burlesque." Opening for Bitts on Friday will be The Wide-Eyed presentation of Whores, a raw and heartfelt exploration of modern-day relationships in which three women find their voices in a world that compels most to silence. On Saturday Oct 18, Vip the Clown presents Insufficiently Sober, in which the art of physical comedy is used to explore the shame and trauma associated with alcoholism in a bittersweet tribute to Vaudeville-era storytelling. Performances take place at the Kranzberg Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlfringe.com.

Winter Opera STL presents free performances of Michael Ching's Speed Dating Tonight, a "comic opera in one act about the trials and tribulations of finding love in a world that moves too fast." The final performance takes place Monday, October 13, at 7:15 p.m. at East Central College in Union, MO. For details, visit the web site at winteroperastl.org.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Zombie Love! (No Biting) through November 2. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

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 October 13, 2014

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Leonard Slatkin conducts the Detroit Symphony
leonardslatkin.com / Donald Dietz
The Chamber Music Society of St. Louis presents St. Louis, America, featuring on Monday and Tuesday, October 13 and 14, at 7:30 PM. "Chamber Music Society of St. Louis opens our 2014-15 Season with a concert, to be performed twice, saluting St. Louis and our City’s 250th birthday. As a part of the American Arts Experience – St. Louis, we will showcase music written in honor of America. Recognized as a top interpreter of American music, and having deep-rooted St. Louis ties, Leonard Slatkin, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Conductor Laureate, is the perfect choice as our Guest Artist for this program. Leonard will share the stage with CMSSL musicians in performances of Variations On Yankee Doodle by Henri Vieuxtemps, works by Aaron Copland, Scott Joplin, and our CMSSL version of Leroy Anderson’s The Typewriter, and the always delightful Variations on America by Charles Ives." The concert takes place at The Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington. For more information: chambermusicstl.org.

Conductor laureate Leonard Slatkin conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and soloist David Halen, violin, in Bruch's "Violin Concerto No. 1," Berlioz's "Symphonie Fastastique," and Slatkin's own composition "Endgames" Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., October 17 and 19. "Leonard Slatkin makes his annual return to Powell Hall to conduct Berlioz’s epic and autobiographical Symphonie fantastique which tells the story of an artist's self-destructive passion for a beautiful woman. David Halen celebrates his 20th season as concertmaster performing Bruch’s warm-hearted Violin Concerto with the former Music Director who appointed him to his post with the STL Symphony." The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Lang at the
international Chopin Year 2010
David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and soloists Lang Lang, piano, and Mark Sparks, flute, in Bach's "Orchestra Suite No. 2" and Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 1" Saturday, October 18, at 8:30 p.m. The concert is part of the annual Red Velvet Ball formal fundraising event. "We are thrilled to welcome internationally-acclaimed piano sensation, Lang Lang, to Powell Hall for this annual fundraising concert benefiting the STL Symphony. Declared by The New York Times as "the hottest artist on the classical music planet," Lang Lang will perform Tchaikovsky’s triumphant Piano Concerto No. 1 with David Robertson and the STL Symphony." The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The St. Louis Symphony’s Crescendo Circle presents Sips and Symphonies on Thursday, October 16, at 7:30 PM. "What is Sips and Symphonies? It is a great way to learn about music in a fun, casual environment. On the third Thursday of each month, we get together at Tavern of Fine Arts to listen to and discuss a piece of music being performed at an upcoming concert at Powell Hall. We will have a different guest moderator each month who will help lead an informal conversation about the music." A special cocktail is created for each event to accompany the music. This month, there will be a lively and informal discussion/presentation of Berlioz's "Symphonie fantastique" and Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 1." The event takes place at The Tavern of Fine Arts, 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents a classical open stage night on Monday, October 13, from 7:30 – 9 PM. "Come by yourself or bring your quartet. Sight read through a Beethoven quartet or use this as an opportunity to put the finishing touches on that Hindemith Viola Sonata you have been working on. All ages and skill levels are welcome. We have a 6' grand piano and an accompanist." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Kirk Hanser
The Tavern of Fine Arts presents Kirk Hanser and Friends on Friday, October 17, at 6 PM. "Guitarist Kirk Hanser will be joined by several musical friends for an early evening's performance featuring the guitar! Music of American composers including Andy York, Michael Chapdelaine, Michael Hedges and many others." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Third Baptist Church presents an organ concert by Craig Datz, Organist at Missouri United Methodist Church, Columbia, Missouri, on Friday, October 17, at 12:30 PM as part of its free Friday Pipes series. "Join us on Fridays at Third Baptist Church for Friday Pipes, the free organ recital series celebrating the restoration of the church's 72-rank Kilgen/Möller pipe organ. Each week a different performer will be presenting a program of classical, church, and theatre organ music in the beautiful sanctuary of Third Baptist. This season's performers come from across the USA, and even from around the world. Free parking is available in the church lots on Washington Avenue." Third Baptist Church is at 620 N Grand. For more information: www.third-baptist.org

The Washington University Symphony presents a free concert featuring bassoonist Andrew Gott on Monday, October 13, at 7:30 p.m. The program will include Beethoven’s Overture to Fidelio and Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suites, ending with the popular "In the Hall of the Mountain King". The performance takes place at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City, MO. For more information: music.wustl.edu

Concert Review: Tchaikovsky's big bang gets a nuanced performance by Cristian Macelaru and the St. Louis Symphony

Cristian Macelaru
Who: The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with soloists Joo Kim and James Czyzewski, conducted by Cristian Macelaru
What: All-Tchaikovsky program
When: Friday through Sunday, October 10-12, 2014
Where: Powell Symphony Hall

Parking for Friday morning's all-Tchaikovsky concert by the St. Louis Symphony was an adventure, and not just because of the rain. An unusually large crowd jammed parking lots and the Powell Hall lobby. Blame the late Russian composer; his music never fails to draw a crowd.

There are good reasons for that. His ability to spin a memorable melody is matched by an approach to musical structure which, while sometimes clunky or repetitive, nevertheless produces compositions that are clear and easy to follow. At his best, he's irresistible. At his worst—well—he's still Tchaikovsky and still worth a listen.

Tchaikovsky in 1906
I don't know that anything on this weekend's program counts as Tchaikovsky's best (although the "Romeo and Juliet—Fantasy Overture" comes close) but none of it could be called his worst. And the performances by the orchestra under guest conductor Cristian Macelaru are pretty much beyond reproach.

The former Resident Conductor at the Shepherd School of Music at my alma mater, Rice University, Mr. Macelaru is making his SLSO debut with these concerts, and an auspicious one it is. He makes the most of Tchaikovsky's heart-on-sleeve romanticism as well as his high drama, and does it with impressive precision. He's not afraid to use a bit of rubato for the flutes-and-horns theme in the trio section of the "Eugene Onegin" polonaise, for example, or to linger a bit with the "love theme" in "Romeo and Juliet." Which makes the wonderful clarity of the "battle" sequences in that piece all the more impressive. For me, in fact, his "Romeo and Juliet" was the high point of the program—dramatic, compelling, and emotionally potent.

The high quality of the orchestral playing has a lot to do with that, of course. I've always thought that playing these morning concerts must be a bit of a trial, especially for the brass and percussion players (for whom Tchaikovsky provides quite a workout), but the musicians were clearly up to the challenge.

Joo Kim
Sandwiched between the "Eugene Onegin" polonaise and "Romeo and Juliet" are two lovely little pieces for soloist and orchestra.

The "Sérénade mélancolique," op. 26, for violin and orchestra opens and closes on (as you might guess from the title) a wistfully sad note, but there's something rather like joy in the more dramatic middle section, so the soloist gets to display a nice emotional range. Joo Kim, from the SLSO's First Violin section, gave a warm and agile performance, doing full justice to the piece's varying moods.

The "Pezzo capriccioso," op. 62 for cello and orchestra is probably the least familiar work on the program. Dating from 1887, it is (the title not withstanding) a mostly rather dramatic piece, although the lively and virtuosic middle section (a quick restatement of which makes up the work's coda) certainly has its "capricious" elements. Soloist James Czyzewski (who has been with the SLSO for a decade now) was equally persuasive in the dramatic and "capricious" sections. From our seats in the dress circle boxes he was sometimes overwhelmed by the orchestra, but that is something of a recurring problem with Powell's acoustics, in my experience.

James Czyzewski
The second half of the program this weekend consists of Tchaikovsky's Greatest Hit, "The Year 1812, festival overture," preceded by his rarely heard (the last SLSO performance was 25 years ago) "The Tempest, Symphonic Fantasy After Shakespeare." Regarding the former, I'm reminded of Garrison Keillor's observation that best pumpkin pie you've ever eaten isn't that much different from the worst pumpkin pie you've ever eaten. I think something similar applies to the "1812" in that it doesn't demand a lot of artistry; fast and loud will usually do it. Nevertheless, artistry is what it got from Mr. Macelaru and the orchestra, and if the lack of an extra brass band made the finale slightly less impressive than it might have been, the use of the 8-foot-tall "Mahler box" (constructed to provide the "axe blow" effect in Mahler's 6th) for the cannon shots more than made up for it. Percussionist Henry Claude was wielding the mallet.

"The Tempest" poses more of a challenge. It's filled with intensely cinematic music, including an appropriately rapturous love theme for Ferdinand and Miranda along with vivid depictions of the sea and the titular storm, but it's also highly episodic. Making sure it never comes to a complete standstill while honoring the composer's many moods strikes me as difficult, but once again Mr. Macelaru proved fully up to the task. It was a real joy to finally hear a coherent, well-thought-out live performance of a piece that I had only heard on recordings before.

The orchestral playing was excellent as well. There are, for example, some dangerously exposed horn lines in the evocative "sea" music of the opening, but after one unfortunate opening note the symphony horns completely nailed them.

The concert repeats on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., October 11 and 12, at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand. Saturday's concert will also be broadcast live on St. Louis Public Radio, 90.7 FM, HD 1, and via web streaming.

Next at Powell Hall: Leonard Slatkin returns for the Berlioz "Symphonie Fantastique," Cindy McTee's "Einstein's Dream," and the Bruch "Violin Concerto No. 1" with SLSO Concertmaster David Halen. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., October 17 and 19. David Robertson conducts the orchestra and soloists Lang Lang, piano, and Mark Sparks, flute, in Bach's "Orchestra Suite No. 2" and Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 1" Saturday, October 19, at 8:30 p.m.  The concert is part of the annual Red Velvet Ball formal fundraising event.  For more information, visit the SLSO web site..