Review: David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony deliver two memorable performances at Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall.

David Robertson
San Jose Mercury News

By Georgia Rowe

It's too early to start assembling best of 2016 lists, but it's a pretty safe bet that, come December, music lovers will still be talking about the St. Louis Symphony's Berkeley appearances.

Presented by Cal Performances in two concerts at Zellerbach Hall over the weekend, the orchestra under St. Louis Symphony Music Director David Robertson performed music by Olivier Messiaen, John Adams and Gustav Mahler. The results were tremendous.

The highlight was Sunday afternoon's performance of Messiaen's "Des canyons aux etoiles" (From the canyons to the stars). The French composer's 12-movement opus, scored for piano, strings, woodwinds, percussion and wind machine, is a musical depiction of the canyons of southwestern Utah. It is one of Messiaen's most remarkable scores.

Conducted by Robertson, with visuals by Berkeley photographer Deborah O'Grady and set and lighting designs by Seth Reiser, it was a full immersion experience, one that filled the hall with color and light, birdsongs and otherworldly harmonies to suggest the natural beauties of Cedar Breaks National Monument and Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks.


Robertson, whose conducting is always an effective mix of economy and precision, guided his ensemble through this challenging score with assurance, maintaining a secure rhythmic pulse while bringing out a wealth of instrumental detail. In addition to Henderson and Kaza, the excellent soloists included William James on xylorimba and Thomas Stubbs on glockenspiel.


After intermission, the orchestra gave an urgently dramatic performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor. Everything about it was right -- the monumental opening "Trauermarsch" flowed with organic power into the second movement's contrasts of turbulence and sweetness. The Scherzo's landler and trios were exhilarating, the Adagietto aptly serene. Robertson led the rondo finale to the finish line with conviction. Here again, the St. Louis ensemble sounded first-rate. Best of 2016? It's already on my list.

Read the full review here