Auld acquaintance is not forgotten at the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's New Year's Eve concert

01.02.19
Ward Stare
KDHX

During his tenure as Music Director, David Robertson made the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's New Year's Eve concert an evening of light, celebratory music, dashes of comedy, and surprise guest appearances. This year, with Mr. Robertson gone and his replacement, Stéphane Denève, not yet in place, former Resident Conductor Ward Stare was brought in to assume the festive mantle, and he did it brilliantly.

The concert opened with an energetic performance of Berlioz's "Roman Carnival Overture," a work cobbled together in 1844 from bits of the composer's 1838 opera "Benvenuto Cellini." Mr. Stare's interpretation, which had him practically leaping off the podium at times, was both lively and nuanced, with brisk pacing, crisp attacks, and admirable work by Cally Bahnam in the prominent English horn solo.

Up next was a local premiere--four selections from Leonard Bernstein's 1980 "Divertimento." Written for the Boston Symphony's centenary, the work is, as Mr. Stare noted in his remarks form the podium, filled with little inside jokes for the BSO audiences. The comically tipsy "Turkey Trot," movement, for example, refers to a little road not far from the orchestra's summer home at Tanglewood, while the off-kilter "Waltz", in 7/8 time, is a nod to the 5/4 waltz in Tchaikovsky's "Pathétique" Symphony--a work which was a favorite of long-time BSO head Serge Koussevitzky. It's exceptionally entertaining music that also sounds challenging to play, but the orchestra did an excellent job with it.

Richard Rodgers' "Carousel Waltz" was next, followed by "Napoli," a set of elaborate variations on "Funiculì, Funiculà" originally written for cornet and band by Herman Bellstadt and performed here in an arrangement for euphonium and orchestra by Richard E. Thurston.

These turn-of-the-previous-century showpieces, once so prevalent, are rarely heard these days, so it was a real pleasure to see it done at all, much less with the kind of virtuosity it got from Principal Trombone Timothy Myers, who sailed through the increasingly extravagant solo part with impressive assurance. I played the euphonium as a youngster (although never this well!), so it was a pleasure to hear its rich, mellow tones again.
 
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