Friday, 20 October 2017 11:31

Symphony Notes, October 20 and 21, 2017: Getting very near the end

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Pianist Orli Shaham Pianist Orli Shaham Photo by Christian Steiner

There are, as you probably know, major changes coming at the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in the next few years. Long-time Music Director David Roberson concludes his tenure with the group at the end of the 2017-18 season, to be replaced by the young French conductor Stéphane Denève in the 2019-2020 season.

It's an amicable parting to be sure, but it means that the current season is one of "lasts," one of which will be the last joint appearance on the Powell Hall stage this Saturday and Sunday of Mr. Robertson and his wife, pianist Orli Shaham. Ms. Shaham will play Rachmaninoff's bravura Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in a program that also includes Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet and Mnemosyne's Pool, a 2015 orchestral work by Steven Mackey.

They only perform jointly a couple of times a year and although Ms. Shaham has been a frequent soloist with the SLSO, they haven't both shared the stage here in St. Louis that often, but this is still a significant milestone for local music lovers. I dropped a couple of questions about that into a virtual bottle and floated them to Ms. Shaham over the Interwaves.

Chuck: You've said that you're looking forward to making chamber music with the SLSO in your performance of the Rachmaninoff. Can you elaborate on that? How is performing this like performing chamber music, in your view?

Orli: Rachmaninoff varies many aspects of the theme in each of the 24 variations. Specifically, he constantly changes up the instrumentation, so you end up with many different groupings of musicians from all the different sections of the orchestra. There are some very intimate moments in which it's just the piano and a few solo strings or a few solo winds, or one particular section of the orchestra with the piano. In that way it's really like chamber music on a grand scale.

David Robertson
Photo: Dan Dreyfus

Chuck: You and David Robertson met backstage at Powell Hall in 1999 and married in 2003, the same year as his appointment as music director at the SLSO. Now that you're preparing to play your last joint concert with Mr. Robertson and the orchestra, what impact do you feel the whole St. Louis experience has had on you and your family? What are some of your better memories from these years?

Orli: Over the years, we've had a wonderful relationship with both our St. Louis Symphony family as well as with many, many people all around St. Louis City and County.

From the very beginning, we felt embraced by the St. Louis community. I remember the first time people took us on tours around the neighborhoods and told us where we should have a good coffee or a quick lunch, and maybe even make our home. That warm welcoming atmosphere from the community and from the musicians on the stage has been a staple of our time there. We've had a lot of situations where people just made us feel like we've always been St. Louis citizens.

Just one example of that was this summer. We spent much of in Australia (some of it for work and some of it on vacation with the kids). We specifically wanted to come back to the states in time to see the eclipse - and of course there was no better place to see it than in St. Louis. But David had to stay in Sydney because he had performances there, so it was just me and the kids. I thought "gosh it might be a little lonely to share this experience with them," but it would still be totally worth it. Sure enough, when I mentioned to some of the musicians that we'd be in town for the day, before I could even blink, a plan was in place: A wonderful gathering with a number of musicians from the orchestra and their families, other children for my kids to play with, and a brilliant idea for the perfect spot. It turned out not only to be a great celestial event but a great social one as well.

The Essentials: David Robertson conducts The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, with piano soloist Orli Shaham, in music by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Steven Mackey Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., October 21 and 22. The performances take place at Powell Hall in Grand Center. For more information: