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St. Louis Symphony: Rehearsal, Anticipation, Donuts, and Dumplings

St. Louis Symphony's Eddie Silva reports on the orchestra's first rehearsal for its March 10 concert at Carnegie Hall—a concert that includes soprano Karita Mattila performing Kaija Saariaho's Quatre Instants.

On Wednesday of this week, the orchestra began rehearsals for its Carnegie Hall program—which it performs at Powell Hall this weekend—on a full head of musical steam. The previous weekend's concerts sent many of the musicians into uncommon displays of rapture. They had performed a program that included pianist Martin Helmchen's St. Louis Symphony debut in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503. Principal Second Violin Alison Harney said she had to hold back tears from the beauty of Helmchen's playing. "He notices things," Alison told me backstage during intermission one night. "The seconds play the bass line and he hears us. He hears us shaping the phrases. Not every soloist does this."

So, like the Knicks when Jeremy Lin has the hot hand, the orchestra feels it could be on a streak. Cellist Bjorn Ranheim met with me before the first rehearsal and confirmed that the last week's successes can carry over into this week. "There's the feeling that everybody is at the top of their game," he said, "everybody's really listening to each other, really playing well together. There's also this sense of anticipation as we're preparing for the world stage that is Carnegie Hall—an attentiveness, an extra-added focus."

American Orchestra Foodies
Foodies Julia Erdmann, soon-to-retire Jenny Lind Jones, and Josh MacCluer at rehearsal. 

The ideal that comes with such anticipation gives over to the real—the real work—when the on-stage call comes. "Is rehearsal over yet?" one staff member moaned. Violinist Jenny Lind Jones is retiring at the end of this season, and I asked her about the fact that this will be her last professional experience at Carnegie Hall. I think she was a bit taken aback—as if this wasn't the topic she wanted to be reminded of before rehearsal. "It's bittersweet," she said. "I've done it for so long. It's going to be kind of strange." She busied herself with some pre-rehearsal preparation and then came back to me. "Fluffy's donuts. I'm going to miss getting the whole-wheat cake donut from Fluffy's [three blocks south of the Hall]. I have one every morning with my coffee when I'm there."

Quatre Instants Score
Kaija Saariaho's Quatre Instants score, complete with stern warning aimed at any musician considering not returning it. 

With a new work on their music stands, Kaija Saariaho's Quatre Instants, and soprano Karita Mattila warming up in the Green Room, many musician's thoughts turned to food. "Soup dumplings at Joe's Shanghai [two blocks east of the Hall]," trumpet player Josh MacCluer told me. "I've been in Asia for a month and I'm still looking forward to the soup dumplings [in New York]." Horn player Julia Erdmann looks forward to the vegan restaurants in New York—we have them in St. Louis, but they are not plentiful in the pork-roast-every-Sunday Midwest.

An orchestra travels on its stomach. And on beauty. By the close of Quatre Instants, with Mattila filling the empty spaces with awesome sound—an otherworldly power, riveting because it is a voice so of this world—the soprano turned to the orchestra and said, "I am so privileged to do this piece with you. I love this piece." The musicians applauded her. She glowed.

Then back to business. "Frances," David Robertson called out to the orchestra's Principal HarpFrances Tietov (below), "I have a rewrite that is physically unplayable for you. I'll bring it over."

Frances Tietov Tie Skirt
At rehearsal, Frances Tietov models a skirt that was made from mens' ties by Associate Principal Double Bass Carolyn White. 

The American Orchestra: St. Louis Symphony
March 10, St. Louis Symphony
Kaija Saariaho: Richard and Barbara Debs Composer's Chair 

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