St. Louis Symphony's intrepid program is pure David Robertson

11.18.08
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Tribune

You know you're attending a David Robertson concert when the only "standard" work on the bill is Edgard Varese's 1925-27 "Arcana." Such was the bracing program of 21st and late-20th Century music the music director presented with his excellent St. Louis Symphony Orchestra on Sunday at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

New works by Steven Mackey and Chicago Symphony resident composer Mark-Anthony Turnage combined elements of popular music-rock in the case of Mackey, jazz in the case of Turnage-with classical compositional techniques.

The most substantial of these turned out to be Mackey's "Beautiful Passing" (2008). A violin concerto in all but name, the piece initially treats the soloist and orchestra as musical opposites-the one luminous, the other raucous and mechanical-before arriving at a sort-of consensus at the end.

The violin finds ravishing quiet places amid mass hysteria. The score is beautifully tailored to the astonishing inner virtuosity of Leila Josefowicz, who played her part from memory.

Turnage's "A Prayer Out of Stillness" (2007) showcased the multitalented jazz artist John Patitucci, who delivered riffs serene and sizzling on both the double bass and electric bass guitar.

A movement from a symphony-in-progress by Glenn Branca was all sound and fury, signifying little. Ali N. Askin's arrangement of Frank Zappa's wonderfully twitchy "G-spot Tornado" segued into the brilliant brutality of Varese, whom the young Zappa idolized.