Bloggers Night with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra

November 18, 2008 at 2:10 am | Posted in Chris Maue, comics, Concert | 10 Comments
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Last night was Blogger’s Night at Powell Hall, and I found myself among the esteemed guests. I asked my friend, and music review blogger, Patrick Vacek, to come with, which lead to interesting results. As one that doesn’t particularly frequent the symphony, I was worried that Patrick and I (emphasis on the I) would stick out like the unwashed hipster bums that we are.

So when Pat and I showed up, under dressed, and just as excited about the prospect of free drinks as seeing the performance, we hadn’t considered exactly who the regular attendees of the symphony are – old eccentrics & academic bums. One of my favorite moments was when an older woman sitting next to me turned and cheerfully asked if Pat and I were college professors, and why we were taking notes. After explaining to her that we wrote for a blog, and having her ask me “what is ablog? ” Patrick and I felt like some sort of undercover agents from the culture wars, in the den of high class, until later that night when a crazy old man jokingly berated us about how scandalous the performance that night had been. Afterward, we went out for drinks down the street with other bloggers, and it hit us that we actually had a niche, and a culture we fit into – that people on the other side of the screen actually exist, and blogging isn’t all just shouting into the aether. I’ve posted a comic about it here. All in all, it was a pretty awesome night.

— Concert review —

When I initially heard about bloggers night at Powell Hall, it was in connection with the SLSO Guitar Festival, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – unwashed nerds lining up for something like Metallica’s S&M? Well dressed journalists coming out to see an orchestra composed entirely of Fender Telecasters, Gibson hollow bodies, and Flying V’s? A pit full of violinists wailing on power chords? I mean, what is a symphony guitar festival? Dare I hope, a rock opera? It turns out the answer wasn’t anything that cool.

The first song – Mark-Anthony Turnage’s A Prayer Out of Stillness – was the guitar – related piece of the evening.

The song had four movements, and featured a cello Bass/electric bass soloist, in front of the string section – the wind instruments, and some percussion (including piano) were conspicuously absent.  The song began with the strings playing tense chords, while the soloist quietly plinked around by himself, seemingly playing a different song, unaware of the orchestra behind him, and not caring if anyone heard.  This went on for a while, until something unexpected happened.

Everything went dead quiet, and the orchestra paused while an electric bass was brought out, and exchanged for the cello Bass.

The question I kept asking myself after that point was, if every other rock band ever can handle  a roadie walking up and trading guitars with a performer, often mid-song, why does the symphony have to stop everything while someone hands them a bass?   If that wasn’t enough to take my attention out of the performance, they repeated this ritual 3 more times, between every movement – a habit which really sealed shut what was a strangely arranged, and uninteresting piece.

If the constant stop – and – switches weren’t enough, the second movement made the bass part seem even less connected to what the rest of the orchestra was playing, culminating in the third movement, where both cello bass and electric bass soloed while the rest of the orchestra just took a break.

The fourth movement tied everything back together, but not in a tension – and – relief sort of way… it seemed more like the composer hadn’t figured out what they wanted to do until the fourth movement.  Not in a coherent way, anyhow.

The second song – Steven Mackey’s Beautiful Passing –   was much more interesting, with a violin soloist front and center for the entire piece, making things very interesting.  Not only was the soloist incredibly talented, but the wild way that she jerked around, like a woman possessed, as she played, made violin seem dangerous and sexy.

The third song – Stravinsky’s The Right of Spring – was amazing.  The song was epic in a way that one expects an intense orchestral piece to be, full of polyphonic tension and resolution, highs and lows that make your mind wander so scenes of beauty and violence.  The music was accompanied occasionally by words projected behind the orchestra, describing youths frolicking in a field, until holy men come and sacrifice a young woman to the god of spring.

The thing that struck me the most about this last piece, was that my mind kept wandering to things like Loony Tunes, and Star Wars.  Maybe I’m just a pop culture junkie raised on cartoons and fantasy, but when I hear classical music, these are the things that come to mind.

All in all, the concert was pretty awesome, and although the first song left me thinking dreading the next two, and thinking that the composers had a screw loose and didn’t know what they were doing, the second two performances were awesome and well worth the price of an actual ticket.

Although according to SLSO’s resident blogger, Eddie Silva, the symphony offers 50 free tickets for every performance, all you have to do is show up early and ask for ’em.    I guess I’ll be going back sooner than later.


As noted by user bassplayerKat, John Patitucci was playing a BASS. not a CELLO.  As one with limited knowledge of orchestral instruments, I didn’t really know the difference.  Corrections have been made.



  1. […] I read it here. […]

  2. One correction: John Patitucci was playing a BASS. not a CELLO.

  3. Ha ha, Patitucci. Awesome.

  4. thanks for the review and comic. at the slso you could hear eddie and i bust out laughing while reading the comic – especially the “rafting down knob creek” line. we are also fighting over who is the “you must be bloggers” guy in the comic and are hoping that neither of us actually said that…


  5. Ha, nice review. I agree with you, that first piece was poorly arranged and while Patittuci was amazing on bass, he didn’t really fit well in this piece.

    My only criticism here is that as one of those unwashed hipster elites who took a few years off to study composition and in music school, I’m mildly annoyed by the persistent reference to each piece as a “song”. You should change that before someone throws a hipster fit. A “piece” is proper musical nomenclature, you can also be more specific with reference to the form like “concerto” “symphony” etc. In music criticism a “song” is almost always in reference to something with lyrics, sung by a single voice, and written in a popular idiom usually abiding by some conventional formula (verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus, etc)… which is I guess why it’s irritating. When you say “song” it makes me think of Led Zeppelin or Britney Spears.

    I’ll also assure you that you are not alone at the symphony. While the overwhelming majority may consist of dime-a-dozen church going college sopranos, the ever-present over-dramtic theater major, and elderly regulars who’d much prefer their dead composers to the inappropriate and disturbing rhythmic eccentricity and atonal harmonics of living composers… on the rare occasion (made less rare under Robertson) that the formerly decrepit SLSO would chose to do a program with two living composers and not a single piece of “Classical” music, the crowd was sprinkled with plenty of young hip minds (including locals like the Royale’s Steve Smith) who likely wouldn’t be present in the full-house of uninspiring exurban community college students and stuffy old republicans you’d see during a performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Beethoven’s 5th.

    Anyway, great review you smelly unwashed hipster nerds.

  6. Hey, I enjoyed talking with you and Patrick after the symphony at the Gastropub (a name that curiously does not make me want to eat anything). Although, your olives did look lovely. Nice piece.

    Jen @ Euclid Records

  7. hmmm, this sounds familiar…

  8. I hate you, Matt. Just kidding. I love you.

    Chris, did I not predict the “song” vs. “piece”/”work” issue? It never ceases to amuse me, but I respect it regardless.

    Dale, to settle your mind, I don’t think anyone actually said that line, but I think Eddie approached us first. Or actually, I think you were just a step behind him. Anyway: thanks again. That was a really fun evening.

  9. Nice to read your post about the Bloggers Night extravaganza @ SLSO. Do you think you might return for John Adams’ “El Nino”? That’s a pretty huge 20th/21st century work, and may never happen again in St. Louis. Just some friendly encouragement :) .

  10. Hey there! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could find a captcha plugin
    for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m
    having difficulty finding one? Thanks a lot!

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