Something Special In St. Louis Part 2

Part 1 left off with the promise of examining how the musicians from 14 American orchestras performed a grand concert to thank the St. Louis community for their support over the recent months.  The best way to fully understand just how much of an impact this concert had, you will need to hear from the musicians.

In Their Own Words

Nicolae Bica, Violinist, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (pictured right in the blue tie)
Q. How do you feel after having played the concert compared to beforehand?
A. Exhausted and really happy that it happened.  I’m blown away at what we were able to do in just one rehearsal.  I thought it was interesting how we were adjusting to each other throughout the rehearsal and it made the concert great.

Q. Was it everything you thought it was going to be?
A. For me, yes.  But I would love to know what the audience members thought and what they walked away with.

Ilya Finkelshteyn, Principal Cello, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (pictured left, wearing the red sweater)

Q. What sort of feelings did you have coming to this concert and how do you feel now after playing the rehearsal with your old orchestra?
A. It was something that I just had to do and it felt like I was home again.


Tage Larsen, Trumpet, Chicago Symphony Orchestra (pictured right, top row, second from the left)
Q.  What made you want to come down from Chicago and be a part of this?
A. I played here from 2000-2002 so I wanted to show my support for my former SLSO colleague Susan Slaughter (pictured to Tage’s left) and the entire orchestra here.

Q. How did it feel coming back?
A.  The spirit shared among my colleagues makes it a very special place; it’s an honor to be back.  I look forward to every opportunity I’ve had to come back and spend time with everybody here; it’s been a wonderful, wonderful time.

Q. Did you have any expectations about what the concert would be like?
A. I knew it was going to be emotional and there was going to be a lot of excitement with everyone coming in from a number of orchestras.

Q. Did everything end up like you thought it would?
A. Oh yes, it was amazing. It was just fantastic to work with everybody, see everyone, and have the opportunity to play great music in a great place like St. Louis.  I think the impact of this concert will remain with me for a long, long time.
John Koen, Cello, Philadelphia Orchestra (pictured left in the white shirt)
Q. Did you have any expectations about what this was going to be like when you arrived?
A. We had a big strike of our own in 1996 that lasted nine weeks and when something like that it over there’s a lot of resentment and bad feelings while the musicians just want to get back to playing concerts.

I think part of the reason I wanted to visit and participate, as I’m sure many of us came, was because I wanted to help my colleagues get back on the right track and play music so they can forget about some of the hurt feelings they’ve had.  I was really looking forward to everything this morning.  You have to play warhorse material that we can all do in one rehearsal and I found myself wondering what it was going to be like. In the end it was a lot of fun.  After a big strike like this, you need as much support as you can get and I’m glad I could be a part of it.
Steve Lange, Assistant Principal Trombone, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (pictured right, far left)
Q. What sort of impact do you think that concert had?
A. I think the impact from the concert will never be forgotten.  The concert itself was almost indescribable in words hearing the music itself painted the picture perfectly. This was the first time musicians have come from other orchestras to show their support for us in this fashion.  If this happens again in another orchestra, you can certainly bet I’ll be there in support.

To me, this was really a moving experience; everyone played fabulously, but the point was that everyone came from far and wide to be a part of this.  We really do have something special in St. Louis, and I believe this experience showed us what kind of team we are.
David sheets, Double Bass, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (pictured left, front row, third stand)
Q. Why did you want to participate in this concert?
A. St. Louis has one of the best attitudes of an orchestra to play in, there isn’t an ego; it’s down to earth but they still play at a very high level.  My season here with the orchestra really taught me a lot.

Q. Did you have any expectations coming into the concert?
A. I really didn’t but I knew it was going to be good.  After going through the concert I now know that if I did have any expectations this experience would have met and exceeded them.  Overall it was a great time and this performance of Nimrod was one of the most passionate I’ve ever played.  You could tell everyone was really happy to be playing together.

I’ve never experienced anything like this before, the last time I had a feeling which was something like this was when I played during my college days; everybody was really gung-ho and listened.  It’s been a long time since I had a feeling like that; I wish it happened more often.
Brian Rood, Trumpet, Kansas City Symphony (pictured right, top row, far right)
Q. Why did you come to be a part of this concert?
A. One of the most important things we can do as musicians in ICSOM is show support and solidarity for each other in times of difficulty.

To do what we love doing the most and have the opportunity to show our communities that we are one with them and engaged with them; that is what music making is all about.

Amy Oshiro, Violin, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (pictured left, in the light colored top)
Q. Did you have any expectations about the concert?
A. Oh yeah, I felt that there was going to be a really great show of support.  I was really hoping that it would be a strong message to our community that the St. Louis Symphony was recognized as important enough of an institution for all these colleagues to come out and show their support.

These musicians are coming from all over, they didn’t just drive a few hours, and they had to fly or drive a long distance so it’s a major effort these people to put out because they wanted to, voluntarily.  I was so emotional I was a little overwhelmed and grateful at such a great show of support and such a wonderful concert.

Q. What was unique about this experience?
A. I’ve been emotional at concerts before but it was so nice to know that all of these people were coming for us and, in a way; it even felt like they were coming for me.

Q. Do you think the orchestra will be able to carry on these feelings and this momentum?
A. I don’t know, we have to get past the events of these past months and that’s hard, especially for me, personally.  I’m sorry to say that I do have a more cynical viewpoint now than I did three months ago but I do know that people won’t forget this evening and the tremendous gesture of goodwill from everyone who was here.
Michael Sanders, Tuba, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (pictured right, top row, second from the right)
Q. What sort of expectations did you have coming into the concert?
A. I’ve worked with Mr. Zander before during one of his seminar/lectures and when I heard that he was going to do this I had great expectations because I know how he can explain what we do.  I was absolutely thrilled today with the message that was sent and I feel lucky to have been a part of it.

It would have been real easy to just crash at home with my family but it was just a wonderful experience.  To play all of this wonderful music that had such a powerful message, and the Nimrod performance reached me on a spiritual level.  Having my good friend and tuba colleague, Tony Kniffen (pictured above, sitting to Michael’s right) come over from Indianapolis was very special and I was happy we had him here today.

I think all of this just goes to prove what kind of people we are to come together and share an experience like this and have all of the great players from the other orchestras join in.  It feels like we made music history today.

Q. Do you think this is something the SLSO will be able to perpetuate?
A. Yes, I think so.  A lot of people say we’re like a family here and I think this experience has made us even closer.
Barbara Liberman, Principal Keyboard, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (pictured left, standing behind piano)
Q. What are your feelings about this concert and all of the musicians coming in from other orchestras?
A. I’m so excited because ever since I started playing with orchestras in 1968 I’ve wondered what it would be like to have so many extra players from other orchestras come here to play.  I’m also thrilled about the spirituality of it, that music ties us together and this is a chance to experience that.

If you’re a musician in our orchestra what I’ve found during this period of dispute is that even though we didn’t have a stage the orchestra was still a symphony through our words. Somebody would make a suggestion and others would pick up on it and start to develop it into something bigger.  Even without our instruments or a stage we still communicated and sounded together, which to me is so thrilling.  This concert is the culmination of sounding together, so for me this is just great.

Felicia Foland, Bassoon, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (pictured right, sitting to the right)
Q. How did you feel before and after the concert?
A. I felt the concert created an adjustment that helped to soften us to the place that instrumentalists need to be in to reach the audience in the making of music. The teamwork with the visiting musicians was fantastic, and the event helped us all be together in a healing way. The making of music in these conditions provided a kind of alchemy that has opened the door to our future as an orchestra.”

I feel as if we have closed the last chapter of a book. There may still be an epilogue. Never the less, it will only satisfy us having gone through this chapter, as it were, if it opens to another book. This concert has helped me to move ahead.

Benjamin Zander, Music Director, Boston Philharmonic Orchestra
Q. Why did you select Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet and Shostakovich’s symphony No. 5?
A. Tchaikovsky suffered deeply and desperately in his life as a homosexual person in a society that wouldn’t accept it and as such suffered agonizing alienation.  He poured all of that into his music and asked us to suffer with him.

As for Shostakovich, he was unable to speak freely in a society that wouldn’t allow it.  It was too dangerous; he had his suitcase packed and ready by the door in case the secret police arrived to carry him away.  When he wrote this piece he poured his heart and soul into it.

Q. How did you find your way here, to conduct this concert?
A. A former student of mine wrote a very passionate letter to me and asked if I would participate and there’s no way I could refuse for this good of a reason.

Do you see that priest over there (he gestured to Dr. Carl L. Schenck, Manchester United Methodist Church senior pastor)?  He comes up before this congregation every week to tell the people about God and to reach people with a spiritual connection.  We’re all here to do the same thing with music.

St. Louis deserves to hear from this orchestra and all the great people who have come from around the country.  This is really unbelievable and unique, it’s never happened before.

I was struck by the sheer variety of passion and intensity displayed by each musician I spoke with.  Some players, such as violinist Nicolae Bica, were full of so much excited energy they could hardly slow down enough to get all of the words out.  Others, like cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn, emanated a soft spoken demeanor but his words were wrapped with intense passion.

Regardless of how each musician showed their feelings, each of them shared a sense of release, and intense delight that they were all playing together again.  However, behind some of the smiles you could still see various shades of cold grey emotion, the result of the darkness from the past several weeks.

It will take time for those wounds to heal, but with the right leadership and mutual support it’s something which lies within their grasp.

During the concert, Maestro Zander mentioned to the audience that he wasn’t really only a conductor at all but he was also a healer,

“The best review I ever got was not from a music critic, but from my father. He was 94 years old at the time and completely blind. He attended a Master Class I gave in London and sat there in his wheelchair for about three hours. When it was over, I went to speak with him. He lifted up his finger in his characteristic way and said, “I see that you are actually a member of the healing profession.” It seemed to me the highest accolade.”

And that’s really the lesson to be learned with this experience, isn’t it?

Postscript: I’d like to take a moment to offer my heartfelt and sincere thanks to two individuals who were kind enough to offer an invitation to experience this meaningful event I couldn’t refuse; SLSO bassoonist Felicia Foland and musician and SLSO supporter Kati Guerra.  They care deeply about their orchestra, community, and all that is classical music.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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