The Musical Journey

One of the plans during our joint sabbatical is to hear as many orchestras as possible. From October through November we anticipate hearing about 15 youth, university, community and professional orchestras. Our trip from Salt Lake City to northern Michigan began on October 3rd. Those drives are for the most part long and boring. Approaching Denver and their mile-high road construction and heavy traffic, quickly altered our calm demeanors, however.

Dinner in Denver-Robert Stephenson, Alex George and Lisa Byrnes

Robert Stephenson, Alex George and Lisa Byrnes

We were fortunate enough to have dinner with Alex George, an old family friend and manager of Colorado’s top youth orchestra. It’s a busy group that takes tours to Europe on a regular basis. Dinner was great!

We heard the Colorado Symphony play three works at Boettcher Concert Hall. The hall includes seating to the side and behind the orchestra. It was an opening night for their new season and Gil Shaham was their soloist.

Our seats in row 4 put us close to the cellos. Andrew Litton, the orchestra’s music director, was on the podium. The men in the orchestra wore one color, black. It seems like they need more contrast. (Perhaps a white shirt?) The hall, unfortunately, was only half full. The orchestra opened with Cindy McTee’s exciting “Timepiece”. The orchestra played with a lot of energy and color. Litton kept the momentum forward from start to finish. The Utah Symphony should look to program this work!

The Brahms Violin Concerto completed the first half. Gil Shaham was in fine form and the orchestra played some beautiful accompaniment under Litton’s direction. Long-time principal oboist, Peter Cooper, sounded truly special both in the solos here and throughout the evening. Microphones were scattered throughout the stage and may have influenced where Shaham stood, which was between the first and second violins at the left front corner of the podium. Because of our location, our view and the sound from Shaham was blocked by Mr. Litton’s wide coattails. We found seats in the first tier for the second half.

Boettcher Hall - Colorado Symphony

Boettcher Concert Hall, Denver

The Colorado Symphony played Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 for the second half. The collective sound of the orchestra was very good! Litton’s enthusiasm had him airborne at times and for the most part, his orchestra responded well. His atypical tempo pullbacks in the first movement were very dramatic and the brass and percussion sections rose to the occasion. The audience was very receptive and the applause was well sustained.

We were up early to begin the drive to Kansas City and had a great visit with Stephanie Cathcart and she and husband Brian’s new baby, George. George and Stephanie look great and they have a terrific house in Kansas City, not too far from the orchestra’s new hall. The orchestra was not working this Saturday night, so we’ll try and hear them on the trip back to Utah (we noticed, however, on the Kansas City Symphony website an ad for the hall’s businesses that read, “Concert Listings: Bars open at 5:00″. We told each other, “We’re not in Utah anymore.”).

Lisa Byrnes, George and Stephanie Cathcart

Lisa with George and Stephanie Cathcart

We later met Matt Rombaum for a sushi dinner. Matt plays viola in the Kansas City Symphony with Stephanie and knows Brant Bayless from their early days in Oklahoma. Matt is passionate about music and his energy level is off the charts! It was fun.

Former USO Bassist Larry Rice with Bob

Former USO Bassist Larry Rice with Bob

The scenery in Kansas and Missouri became increasingly green the further east you go and the gas got cheaper, as well. We had some great barbecue at Bandana’s near St. Louis and then made it to beautiful Powell Symphony Hall in time for an excellent pre-concert lecture before the 3:00 Sunday afternoon concert. There were probably 200 people listening to Amy Kaiser’s lecture. She sang, showed pictures of Brahms, Brahms’ mother and played sections from the Requiem. Incorporating photos, excerpts from musical scores, and playing musical highlights is a good idea.

Pre-concert lecture, St. Louis

Pre-concert lecture, St. Louis

We sat on the lower floor for the first half and the first tier for the second half, as we had in Denver. The lobby has pictures of all the players in the orchestra and down certain hallways are photos of the many famous soloists who have played in St. Louis.

Lisa bought a CD of Mark Sparks, the orchestra’s principal flute and one of its stars. The program featured two works by Brahms, “Four Preludes and Serious Songs” and “The German Requiem”. Markus Stenz conducted and did so without out a baton. The first half featured Bass-baritone, Patrick Carfizzi. He had a strong, rich voice that was enhanced by a pronounced dramatic flair. The orchestra had a real richness in sound and ensemble was first class.

Looking at St. Louis Symphony musicians' photos

St. Louis Symphony musicians’ photos

For the Requiem, we noticed former Utah Symphony Tubist, Michael Sanders, on stage along with others we know. The Requiem was very exciting and we could see and hear why the St. Louis Symphony has such a long, distinguished history.

Courtesy of Lissa Stolz, we met up with Jelena Dirks, the brilliant new Principal Oboist with St. Louis, her husband Aaron Sherman and just-retired-from-the-Chicago-Symphony-Violist, Karen Dirks. We had a fabulous meal at a nearby Italian restaurant and got to see Jelena and Aaron’s new home. Like the concert, it was amazing. Jelena told us that Krispy Kreme sponsors a Friday morning concert for school children in St. Louis. The children and musicians get free donuts! We should try that in Utah!

Dinner with Principal Oboe Jelena Dirks, husband Aaron & mom Karen Dirks, violist with the Chicago Symphony

Aaron Dirks, Karen Dirks (violist with the Chicago Symphony) and Jelena Dirks (Principal Oboe, St. Louis Symphony) with Robert and Lisa

After hearing just a couple of orchestras, we decided this was going to be a very good idea!

For now, thanks to all the players back in Utah for holding down the fort. More to come.

Lisa Byrnes and Robert Stephenson