Q&A with St. Louis Symphony

On November 6, 2013 |
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Few conductors clearly enjoy their work as much as does Nicholas McGegan. The elfin Baroque specialist doesn’t return to lead the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra often enough, but it’s always guaranteed to be a concert well worth hearing when he does. His lone concert this season is a program built around Western classical music that takes on non-Western musical styles, by Haydn, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Carl Maria von Weber and Mozart.

What’s the focus of this concert? It has a sort of exotic theme of “East meets West.” There’s music “Alla turca,” with Turkish percussion. The Rameau is called “The gallant Indian,” with “The Dance of the Great Peace Pipe.”

Where did Rameau get his ideas? One of the things that’s quite fun about all this is that none of these composers actually experienced any of it first hand. It’s all sort of imaginary exotica. It’s not as though they’d been on a trip to Istanbul, or that Rameau spent time with the Huron Indians. The French thought the Huron were Noble Savages, uncorrupted by Western civilization, who could not possibly deceive — unlike French politicians.

The soloist is American violinist Stefan Jackiw, making his SLSO debut. He’s one of those talented violinists who come along once or twice every generation. I admire the hell out of him. He’s wonderful and great fun to work with.