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Q&A with Fred Bronstein of the St. Louis Symphony - Ladue News: Arts & Entertainment

Q&A with Fred Bronstein of the St. Louis Symphony

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Posted: Thursday, October 27, 2011 11:02 am

Who would have guessed that video game music and Vivaldi would one day vie for space on the Powell Hall stage? With a focus on a variety of concerts, from classical to popular music, the St. Louis Symphony’s 2011-2012 season has something for everyone. Symphony president/ CEO Fred Bronstein took a few minutes to tell Ladue News what audiences can look forward to this year.

LN: The Symphony’s opening weekend featured three of Stravinsky’s ballets – how did that set the tone for the new season?

FB: The response to it was very positive, and you rarely get to hear those three pieces (Petrushka, Les Noces and The Rite of Spring) together. It also was the start of one of our themes for the season—dance—which we have interspersed throughout the year, including Ravel’s Bolero over Thanksgiving, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in February.

LN: What are some performances that you’re personally looking forward to?

FB: I think Rachmaninoff’s three piano concertos, which we will conclude the season with as a mini-festival, will be wonderful. Stephen Hough, the British pianist, will play those pieces fabulously well. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, with violinist Jennifer Koh, is an audience favorite, so I’m excited for that, as well.

LN: How does the Live at Powell Hall series add to the variety of the season’s concerts?

FB: The events really are designed to showcase the orchestra in a different way and bring in a different kind of audience. For example, over Halloween weekend we have Phantom of the Opera, where we will show the original Lon Chaney silent film with the orchestra playing the score. It works particularly well in Powell because the hall used to be a movie theater. Because of these shows, we’ve been able to bring in 22,000 new ticket buyers in the last few years.

LN: One of the Live at Powell Hall concerts features music from the Final Fantasy video game series. How do two seemingly contrasting things—the symphony and video games—work well together?

FB: If you think about video game music that has been written in the last 20 to 30 years, a lot of it is quite sophisticated and interesting. It’s the same way in which film music became an art form in itself. Once you add the visual component and have the orchestra play the music live, the program becomes very entertaining.

LN: How do you maintain a balance in the season with the wide range of performances scheduled?

FB:We have to work hard at it. The idea is to grow our audience, and we’ve made significant progress at that: During the last three years, our attendance has increased about 17 percent, and ticket sales have risen 36 percent. You continue that by presenting a broad, diverse array of programming. Part of the idea is to really make Powell a destination for all kinds of music. It takes the better part of the year to plan a season because getting the right mix is so important.

LN: For those who have never attended the Symphony, what can they expect if they go to a concert?

FB: They’re going to hear a wonderful performance from a top-flight orchestra. But there’s also this notion of coming to Powell and not leaving the same way you came in. It’s a special, transformative experience— whether you’re coming to hear Beethoven or Ben Folds.

LN: Speaking of Ben Folds, his November concert already is sold out.

FB: He has a very strong, loyal following, and when those tickets went on sale, they started to go very quickly. It’s a great show to present, with him playing with the orchestra. He’s an interesting, eclectic artist.

LN: Are there any concerts on the schedule that may fly under the radar, but shouldn’t be missed?

FB: One example is Daphnis and Chloe by Ravel. It’s not something that you’d look at, unless you’re familiar with Ravel, but it’s a great piece that is fantastically colorful and shows off the orchestra so beautifully.

LN: The Youth Orchestra also will get a chance to perform throughout the season— how do they stand out from other youth ensembles around the country?

FB: Currently, our regular orchestra has six members who came through the youth orchestra, which is remarkable because we audition people from around the country and the world, so the chances that you’re going to have a homegrown person aren’t very high. It just shows how strong the youth orchestra is and how it creates a special opportunity for the kids.

LN: What’s the goal for this season?

FB:We want to play great concerts and continue to build the audience. We have some ambitious goals as far as ticket sales and attendance, and we want to continue our progress in that area. And as a nonprofit, we have to raise money so we can keep the concerts affordable and support our community and education programs. We have about 250 free events, and that’s a part of having a committed and constant presence, not only at the Hall, but throughout the community.

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