Held in their beautiful English Tudor home on the edge of Forest Park, Susan and Bill Piper welcomed 30 guests last month to an exclusive preview of the St. Louis Symphony’s opening weekend, a Stravinsky celebration.
Built in 1927 by a local architect, Marcel Boulicault, the Pipers are just the second owners of the home. Although they expanded the house in 2001, most of the historical touches remain, from the diamond-paned windows with stained-glass English coat of arms medallions to the pointed arch doorways. A striking carved wooden door led guests into the entryway, where a curved staircase with wrought-iron railing grabbed their attention.
The intimate gathering, one of the Symphony’s ‘Parties of Note’ fundraisers, offered attendees an opportunity to learn more about three of Igor Stravinsky’s most famous works: Petrushka, Les Noces and The Rite of Spring, from Symphony chorus director Amy Kaiser. Susan Piper, a graphic designer, created several displays throughout the home, providing visuals and information about each of the pieces, which were composed for the Ballets Russes. “I have a ballet background, so I know a tiny bit about the ballet side of the works,” she says. “It’s nice to learn about them from the composer end, with Amy.”
Guests mingled throughout the home, enjoying wine and hors d’oeuvres from The Wine Merchant and Straubs before heading into the spacious, wood-beamed living room for Kaiser’s talk as the late-summer light filled the space. Using anecdotes and examples, Kaiser captivated her audience and drew them into the Russian composer’s world of music and dance. “The three pieces are all different, but they work fantastically together, with the melody and energy in the music,” Kaiser explains. “It’s very complicated to put on, and there’s no other orchestra in the country that would do this program.”
Laughter that sparked from Kaiser’s lively descriptions turned into respectful silence when she mixed history with new technology by playing excerpts of Stravinsky’s work on an iPod. Even more impressive were the examples Kaiser played on the Pipers’ Steinway baby grand. The piano, a 16th birthday gift to Bill’s mother in 1931, endured a fire several years ago and provided an excellent conduit for the thrilling music that was later heard in Powell Hall. “We enjoy being able to support the symphony,” Piper exclaims. “The piano doesn’t get used as much as it should, so it’s nice to be able to have someone of amazing talent play it for people who can really appreciate the music.”