Interview

St. Louis Symphony (Playbill): The Orchestra That Does Things Differently – A Zesty Interview with Leonard Slatkin by Doyle Armbrust

I’ve had the good fortune – and occasional breathtaking misfortune – of interviewing some of the most prominent figures in classical music. So SLSO fans, let me dish you the unvarnished, behind-the-curtain scoop on your Conductor Laureate: He’s a treasure.

Conductors are often the most unpredictable beasts populating the musician phylum, coaxing a genuine response from them – one that doesn’t feel pre-glazed for an eventual donut of a memoir – can be an elusive bit of business.

The truth is, my first interaction with Leonard Slatkin played like one of those cherished, setting-the-world-to-rights conversations that are more at home in a pub than, say, in different time zones by way of a pair of glowing, overpriced rectangles. The maestro is disarming and easy with conversation, resolute in his convictions, and inspiringly curious.

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St. Louis Symphony (Playbill): Happy Birthday, IN UNISON Chorus by Doyle Armbrust

When the world feels chaotic, I find myself often tilting toward cynicism. Then, out of the blue, a pair of conversations revitalizes my hope for the future of music and the future of communities coming together. The St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus is an expected element of the SLSO season by now for you, but take it from an outsider...this is one extraordinary ensemble.

I’ve interviewed Renée Fleming, Arnold Steinhardt, and the like, but the time I spent talking with IN UNISON Chorus director Kevin McBeth and veteran chorus member Harry Moppins has quickly moved into my Top 10 interview experiences as a writer. My most sincere congratulations to the Symphony, IN UNISON Chorus, and you, the audience, during this 25th anniversary season.

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UMS: Hitchhiker's Guide to These United States – Gabriel Kahane by Doyle Armbrust

I find that there are very few romantic notions left these days. That’s not to be cynical, it’s just that I recently read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and it strong-armed me into throwing in the dumpster my large cardboard box of handwritten letters from grade school (up through the advent of the Internet)…and I’m regretting the decision. There is something romantic, though not romantic, about the time and effort that was poured into that correspondence that I’ll probably never find an adequate way to articulate to my son.

You know what is still quite romantic, though? Train travel. My long-term memory isn’t so hot, but I can remember my youth orchestra’s train trip from Chicago to New Orleans like it was yesterday. Sheepishly sauntering into the viewing car only to be dumbstruck by the enormity of our country…and probably a backyard tire fire or two. Alexis de Tocquelville’s got nothing on that memory.

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UMS: Making the Case for Chamber Music – Russian Renaissance by Doyle Armbrust

The Winter Olympics are just around the corner, and although I’m not generally a sports guy, nothing comes between me and my Olympics. It’s the ultimate audition. A competitor has spent years training for a moment that often lasts mere minutes, and most of us can’t help but weep along with them, whether in devastating disappointment or unbridled joy. There’s also something so tidy about it all. We can say with utter certainty that this person was faster or more nimble or more cunning than that person.

Also, who doesn’t love that some of these events seem to be based — like playing the french horn — on a dare. Looking at you, luge.

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UMS: This Is Your Messiah by Doyle Armbrust

What’s your favorite number in Messiah? For me, nothing tops “Since By Man Came Death” (number 46). It levels me every time. Not only is the chorus singing a cappella for the only moment in the entire piece — which is totally harrowing — those suspensions and harmonic shifts have me instantly dabbing at the corners of my eyes whether it’s a world-class ensemble singing, or my aunt’s oncea-week volunteer church choir having at it. There’s something singular, something supremely special about this piece, right?

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