Leisure Features

Dorothy About Town: 11.29.17

Confession: I haven’t spent as much time appreciating live, classical music as I would have liked (although 10 years of being a Suzuki mom certainly counts). So when the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra hosted a media event recently offering a morning behind-the-scenes look at Powell Hall during an open rehearsal, my reaction was a resounding, “Yippee!” Would we get to see the musicians onstage in jeans? (Yes.) Could we eat our bagels and cream cheese during the concert? (No.) How about audience toe-tapping and humming during the performance? (Not so much—get a grip; it’s still the symphony!)

The rehearsal was for a film concert, a program in which the orchestra plays the score live while a movie shows on a gigantic screen. Realistically, I was more likely to white-knuckle my armrest during Jurassic Park than whistle to John Williams’ music. The occasion being celebrated with this event (and many others to come) is the 50-year anniversary of the symphony’s permanent home, Powell Hall. While our renowned SLSO is in its 138th season, it wasn’t until January 1968 that it proudly performed in its forever home. The symphony had purchased the former St. Louis Theatre, a vaudeville and movie house, two years earlier and renovated it into the elegant concert hall we enjoy today.

No matter what I’ve seen and heard there or where I’ve sat, the experience has been, well, dignified. Powell Hall, built in 1925, just may be the last bastion of civilization where cell phones, snacks and plastic wine glasses simply are not permitted. Its ivory and gold walls and regal red seats—spaced for comfort, not maximum ticket sales—encourage audiences to behave. Viewing a movie while the musicians played the score was a thrilling experience—there’s nothing quite like having the tympani boom as raptors come toward you on a 40- foot screen.

This is only the beginning of an exciting celebration for our SLSO. On Jan. 20, it hosts an open house and tour of Powell Hall, free to the public. There will be children’s activities, a live rehearsal of the Youth Orchestra and a lecture by Missouri History Museum historian Andrew Wanko. At night, there will be a screening (without live music) of The Sound of Music, the last movie shown at St. Louis Theatre before it became Powell Hall. And on Jan. 16, the Powell Hall at 50 exhibit opens at the Central Library, 1301 Olive St. A free chamber music concert March 6 at the library concludes the festivities. But, of course, St. Louisans should feel free to keep celebrating on their own. After all, ours is the second oldest symphony orchestra in the country! It has brought much pride and acclaim to our city all this time—not to mention joy to every audience.