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SLSO’s Performance of “Carmina Burana” was Stimulating at Stifel Theatre

The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra performs Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” at Stifel Theatre. Photo by Virginia Harold.

–by Randy Thompson

–photos by Virginia Harold


It was a cold evening outside, but warm and welcoming inside the beautiful Stifel Theatre where it is both visually stimulating, and acoustically amazing, for the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra’s February 17th performance of “Carmina Burana”.

Music director Stephane Deneve greeted the audience by thanking us all for being present tonight despite the cold and the heavy traffic that was due to the Blues game. He told us that we “made the right choice to come here, because the symphony always wins”. This bit of lighthearted humor was met with appreciative laughter from the crowd. This seemed like a great way to start an evening that was to bring us a roller coaster ride of emotion.

The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra performs Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” at Stifel Theatre. Photo by Virginia Harold.

The opening segment was “Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britton” that was written by Arvo Part. It starts as a lament due to the composer having struggled with the loss of a musical mentor (Britton), as had Deneve, who related a similar loss of a beloved mentor in his life, (Seiji Ozawa). Deneve shared that this experience had connected him to this piece.

The composition starts as a slow, reverential ode and the single chime evoked, at times, the sound of a repeating church bell. This started serenely as a meditation on life and loss. As the bell continued to toll, the strings began to rise up together, increasing in intensity, note building ominously upon note, with deep tones and layers of sound that at times became frenetic, unrelenting, and intense, leaving us with a sense of uneasiness until the music began to soften and transition into an ethereal and comforting atmosphere of emotional acceptance by the end.

The second piece, “Icarus”, was written by Lera Auerbach. The piece started at an urgent pace with a sense of optimism running through it. Yet, below the surface was a sense of serene melancholy. As the music flowed on, the horns increased their presence and intensity, bringing a sense of imminent danger flowing directly within the piece. It is at this point in the story that Icarus is flying dangerously close to the Sun and his wings begin to melt, sending him hurtling dramatically back to Earth in order to meet his demise. The music seemed to invoke a sense of frantically spinning and swirling notes We could feel his descent increasing as the orchestra slammed into a crescendo and then softened as he spiraled downward. The theremin (an electronic instrument that is rarely experienced by listeners on the orchestral stage) was then introduced to the curious audience. This strange device provided a haunting depth as the music spiraled into softness and the last notes emanated from the rim of a glass.

The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra performs Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” at Stifel Theatre. Photo by Virginia Harold.

The last piece prior to the intermission was “Liebestod” from Tristan Und Isolde composed by Richard Wagner. It is an intensely romantic and flowery piece that epitomizes that particular style of romantic composition. This is a well-known piece that was written in 1859, and exuded a pure sense of romance, love, and death that is also the recurring theme running throughout the entire performance this evening.

The second half of the concert was the presentation of “Carmina Burana”. This well-known piece was composed by Carl Orff.  The orchestra was now joined on stage by the St. Louis symphony chorus and the St. Louis children’s choirs, along with the three talented soloists –  soprano Ying Fang, tenor Sonnyboy Dladla and baritone Thomas Lehman.

The piece, “O Fortuna” begins with the recognizable, pounding, repetitive, rhythms that continue to intensify as the music moves along and hits you like a wall of sound. It is a powerful piece that is well known for being used in film to heighten emotions. As the piece progresses it is broken into several, smaller pieces, also well known, that comment upon different emotions such as happiness, loss, lust and the human experience in general.

The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra performs Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” at Stifel Theatre. Photo by Virginia Harold.

The soloists each stepped up at various times to sing their individual pieces, each of them evoking a power in their voices that powerfully reflected the deep emotion of the lyrics.  And thankfully, those lyrics were projected above the stage for us to follow along with the chorus/choirs, as the original words are in Latin form.

As the show ended, the audience demonstrated great appreciation by having an extended standing ovation of at least 10 minutes. Each section of the orchestra, the choirs, and singers were given special recognition. It was an amazing performance that evoked intense emotions of the joys of life well lived and the sorrow of life passing away through time.  It was a moving experience we’d highly recommend to anyone. We certainly did win at the Stifel with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.


One thought on “SLSO’s Performance of “Carmina Burana” was Stimulating at Stifel Theatre

  • Thomas Lehman

    Just wanted to thank you for your kind review and I am thrilled that you and audience enjoyed the show! I am absolutely in love with the classical music scene of St. Louis!!


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