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Cut & Paste: New St. Louis Symphony Music Director Stéphane Denève Gets To Know St. Louis

Stéphane Denève works with orchestra members during a rehearsal at Powell Hall. [9/26/19]
Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio
Stéphane Denève works with orchestra members during a rehearsal at Powell Hall.";

When Stéphane Denève was a 10-year-old child growing up in a small town in the north of France, he heard something he liked.

A nun liked to play the pipe organ in the chapel at his Catholic school, and Deneve would hide there to listen.

“I thought the sound of the organ was extraordinary,” he said in an interview at his office in Powell Hall. “I was enchanted.” 

Fortunately for classical music lovers in St. Louis, the nun found little Denève hiding there and suggested he take piano lessons. 

Decades later, after a journey that has allowed him travel around the world as an orchestra conductor, Denève is newly installed as St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s music director. He is only the 13th person to hold the job in the organization’s 139-year history.

Denève, 47, is a friendly and talkative presence at the conductor’s podium. He frequently describes to the audience what attracts him to the piece of music he’s about to lead. He said his cheerful nature is rooted in a sense that, if it were not for music, he would still be in a small town working in construction — as three generations of Denèves did before him.

“I’m very happy to be alive. The fact is, I have the feeling that this life I have is a permanent bonus,” Denève said.

He first performed with the St. Louis Symphony in 2003. This is his first posting as an orchestra music director in the U.S. He also leads Brussels Philharmonic in Belgium and is the principal guest conductor at the Philadelphia Symphony. In the past, he’s been music director for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and chief conductor for Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. 

In this episode of Cut & Paste, the conductor talks about his upbringing, getting to know St. Louis and his desire to have a partnership with audiences. 

“My main concern is to share with, always, more people the good news that music is. So I really want to be very accessible in many ways,” he said. “I want, as well, to speak with people and get to know them, and that they are getting to know me. And they really feel that I am very open to them, and I want to make music not only for them, but with them, really. It’s an exchange.”

Cut & Paste logo current summer 2018

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Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.