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St. Louis Symphony Extends Music Director Stéphane Denève's Contract Into 2026

Stéphane Denève leading a rehearsal for this weekend's season-opening concerts at Powell Hall.  [9/20/19]
File photo/Chad Davis
St. Louis Public Radio
Stéphane Denève leads St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in a rehearsal in 2019 for his first Powell Hall concert as music director. The season would later be interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Stéphane Denève will remain St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s music director until at least 2026.

The orchestra announced Tuesday that it will add a four-year extension to Denève’s contract, which was due to end next year. He began his tenure as music director in the fall of 2019.

“It’s very logical for me to continue to deepen my relationship with the musicians. We always understand each other more, and they are an outstanding, world-class group of musicians,” Denève said. “I already see the benefit of working with them regularly, even if we had a little gap this year.”

An orchestra spokesperson declined to disclose Denève’s salary. During the last year of his tenure, previous music director David Robertson drew a $1 million salary.

Denève is a gregarious presence onstage and off, chatting with well-wishers around town and often addressing audiences from the podium. He is known to grab a microphone and speak to Powell Hall audiences about the piece of music the orchestra is about to perform. Though SLSO has expanded its online offerings during the coronavirus pandemic, Denève said he misses this type of informal exchange with audience members.

“I’m so happy with my connection to the community, but indeed this year was quite different from what it should have been,” he said. “We tried to adapt our music in many different ways, but it was different.”

The French conductor’s term as music director began with a flourish — the orchestra’s annual free performance in Forest Park, followed by a Powell Hall concert titled “Bienvenue Stéphane” — and the stated desire to forge a “Franco-American arch” during a season that was scheduled to feature several French artists.

But the organization’s new leader was unable to complete a full season at the helm before the coronavirus pandemic forced St. Louis Symphony Orchestra to begin postponing concerts in March 2020.

The ensemble began performing again in late June for a video project called “Songs of America,” playing compositions by U.S. composers at different sites around St. Louis. It followed this with “SLSO On The Go,” a series of 45-minute chamber performances for small audiences outdoors.

The orchestra welcomed audiences back into Powell Hall in October for a series of performances with a modified format: smaller ensembles onstage, no intermission and strictly limited audience sizes. The organization’s leaders hoped to continue performing but declined to schedule more events in the face of steeply rising coronavirus case numbers in the region.

SLSO began a series of spring concerts at Powell Hall last week, with similar protocols in place.

The organization also purchased robotic HD cameras and other equipment during this irregular season and began making complete orchestra performances available to view online in February. In March, the orchestra provided a live webstream of a concert for the first time.

“We realized that the world is changing and we need to also change our projects, Denève said. “It made me feel that we need to work even more on connecting to the whole community, into making the SLSO even more accessible. We will very much concentrate on that in the future years.”

Denève is the 13th music director in the history of SLSO. Before he arrived, Robertson held the job for 13 years.

President and CEO Marie-Hélène Bernard said in a statement that Denève has been an invigorating presence in the organization.

“He inspires all of us with his signature joy and warmth, encourages dialogue, emphasizes education, breaks down barriers, and flexes the organization’s creative mettle,” she said.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

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