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SLSO Music Director Stéphane Denève Begins St. Louis Tenure With 'A Gift To The Community'

Marie-Helene Bernard and Stephane Deneve joined host Sarah Fenske in advance of the SLSO's 140th season.
Emily Woodbury | St. Louis Public Radio

As the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra opens its 140th season this Saturday, its new music director, Stéphane Denève, is calling the season a gift to St. Louis.

“We will try to build an arch of the Franco-American friendship,” said Denève, a native of France. Selections from French composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel are featured as part of the first concert, as is George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”

“[An American in Paris], it was really setting the purpose of showing the influence between two cultures,” Denève said. 

“Throughout the season, I think he’s been very thoughtful of bringing a wide range of music,” explained Marie-Hélène Bernard, president and CEO of the SLSO. “We like to say there’s something for everyone at the St. Louis Symphony and we mean it.”

The SLSO is also attempting to make music more accessible. Symphony leaders used survey data from the last 10 years to inform decisions to allow classical concert goers to take drinks into the hall and to drop ticket prices.

Bernard said they are working to remove the perception that music needs to be expensive. 

“We already had a price structure that was very friendly, but now we’re [allowing people to] see the symphony for the price of a movie ticket,” she said.

In addition to Denève’s role as music director of the SLSO, he holds the same post at the Brussels Philharmonic and is principal guest conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Despite the more than 4,000 mile distance between Brussels and St. Louis, Denève said he’s able to keep in contact with his family.

“I do of course miss them, but thank God for Skype. With iPad and Skype, it's possible to basically spend time together.

“When I come back at 11 o’clock [at night] in my room, it’s 6 o’clock in the morning [in Europe]. They wake up at 6:15 so usually between 11:30 and midnight, I try to be Skyping them and then we have breakfast together,” he said. “They put the iPad where I usually sit and we speak about the day and it’s possible to continue to be very in touch.”

Denève said his family will visit St. Louis soon.

“I can’t wait to show them all the great assets of this city, the zoo, of course, and the Missouri Botanical Garden and the museums, the Pulitzer, the Art Museum; I can’t wait to show them,” he said.

Broadcasts of the SLSO on St. Louis Public Radio will continue for a 10th year.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Alexis Moore. The engineer is Aaron Doerr and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.