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Powell Hall renovation has St. Louis Symphony Orchestra on the road this season

A photo of Stéphane Denève, the music director of St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Both his hands are raised, and he holds a conductor's baton, as he directs the orchestra.
Dilip Vishwanat
Stéphane Denève, music director of St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra begins its 144th season this week with one big change — the orchestra is not performing in Powell Hall. For the first time since Powell Hall became the SLSO’s permanent home in 1968, the musicians will not perform a season in the Grand Center venue. They'll return in 2025.

Powell Hall is undergoing a $100 million renovation and expansion. The changes will double the size of the building and will include a new entrance lobby, backstage area for musicians and spaces for education programs. The move will also reduce the number of seats by about 500, to 2,150.

“Powell Hall is considered one of the finest concert halls in the country, and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is definitely one of the leading American orchestras,” said SLSO President and CEO Marie-Hélène Bernard.

The Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Stifel Theatre are the primary venues this season. Playing in different spaces is a challenge for which the SLSO is well-prepared. The orchestra completed a four-country European tour earlier this year.

“My goal is to really allow the very special warm American sound of the SLSO to be heard, and in different acoustics,” explained Music Director Stéphane Denève. “We really welcome people to hear all the variety of music. There will be film, there will be new music that will be classical music, romantic music, there will be educational programs. I mean, everything we do usually in Powell Hall [will] be on display in all the different halls.”

Among the musical highlights of the season will be works performed by living composers. Of the 18 new pieces entering the orchestra’s repertoire, that’s true of nine of them.

“There is a lot of great music being written today,” Denève said. “The artform, the symphonic world, is very alive, and I want to show to people some love I have for some composers and some new pieces.”

Among those is a piece to be performed Sept. 29-30 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center by Unsuk Chin. Following Beethoven’s “Coriolan Overture,” without interruption, will be Chin’s “subito con forza.” “It’s inspired by Beethoven and offers a kind of dialogue between his style and her style of today,” Denève explained.

Concerning Beethoven, the season will also feature the performance of all of the German composer’s piano concertos. Denève said he’s excited about those because they’re all different and specifically demonstrate the development of Beethoven throughout his life.

Other highlights of the 2023-24 season include a co-commission by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Julia Wolfe and a collaboration with the Big Muddy Dance Company that features a newly orchestrated work by Adam Schoenberg and choreography by Kirven Douthit-Boyd. In May, cellist Yo-Yo Ma will make his first SLSO appearance in more than a decade.

The SLSO’s season has its ceremonial opening Thursday evening with a free concert in Forest Park. St. Louis Public Radio’s partnership with the orchestra continues as 13 of the season’s concerts at the Touhill Performing Arts Center will broadcast from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

To hear more about the 144th season from the SLSO’s Marie-Hélène Bernard and Stéphane Denève, listen St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast by clicking the play button below.

Listen to Marie-Hélène Bernard and Stéphane Denève on "St. Louis on the Air"

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 produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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