‘Piano Extravaganza’ opens 560 Music Center

Acclaimed conductor Leonard Slatkin — music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., and conductor laureate of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra — will return to St. Louis as guest conductor for Washington University’s “Piano Extravaganza” at 7 p.m. Oct. 28.

Presented by the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences, “Piano Extravaganza” will mark the formal opening of the University’s newly renovated 560 Music Center, located at 560 Trinity Ave. in University City.

John Stewart, director of vocal activities and concert choir in the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences, works with a student vocalist in one of the new teaching studios at the 560 Music Center. The building formally opens Oct. 28 with a special concert.

Situated at the western end of the Delmar Loop, less than a mile from the Danforth Campus, the 560 Music Center provides performing arts groups with additional — and much needed — performance, rehearsal and teaching facilities.

“Washington University has a phenomenal student body with an extraordinary amount of talent and energy,” said Charlie Robin, executive director of Edison Theatre, who also handles booking for the music center’s E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall. “The problem has always been managing that creativity and excitement in the venues that we’ve had available.

“The 560 Music Center alleviates such strains while also giving the University a major presence in the heart of University City’s vibrant cultural district. It’s a tremendous opportunity, both for campus groups and as a way for us to reach out and work with the larger community,” Robin said.

The two-story, 45,000-square-foot structure was built as a synagogue in 1929 and served as home to the Community Music School beginning in 1974. In 2001, the school joined with Webster University and in 2006 moved into new facilities on the Webster campus.

WUSTL acquired the property from Webster in 2005. Renovations, which began last spring, include the creation of four ensemble rehearsal rooms as well as seven individual practice modules and 25 teaching studios, the latter of which are designed to accommodate the nearly 500 students currently taking applied musical instruction. (Academic classes in composition, musicology, music theory and other subjects remain on the Danforth Campus.)

Work also included refurbishments to the Music Center’s small recital hall and 1,115-seat E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall (now the University’s largest performance venue). The center also includes a 200-seat theatre. Other updates include the creation of administrative offices; new student and faculty/staff lounges; a conference/reading room; and a satellite Edison Theatre box office.

“The rehearsal spaces are state-of-the-art, and there are more of them, which dramatically improves our scheduling and flexibility,” said Dolores Pesce, Ph.D., professor of musicology and chair of the music department in Arts & Sciences. “Though the music department is the primary occupant, the music center is available to student groups and other departments for events and concerts. Outside organizations may also rent our performance spaces.

“The 560 Music Center should significantly enhance the University’s cultural life while bringing us even closer to our neighbors in the Delmar Loop,” Pesce said.

The concert that opens the center will feature performances by more than a dozen student, faculty and alumni pianists, including Seth Carlin, professor of music in Arts & Sciences, and Hugh Macdonald, Ph.D., the Avis H. Blewett Professor of Music in Arts & Sciences. Slatkin, who will begin his tenure as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 2008, will conduct.

“Leonard Slatkin is a wonderful conductor and one of the preeminent figures in American music,” said Pesce. “We are extremely pleased to welcome him back to St. Louis for this special concert, which will feature 10 pianos onstage in the Music Center’s E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall. It is sure to be an enjoyable evening.”

The program will open with Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” followed by Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Concerto for Four Keyboards” and an original composition, “All Hands on Dec” by Martin Kennedy, Ph.D., assistant professor of music in Arts & Sciences, which was commissioned for the concert.

“‘All Hands on Dec’ presented me with a wonderful opportunity to compose for 10 pianists, 20 hands, 100 fingers, 880 keys and 2,280 strings in all,” Kennedy said. “The sonic possibilities available with such an ensemble include antiphonal sonorities, sympathetic vibrations and virtuosic passages that would be impossible for a single pianist to perform. As a pianist myself, I found it exhilarating to work on a piece where I could exploit writ large the many qualities of my instrument.”

The program continues with Franz von Suppé’s “Poet and Peasant Overture”; Movements I and IV from Edvard Grieg’s “Peer Gynt, Suite No. 1”; “Valse and Romance” by Sergei Rachmaninoff; and “L’embarquement pour Cythère” by Francis Poulenc. John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes” will conclude the concert.

General admission tickets are $25 and $10 for WUSTL students. Reserved tickets, including admissions to a post-concert reception for Slatkin, are $100. Proceeds will be used to purchase new pianos. For more information or to order tickets, call the Edison Theatre Box Office at 935-6543.