Unique modern compositions highlight the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s concert for the Assembly Series

SLSO concert features sounds of whales and train whistles

Two modern American masterpieces will be offered by the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Monday, February 4, at May Auditorium in Simon Hall on the Washington University Danforth campus. The concert is free and open to the public.

Both are considered ground-breaking works in contemporary music by composers who are at the forefront of experimental American music.

Vox balaenae (Voice of the Whale)

Composer George Crumb creates hauntingly beautiful and uniquely theatric pieces. His “Vox balaenae,” also known as Voice of the Whale, has been called a work of mystical Impressionism. Written in 1971 and scored for amplified flute, amplified cello, and amplified piano, the piece conjures up the world of the humpback whale in the deep seas. The musicians use their instruments to create the sounds of an underwater world. To enhance the theatrical nature of the piece, Crumb directs the performers to wear black half-masks under deep blue stage lighting.

“Vox balaenae” will be performed by Andrea Kaplan on flute; Melissa Brooks-Rubright on cello and Martin Kennedy, assistant professor of music in Arts & Sciences, on piano.

Different Trains

Before sampling became a staple of hip hop and rap artists, it was used in this pioneering piece by the renowned composer Steve Reich. This work of “astonishing originality … possessing an absolutely harrowing emotional impact,” according to The New York Times, landed Reich a Grammy Award in 1989 for best contemporary composition.

“Different Trains” weaves recorded speech with train sounds and music to evoke the experiences of two separate train rides during World War II, one which captures the romantic feeling of Reich as a boy traveling by train across America, and one that captures a far different feeling — that of Holocaust victims being transported to death camps.

“Different Trains” will be performed by Joo Kim and Asako Kuboki on violin; Bryan Florence on viola and David Kim on cello.

SLSO Music Director David Robertson, who gave an energetic and enlightening talk for the Assembly Series in 2006, will introduce the musicians. Last November, Robertson and the Symphony made an appearance at Carnegie Hall to rave reviews.

After their New York performance, Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times wrote: “To find one of the smartest, most exciting conductors in the land, head to St. Louis and spend some time with its symphony’s ebullient leader, David Robertson.”

For more information, visit the Web site at assemblyseries.wustl.edu.