Unfinished Symphony

The arrival of a brilliant conductor was drowned out by labor discord. Now the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra begins a new season -- with some strings attached.

"We are not a world-class orchestra any longer," says one wind player, who declined to be identified in print. "David Robertson is an unknown: He could be the savior of this orchestra, or he could be the savior of the members of this orchestra."

Many are also unconvinced that Robertson is on for the long haul. Orchestral circles are rife with rumors that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic aim to woo the maestro away from Powell. "Is David Robertson going to be here in twenty years?" Slaughter asks. "I don't think so. I'll be very happy if we can hang onto him for three or four years."

For the present, though, Robertson promises a season heavily weighted toward modern composers. He has an ardent faith in music's ability to heal past wounds and sees in St. Louis a unique opportunity to return symphonic music to a position of broad cultural relevance.

Chicago Tribune music critic John von Rhein deemed incoming maestro David Robertson "the most gifted of the new generation of American conductors."
Chicago Tribune music critic John von Rhein deemed incoming maestro David Robertson "the most gifted of the new generation of American conductors."

"In the end, we're coming down to the question of what is the place and importance of something artistic in our society. This is a very large question that most of the time is not dealt with at all," the conductor says. "I think that in St. Louis we're going to be looking at that problem in the larger context of music in the community: what it does for people and how it relates to everybody. I think that in St. Louis we're much closer to making that essential case for music -- whatever kind it may be -- than any other institution that I've seen in the U.S."

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