Sunday, July 6, 2008

Ms. Brew Dog and Maestro David

Yesterday I chiselled a few hours out of a sunny Saturday to write a feature for the Playbill magazine published by the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. The assignment was to cover the Symphony’s “A to Z” lecture series. It came from Eddie Silva, an old colleague from The Riverfront Times, back when it was a genuinely alternative, locally owned St. Louis weekly newspaper. A person who looked a lot like Eddie also used to purchase bootlegged white whiskey from a guy who looked a lot like me who used to run it up from the Mississippi hill country, but I am sure that has nothing to do with any lingering affection between Eddie Silva and myself.

The original assignment was to cover an “A to Z” program conducted by Symphony music director David Robertson, one of my dearest cultural heroes in any medium or any town, but one of these whacked apocalyptic storms we have been having lately winked that event out. The next program in the series was devoted to opera, with a bill split between Allison Felter of Opera Theatre St. Louis and a locally based, world-traveling soprano named Christine Brewer.

Not even Eddie Silva would be persuaded that I know much about opera, but all a reporter really needs to know is how to pay attention and ask good questions. I am also a born enthusiast, who is easily swept away by evidence of human goodness, ingenuity or intelligence. I completely grooved on Allison Felter, how much she knew about the history of opera in St. Louis (it was first performed here above a beer cellar, located near what is now the insurgent Downtown arts district along Washington Avenue) and how well she connected with the mostly older white opera junkies who turned up for the program at Maryville University (near that ominous white Baptist college where they teach God knows what).

And, then, Christine Brewer! I just adore real people. Real people who are also eminently accomplished and touched by genius would be my very, very favorite kind of person, and Ms. Brewdog (as her email address has her) is evidently just that sort of soul. She travels the world singing with the major talents in her art form and performing in the most important and hallowed rooms, but she has no need to lord that over anyone else or do the stupid diva thing. She talked about how she rented an apartment in Paris for two months last winter during an extended engagement. She always makes it a habit to shop at the same grocery store and cleaners in any city where she is a repeat or extended visitor, and she develops little personal relationships within these inevitable market exchanges. She said a friend who stayed with her in Paris last winter was surprised to see the soprano ask someone at a Parisian grocery check-out if her daughter had come home yet, and get in return a detailed response that Ms. Brew Dog was able to follow and follow up upon. “I make a community wherever I am,” she explained to her puzzled friend.

I like that very, very, very much. In my years as a penniless, not very talented, not anywhere near almost famous indie rocker, I also always went local. I am especially proud to remember all the towns where the local music scene circulated to me the rumor that I had moved there, since locals saw so much of me in the unexpected nooks and uncharted taverns.

Ms. Brew Dog also said that my boy David Robertson lets her bring groups of elementary students she mentors into closed rehearsals when she performs with the Symphony. I tear up at shit like that (that’s “tear up,” rhymes with “beer up,” not “tear up” as in go berzerk and trash the place, like some 21st century storm).

This doesn’t surprise me about Maestro David. I put the touch on him last year for a gift when I organized an experiential auction to benefit my arts org Poetry Scores. Through his assistant, David consented to donating the experience of being his guest at a Symphony rehearsal and discussing it with him personally. As I recall, this experience was purchased by Laura Slay, one of the mayor’s many cousins (the one Slay cousin I actually like.)

Now, I am debating hitting Ms. Brew Dog up for an experience that Poetry Scores can auction off this year (I think we are on for Sunday, September 21 at Atomic Cowboy). A private voice lesson would be the obvious thing to ask for. I’m thinking about it. Or maybe she can smuggle someone into a rehearsal for Verdi’s Requiem, which she is performing with Maestro David and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, February 13 and 14 of next year? Hey, that’s a requiem for Valentine’s Day! I love these guys!

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