A chance to hear St. Louis Symphony’s New Year’s Eve surprise

David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony in a concert at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa earlier this year.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

It has been a number of years since the members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic pulled New Year’s Eve duty, and none of them seem to be complaining about having the likes of Pink Martini, or this year, Sergio Mendes, take over at Walt Disney Concert Hall for the evening. Most orchestra musicians find a light-hearted holiday celebration a thankless chore when they’d rather be celebrating themselves.

But the St. Louis Symphony does it differently, with music director David Robertson having turned New Year’s Eve into a surprise party for the last seven years. The audience arrives with no idea of what to expect or from whom to expect it. Soloists, along with everything else, are top secret.

Last year, St. Louis Public Radio began broadcasting and streaming the surprise shenanigans, and even the announcers don’t know all the details. In fact, orchestra members usually are in for a few unexpected pieces of sheet music on their music stands as well.

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What is known is that Robertson has an irrepressible wacky side and that he is a terrific mimic. Describing him as “wound up tighter than an eight-day clock,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch music critic Sarah Bryan Miller wrote that for the 2011 program, “Robertson treated the audience to an excellent Garrison Keillor impersonation, a Russian accent and attitude, and an exhibition of ballet positions that included rolling a cigarette.”


Then there was the time when he programmed Malcolm Arnold’s rarely heard, for obvious reasons, “A Grand, Grand Overture” for three vacuum cleaners, one floor polisher, four rifles and orchestra.

The eighth annual show begins at 7 p.m. Central Standard Time, which means you can click here at 5 on the West Coast to get in the mood for the rest of the night. The only bummer is that St. Louis Public Radio reserves its lowest bandwidth for classical music.


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