Music News & Reviews

St. Louis Symphony concertmaster to perform with Tates Creek alum Nathan Cole


St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concertmaster David Halen is pulling double duty in a couple of ways with his visit to the Lexington Philharmonic.

In a performance of Antonin Vivaldi's The Four Seasons on Friday, Halen will be the violin soloist and conductor, and he is also performing with Nathan Cole, who grew up in Lexington, on J.S. Bach's Concerto for Two Violins. Rounding out the concert will be Daniel Kellogg's Mozart's Hymn with guest conductor Kelly Kuo.

That's a spot of work for a guest soloist, a job that usually involves coming in to be featured on one work and that's it. But Halen loves his work and makes light of the volume.

"The nice thing about the Baroque era is that it supersedes the conductor," Halen says. "The music is designed to be done without a conductor, and because there's so much rhythmic activity, it's easier to stay together.

"So, when I'm playing, I'm not conducting. When they say play and conduct, it just means I may conduct every so often just to get things started. But it pretty much plays itself."

Halen, who helps lead similar Baroque programs in St. Louis, says this type of concert is good for an orchestra because it gives the musicians a bit more ownership of their performance.

And who wouldn't want to own The Four Seasons?

Halen says a large part of the Seasons' appeal is the programmatic nature of the piece instrumentally interpreting each season.

"Almost every passage in the score is specific to something, whether it's people falling as ice is breaking or raindrops outside, or a barking dog or a sleeping shepherd," Halen says. "... Ironically, when we listen to it, 90 percent of the time we aren't even hearing that because the music stands on its own, magnificently."

The Four Seasons is such a pleasure to play, Halen says, that it usually feels like a quarter of its actual 40-minute running time.

Halen has been concertmaster of the St. Louis Symphony since 1995 and will be paired with the new associate concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra when he performs with Cole.

"That is such a dream job for violinists around the world," Halen says of Cole, a Tates Creek High School alum. "He's a lovely musician and great artist. Lexington has someone they should be very proud of.

"The sign of a great artist and particularly a great concert master is there is a certain musical quality to every note, there's a sense of confidence in their gesture, and yet at the same time to remain flexible. As a concertmaster, that's very necessary because the musical leadership on the podium changes frequently, and our job as concertmasters is to facilitate and make those wishes a reality."

Of course, when they play, there will be no one on the podium; it will be up to Halen and Cole to lead the ensemble together. But hearing Halen talk about it, it does not sound like work.

"Every time you hear it," he says of the Bach concerto, "you don't want it to end."