St. Louis welcomes Fred Bronstein

St. Louis’s gain is Dallas’s loss. Big time loss! Some St. Louisans with great judgment and fine persuasive powers spirited Fred Bronstein away from that Texas town to become the president and executive director of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Bronstein served as president and CEO of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra from July 2002 through February 2008, and during that period he worked miracles like balancing the budget for four years in a row and increasing the annual fundraising. Most remarkable to me (because this has been a subject of discussion for years at the SLSO) is the fact that under his leadership the endowment assets grew from $70 million in 2002 to more than $120 million today.

It is expected that Fred Bronstein will move his magic to St. Louis and that our already outstanding orchestra will thrive under his leadership. Although he has been here only a short time, he is already a big fan of our city. “There are many good things about this city which has so much to offer. It reminds me of my home town, Boston. The people are so gracious and friendly and interesting, and I am sure that my wife and I will enjoy living here,” Bronstein told me.

Both Bronstein and David Robertson, our much-beloved and super talented music director, are on the same page when it comes to the major issue of building audiences. They are both passionate about this being a top priority and they will focus on it. This requires different programming and different approaches to appeal to a broader audience while not neglecting the great standard symphonic repertoire. Right now, for example, the SLSO is in the midst of its new early summer Casual Classics series. On this Sunday, June 22 at 3 p.m. at Powell Symphony Hall the orchestra will present An Afternoon in Vienna featuring waltzes and polkas by Johann Strauss and Franz Lehar with soprano Maureen McKay. The following week, June 29 at 3 p.m. the final Casual Classic program is called An American Celebration, a pre-July 4th concert with music by a variety of American composers like Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Leroy Anderson. I am told that Powell Hall will be in summer dress and that you might expect to be served lemonade and ice cream. Incidentally, Fred told me that 30% of those attending this series had not previously heard the SLSO. Tickets, very reasonably priced, are available at or at the Box Office, 314-534-1700.

Let’s look now at some innovative programming for the 2008-09 season. On Sept. 19 and 20 at a Special Concert Event the orchestra and symphony chorus will present Mark Huber’s The Lord of the Rings Symphony enhanced by projected illustrations and storyboards. During the season there will be several Classical Detours, Friday night programs at 6:30 p.m. with pre-concert happy hours followed by a one-hour musical tour led by the SLSO to places far and near. Wonderful way to miss the rush hour traffic! Family Concerts on Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m. will feature fabulous works for kids like Peter and the Wolf. During the year, the Saint Louis Symphony Chorus under the direction of Amy Kaiser, will perform in six concerts starting in September with The Lord of the Rings followed by works by Handel, John Adams, Verdi, Berlioz and Beethoven.

The Orchestral Series is awesome starting with the opening concerts on Sept. 26 and 27 when pianist Yefim Bronfman will play the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto and the orchestra performs Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. John Adam’s Guide to Strange Places launches the season. Among the season’s soloists will be pianists Emanuel Ax, Peter Serkin and SLSO’s First Lady, Orli Shaham; violist Pinchas Zukerman; St. Louis’ sweetheart, soprano Christine Brewer; and a lot of lesser-known names who nonetheless are outstanding musicians. The season closes with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Let me tell you a bit more about Fred Bronstein. Boston-born, he received his bachelor of music from Boston University, master of music from the Manhattan School of Music and a doctor of musical arts degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Subsequently he co-founded and performed as pianist in Aequalis, a nationally- known touring chamber ensemble. Prior to his stint in Dallas, Bronstein was president and CEO of the Omaha Symphony and before that he was a management fellow with the then-American Symphony Orchestra League.

Bronstein is described by his associates as “approachable, energetic and innovative”. My sense of him is that he will create a feeling of excitement about the SLSO, and that he will make Powell Symphony Hall the place to be.

Welcome to St. Louis, Fred. Those of us who are passionate about the SLSO will be happy to help you reach your goal here.