Meet St. Louis’s New Symphony Orchestra Music Director and See His Seasonal Selections

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s new music director-designate, Stéphane Denève, arrived in the Gateway City to open the symphony’s new season in September. As the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s 13th music director, he’s leading the second-oldest orchestra in the United States. It’s been more than a decade since a change in the group’s directorship occurred.

The orchestra’s 2019-2020 season marks its 140th year.

Stéphane is a French citizen internationally recognized for the exceptional quality of his performances and programming with the world’s greatest soloists.

“I fell in love with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra when I first conducted here in 2003. After all these years of our partnership, I’m still quite taken by the unique musical spirit of this wondrous institution. I am overjoyed to begin my tenure as music director—to collaborate with this exceptional orchestra, to serve its remarkable community, and to ensure our music is even more accessible to all,” says Stéphane.

Stéphane is also music director of the Brussels Philharmonic, principal guest conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra, and director of the Centre for Future Orchestral Repertoire. He previously served as chief conductor of Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra and music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

He has a special affinity for the music of his native France and is a passionate advocate for the music of the 21st century.

Recent engagements include appearances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Orchestra Sinfonica dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Vienna Symphony, DSO Berlin, NHK Symphony, Munich Philharmonic, Orchestre National de France, Czech Philharmonic and Rotterdam Philharmonic. In North America, he made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2012 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with whom he has appeared several times both in Boston and at Tanglewood. He regularly conducts The Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and Toronto Symphony. He is also a popular guest at many of the US summer music festivals, including Bravo! Vail, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Hollywood Bowl, Blossom Music Festival, Festival Napa Valley, Grand Teton Music Festival and Music Academy of the West.

His close collaborator and celebrated pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet joins the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra as the Jean-Paul and Isabelle Montupet Artist-in-Residence. Jean-Yves performed with the orchestra in September and will join Stéphane for two more programs—one each in January and May. 

Live radio broadcasts of all Saturday classical concerts on St. Louis Public Radio will continue for a 10th season. Night at the Symphony on the Nine Network continues for its fifth season.

Stéphane is slated to direct the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra for at least three seasons. 

To get into this year’s holiday spirit, Stéphane personally recommends the following seven musical selections:

01/Holiday Music Recommendation 

The Nutcracker – Tchaikovsky

“When I hear this music, it captures the dreaminess of the Christmas spirit. You have this feeling of coziness and of a fairy tale under the bed covers. I love it. The Nutcracker is a piece I can hardly remember hearing at another time of year.”

02/Holiday Music Recommendation 

Hansel and Gretel – Engelbert Humperdinck

“It’s not about Christmas, actually. But when I hear the overture or the pantomime of Hansel and Gretel, I just have this feeling that I’m marveling at a fairy tale.”

03/Holiday Music Recommendation 

Une Cantate de Noël (A Christmas Cantata) – Arthur Honegger

“This piece is a real discovery. It is too rarely performed, unfortunately. At the end of the piece, Honegger uses a children’s choir singing carols from Christmas. It has a fervor that I think is very touching.”

04/Holiday Music Recommendation 

Petit Papa Noël – Tino Rossi

“When I was a child, there was this song, ‘Petit Papa Noël,’ sung by Tino Rossi. He was a singer from Corsica. He had a high tenor voice, super sweet, and it was a way too cheesy song. But it is the song of Christmas in France.”

05/Holiday Music Recommendation 

The Magic Flute – Mozart

“It’s a time when you just want to go back to childhood. It’s a time when you want to feel that you’re part of a family. The Magic Flute gives me that feeling.”

06/Holiday Music Recommendation 

Sleigh Ride – Leroy Anderson

“This song, for me, sounds like a great department store decorated for the holidays. In Paris, I used to love visiting the Galeries Lafayette at Christmas, which was a store decorated with magnificent lights and animation. People would come from all over France to see this.”

07/Holiday Music Recommendation 

La bohème, Act II – Puccini

“The second act of the opera where the characters are in Café Momus is really an extraordinary depiction of Christmas time. I can smell the roasted chestnuts that they sell on the streets of Paris when I hear this.”