The nation’s second-oldest orchestra, the SLSO traces its roots to 1880 with the founding of the St. Louis Choral Society by Joseph Otten, recognized as the SLSO’s first Music Director. The St. Louis Symphony Society was formed ten years later when, in the spring of 1890, the St. Louis Choral Society absorbed the St. Louis Musical Union, a small symphonic group that was organized in 1881 by August Waldauer. Upon consolidation of these two groups, the name of the Choral Society was changed to St. Louis Choral-Symphony Society. In 1907, when Max Zach assumed the leadership of the orchestra, it became known as the St. Louis Symphony Society. Shortly after this change, musicians were first hired for a 20-week regular season.
The SLSO has performed in five buildings since its founding in 1880: the first concerts took place in the Mercantile Library Hall; the St. Louis Grand Exposition Hall, at Olive and Thirteenth Streets, was its second home; near the turn of the century, the Odeon at Grand and Finney; and in 1934 the orchestra moved to Kiel Auditorium. In 1968, it moved to its first permanent home, Powell Hall in Grand Center, the current home of the orchestra.
Over its 140-year-plus history, the SLSO has had 13 Music Directors. They include Joseph Otten (1880-1894), Alfred Ernst (1894-1907), Max Zach (1907-1921), Rudolph Ganz (1921-1927), Vladimir Golschmann (1931-1958), Eduard van Remoortel (1958-1962), Eleazar de Carvalho (1963-1968), Walter Susskind (1968-1975), Jerzy Semkow (1975-1979), Leonard Slatkin (1979-1996), Hans Vonk (1996-2002), David Robertson (2005-2018), and Stéphane Denève (2019-present). (www.slso.org)
Jan Walter Susskind (1 May 1913 – 25 March 1980) was a Czech-born British conductor, teacher and pianist. He began his career in his native Prague, and fled to Britain when Germany invaded the city in 1939. He worked for substantial periods in Australia, Canada and the United States, as a conductor and teacher.
Süsskind was born in Prague. His father was a Viennese music critic and his Czech mother was a piano teacher. At the State Conservatorium he studied under the composer Josef Suk, the son-in-law of Dvořák. He later studied conducting under George Szell, and became Szell’s assistant at the German Opera, Prague, making his conducting debut there with La traviata; early in his career, he was often known as H. W. Süsskind (H for Hans or Hanuš).
Susskind was conducting a concert in Amsterdam in March 1939 when Germany occupied Czechoslovakia, and his mother advised him not to return home. (She was later interned in Theresienstadt but survived the war). With the help of a British journalist and consular officials, he arrived in Britain as a refugee. He formed the Czech Trio, a chamber ensemble in which he was the pianist. Encouraged by Jan Masaryk, the Czech ambassador in London, the trio obtained many engagements.
In 1942 Susskind joined the Carl Rosa Opera Company as a conductor, working with singers such as Heddle Nash and Joan Hammond, and married (1943-1953) the British cellist Eleanor Catherine Warren. In 1944 he made his first recording for Walter Legge of EMI, conducting Liu’s arias from Turandot with Hammond.
After the war, Susskind became a naturalised British citizen, and though he spent much of his subsequent career outside Britain, he said he would never dream of giving up his British citizenship.
Susskind’s first appointment as musical director was to the Scottish Orchestra, where he served from 1946 to 1952. He and his wife divorced in 1953. From 1953 to 1955 he was the conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (then known as the Victorian Symphony Orchestra). After free-lancing in Israel and South America he was appointed to head the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) from 1956 to 1965.
In 1960 he founded the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. While with the TSO he taught conducting at The Royal Conservatory of Music where among his pupils were Milton Barnes and Rudy Toth.
From 1968 to 1975 he was conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with which he made more than 200 recordings. During his seven-year tenure with St. Louis, he taught across the Mississippi River at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He was also closely involved with the Mississippi River Festival, an annually recurring outdoors crossover concert series organised by the local university.
Susskind served as artistic advisor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1978 until his death in 1980.
On May 3, 1971, Susskind returned to the New York City Opera to conduct Leoš Janáček’s Makropulos Case.
Susskind died in Berkeley, California, at the age of 66. His personal archives document his career as a conductor, piano accompanist and avant-garde composer. The BBC Radio 3 program Music Matters broadcast 29 Jan. 2022 an interview with Susskind’s widow Janis, in the process of transferring these materials to the Exilarte Centre, University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna. (wikipedia)
Má vlast (Czech pronunciation: [maː vlast], meaning “My homeland” in the Czech language) is a set of six symphonic poems composed between 1874 and 1879 by the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana. While it is often presented as a single work in six movements and – with the exception of Vltava – is almost always recorded that way, the six pieces were conceived as individual works. They had their own separate premieres between 1875 and 1880; the premiere of the complete set took place on 5 November 1882 in Žofín Palace, Prague, under Adolf Čech, who had also conducted two of the individual premieres.
In these works Smetana combined the symphonic poem form pioneered by Franz Liszt with the ideals of nationalistic music which were current in the late nineteenth century. Each poem depicts some aspect of the countryside, history, or legends of Bohemia. (wikipedia)
More about this masterpiece: here.
Originally issued by Vox/Turnabout in 1975, this performance by Walter Susskind of Bedrich Smetana’s set of descriptive tone poems has remained a favorite recording of many listeners for over thirty-five years. It’s nice to hear it so lovingly remastered by Mo-Fi.
Smetana completed Ma Vlast, “My Country,” in 1874 and dedicated it to the city of Prague. The work is, as most of you know, made up of six interrelated symphonic pictures, the first four, “Vysehrad,” “Vltava” (“The Moldau”), “Sarka,” and “From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields,” describing the sights and sounds of Smetana’s native Czechoslovakia, while the last two, “Tabor” and “Blanik,” celebrate famous military victories in Czech history. Incidentally, the composer requested that “Tabor” and “Blanik” never be played separately; that is, never without the other. Anyway, the complete cycle displays a varied number of moods and actions that have delighted audiences for as long as it’s been around.
Maestro Susskind’s way with the work is elegant and refined, much as we might find a Marriner or a Mackerras approaching the score. Not that the interpretation lacks energy or excitement–it would be hard to deny the music its due, no matter who was conducting it–but it does seem to lack an essential intensity that several other favorite conductors demonstrate.
Among the recordings I compared are the totally committed one with Rafael Kubelik and the Czech Philharmonic on Supraphon, the involving account with Paavo Berglund and the Dresden State Orchestra on EMI Seraphim, the period-instruments version by Roger Norrington and the London Classical Players on Virgin, the stylish production with Vaclav Neumann and the Leipzig Gewandhaus on Berlin Classics, the winning rendition with Libor Pesek and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic on Virgin, and the wholly involving interpretation with Antal Dorati and the Concertgebouw on Newton Classics. By comparison, Susskind seems a tad lax, content to let the music set its own course, certainly not a bad idea. In any case, Susskind is best in the surging currents of “The Moldau” and the sweeping hills and valleys of the “Bohemia” section. Then again, the two rather bombastic concluding poems have never impressed me as much, so Susskind may not be at fault for not offering them up in a more rousing manner.
The sound, originally made, as I said, by Vox in the mid 70’s, as remastered by Mobile Fidelity on this hybrid SACD issue is ultrasmooth, ultraclean, and uncommonly widespread, even on the stereo layer to which I listened, but by comparison again to the recordings mentioned above, it’s also a tad too warm and soft. Interestingly, it’s the Berglund and Dorati recordings I found sonically superior on my system (VMPS RM40s)–more detailed, transparent, and dynamic than the rest. And the Berglund, at budget price, is also the cheapest of the bunch I auditioned. But for those listeners who have always cherished the Susskind reading, it has undoubtedly never sounded so good. (JJP, classicalcandor.blogspot.com)
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Walter Susskind
01. 1 Vyšehrad 14.34
02. Vltava (The Moldau) 12.10
03. Šárka 9.55
04. Z Český Luhův A Hájů (From Bohemias Woods And Fields) 12.02
05. Tábor 12.45
06. Blanik 14.29
Compose by Bedřich Smetana
The official website: