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Stéphane Denève commits to serve as Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra through the 2025/2026 season

Extension highlights mission-driven collaboration and continued artistic and institutional stability for the nation’s second-oldest orchestra


(March 30, 2021, St. Louis, MO) – Today, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra announced a four-year extension of Stéphane Denève’s contract as Music Director. The extended contract runs through the end of the SLSO’s 2025/2026 season, which will be Denève’s seventh as Music Director. Denève’s initial three-year contract began with the 2019/2020 season following one season as Music Director Designate. His long partnership with the SLSO began in 2003, when he led the SLSO for the first of many engagements as a guest conductor prior to his appointment as Music Director.

The announcement comes as Denève leads the SLSO in the return of live concerts with audiences at Powell Hall, the first since early November 2020.

Steven Finerty, Chair of the SLSO Board of Trustees, said, “Stéphane is the ideal partner for the SLSO. He brings a profound musicianship and a deep understanding to his role, which he infuses with great creativity, good humor, humility, and humanity. Along with President and CEO Marie-Hélène Bernard—with whom he has developed a remarkable partnership—Stéphane has helped hone the SLSO as an artistically excellent, community-minded, and financially responsible organization for years to come.”

Marie-Hélène Bernard, SLSO President and CEO, said, “In the time Stéphane has been Music Director, he has continued to build on the celebrated artistic legacy of the SLSO while advancing the next era of the orchestra. He inspires all of us with his signature joy and warmth, encourages dialogue, emphasizes education, breaks down barriers, and flexes the organization’s creative mettle. As we emerge from this challenging year and look ahead, Stéphane and I are committed to embracing the many learnings afforded to us from our patrons, community partners, and family of artists.”

Stéphane Denève, Music Director of the SLSO, said, “St. Louis is my musical home, and I am truly over the moon to deepen my relationship with this wonderful community in the years to come. Since 2003, I have felt such a special connection to this city, and to the fantastic musicians and staff of the SLSO. I look forward with great enthusiasm to making music—to inspire, to comfort, to challenge, to bring joy—and continuing to develop together with the SLSO, who are not only among the world’s most outstanding musicians, but also generous, warmhearted, and passionate individuals. As we look toward a post-pandemic future together, I am fully committed to listening to and growing with our community. I very much hope to make the SLSO even more diverse, inclusive, and accessible to our local and international audiences and supporters.”

Jonathan Chu and Jennifer Nitchman, Co-Chairs of the SLSO Musicians’ Council, said, “The musicians of the SLSO are thrilled to continue our collaboration with Stéphane Denève with this contract extension. We are inspired and energized by his boundless enthusiasm, optimism, and dedication to connecting with our community through powerful musical performances. It is a true joy to look forward to our future with Stéphane after the difficulties of the past year.”

Appointed the 13th SLSO Music Director in 2017 beginning with the 2019/2020 season, Denève has fully embraced St. Louis’ people, culture, and traditions, including conducting the free Forest Park concert on Art Hill, held each season as a gift to the St. Louis community. Denève has developed deep relationships and a rich collaboration with the entire SLSO family and St. Louis community, a result of his genuine warmth, openness, and superb communication.

In his first two seasons as Music Director, Denève—in close collaboration with President and CEO Marie-Hélène Bernard, artistic leadership, and SLSO musicians—has advanced the SLSO’s mission. Artistically, he draws acclaimed performances from the orchestra and its resident choruses. His deep network has attracted top artists to St. Louis, while his appointment of 10 musicians to the orchestra to date and the selection of Stephanie Childress as the SLSO’s new Assistant Conductor maintains the SLSO’s reputation as a top orchestral destination for musicians internationally.

A remarkably engaged leader on all levels, Denève continues to shape the SLSO’s long history of artistic excellence through exceptional performances that showcase the versatility and virtuosity of the orchestra’s musicians. His inaugural season’s programs juxtaposed the French repertoire for which he is a world-renowned interpreter with the SLSO’s own decades-long commitment to American music. His thoughtful programming reflects the SLSO’s command of repertoire across genre and time through fresh interpretations of core orchestral works and the commitment to elevating voices and music of today. Denève has demonstrated his commitment to new music through the commissioning and introduction of new works to the SLSO repertoire by composers including Anna Clyne, Guillaume Connesson, Stacey Garrop, Nathalie Joachim, Aaron Jay Kernis, James MacMillan, Jessie Montgomery, Kevin Puts, and many other voices of our time. In his first two seasons, he has invited pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and violinist Nicola Benedetti for immersive artist-in-residence relationships with the SLSO and led celebrated collaborations with John Williams. Denève has also introduced a series of plans for opera and symphonic plays in concert, visual and multimedia projects, and a renewed focus on commercial recording activity.

Under Denève’s leadership, the SLSO has focused on making music accessible to all and striving to help all who engage with the SLSO feel a sincere sense of welcome and belonging. In his inaugural season, Denève facilitated the introduction of $15 tickets to classical concerts, lowering the economic barrier to the SLSO. In addition, he launched Stéphane Seats, a program that has to date welcomed more than 230 students, teachers, and community partners to attend his concerts for free. He also oversaw the creation of SLSO Crafted, an innovative concert experience in collaboration with the St. Louis culinary community that welcomed new audiences to Powell Hall. In his second season as Music Director—one which was also defined by the global pandemic—his vision for the expansion of the SLSO’s accessibility via media was realized with the launch of a video streaming initiative using the SLSO’s newly installed high-definition robotic camera system. He conducted the first digital concert, made available for free on the orchestra’s website. Since March 2020, the SLSO has reached more than 3 million people on air and online and around the world.

Denève remains a central partner to the SLSO through the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, engaging with patrons through regular appearances in monthly Lunch & Learn panel discussions, coaching music educators through online workshops, and immersing himself in SLSO outreach events, including SLSO On the Go concerts in the community and performing on piano as part of the Songs of America digital series.

Denève has embraced the full SLSO family. In his inaugural season, he led exceptional performances in collaboration with the St. Louis Symphony Chorus in concerts, including revelatory performances of masterworks including Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2. He is a champion of the St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus, including programming this pioneering ensemble in its first classical season performances in more than 10 years. These upcoming performances will feature an SLSO commission by Grammy-nominated musician Nathalie Joachim. He also regularly nurtures the young musicians of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra in rehearsals and side-by-side performances with the SLSO.

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Eric Dundon

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