Young Missouri Composer's Work to Be Performed by St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

Composer Stephanie Berg always dabbled in music composition as a side hobby, but it wasn’t until she was a student at University of Missouri-Columbia that she found she had a knack for it. “It all happened rather quickly,” Berg says. Indeed, after doing it for barely five years, her exciting composition, “Ravish and Mayhem,” will be performed by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra as part of their program, Friday, Jan. 10 and Saturday, Jan. 11 at Powell Hall.

Stephanie Berg Composer

Stephanie Berg
Courtesy of the composer

Berg, who is a native of Parkville, Mo., received her master’s degree in music composition just last year, and was chosen as a resident composer for the Mizzou International Composers Festival. Berg is also a member of the Mizzou New Music Initiative—funded by Jeanne Sinquefield of the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation—which employs a wide range of programs with the goal of having students’ works played by top orchestras such as the St. Louis Symphony. Last September. SLSO performed fellow student Patrick Harlin’s “Rapture.” The two performances mark the first time works composed under the aegis of MNMI have been performed by a major American symphony orchestra.

Berg’s expressive compositions bring to mind the great composers of film scores like John Williams and Danny Elfman, as well as giants of the 1940s, Franz Waxman and Max Steiner.

ALIVE caught up with Berg to discuss her rich compositions, trombones that sound like elephants and what she’ll be feeling when the curtain goes up on Friday.

ALIVE: When you compose, do you have a visual theme that runs through your head. “Ravish and Mayhem,” for example, seems to tell a narrative; it’s dramatic at times, it’s amusing, it’s emotional.

Berg: There definitely was a visual image. I kind of weave a specific storyline, open to interpretation. There was an image that just kept coming back to me. Specifically, like an ancient Middle Eastern bazaar or street festival type thing. I won’t say the music is Middle Eastern in nature, but I just imagined a very vivacious and celebratory time, and there’s lots of things happening everywhere you turn. At some point in there, there’s elephants.

ALIVE: I was going to say the trombones are definitely doing elephants. The Columbia Civic orchestra has performed this piece?

Berg: Yes, which is nice because I got the chance to work out any kinks that were in it.

ALIVE: Obviously it was well received.

Berg: People seem to really respond to it. When David Robertson announced the program at St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, it was really humbling to me.

ALIVE: How does this upcoming performance by such a renowned orchestra improve you as a composer? Obviously it benefits you career-wise, but do you learn anything? Does it add to your knowledge as a composer?

Berg: That’s a great question. There is nothing like hearing your music performed, and when you have musicians as good as the St. Louis Symphony—where you have true professionals who are artists in their craft playing your music—it really comes to life. To hear the music on that level lights a fire. And sometimes you hear things come together in a way you never thought. It builds your knowledge.

ALIVE: I’ve listened to several of your pieces and here’s what strikes me about them: Your work runs the gamut from more traditional symphonic orchestrations to ultra modern. Your composition “Gateway,” for example, has sections that have an improvisational jazz feel to them.

Berg: That’s awesome that you say that because I wrote “Gateway” in an improvisatory manner, which doesn’t make sense because if you write it down it’s not improvised. To put it a silly way, I wrote it without thinking too much about it.

ALIVE: Your piece “Amber Waves” is ultra modern with a sort of futuristic, “computery” sound. There’s something post-apocalyptic about it.

Berg: Ha! I love it.

ALIVE: Do you intentionally play with different music genres, or is that something that comes out naturally?

Berg: I truly try to make each piece its own thing that can stand on its own. I’m young enough—or fresh enough as a composer—that I’m still trying to expand my boundaries as far as I can. It’s deliberate, but it also has to come from someplace natural to me or I don’t like the result.

ALIVE: Will you be in the audience when your work is performed?

Berg: Yes. I will definitely be there. I imagine I will be out of my mind excited by then. I’m sure for the first rehearsal I will be out of my mind terrified. I really can’t wait for it. It’s going to be a real treat to say the least.

To hear a recording of Stephanie Berg’s “Ravish and Mayhem,” as well as several of her other works, please visit her website. You won’t regret it.

For more information or to purchase tickets for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, visit the SLSO’s website.

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