As writers' lives go, Garrison Keillor really does
have the best toys. Forget a Pentium processor, ergonomic chairs and good lighting: Having a full-size symphony orchestra at your disposal is a perk few post-Deems Taylor enjoy. Recently the bard of Lake Woebegon and conductor Phillip Brunelle were witty guest artists with the St. Louis Symphony. It wasn't much of a stretch for the musicians, though they did get to play some Bach, but they clearly enjoyed the experience, laughing aloud at Keillor's anecdotes. These were, of course, witty and diverting. Childhood and adolescent angst were thoroughly explored, as were the strange byways of Lutheranism. Explaining and exploring his native culture, Keillor is at his sharpest and most satirical. The evening's standout was a set-piece mimicking the thin-lipped Lutherans of Bach's Leipzig. Keillor, a lanky, Lincolnesque figure, wore evening dress with red socks, and his voice was the tolerant baritone sigh we all know from the radio, especially when he played Guy Noir, his world-weary private eye. He also premiered a new work by composer Michael McLaughlin, who was in the audience. This composition, provisionally called "Portrait of Lake Woebegon," paired folkish bars, heavy on the strings, with Keillor's recollection of a mildly retarded aunt. Where this piece triumphed was when the syncopation of the language dovetailed neatly with the swing of the refrain. Sentiment aside, there was plenty of subtle savagery here -- the show began with the orchestra playing Haydn's "Surprise" symphony. Offstage, Keillor railed against inconsiderate operagoers: "I would gladly put your feet/In a bucket of concrete/Find a bridge to drop you off/If you don't stop that cough."
A Prairie Home Companion
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra