An Artist's Impressions of the St. Louis Symphony

When Missouri artist Billyo O'Donnell asked if he could spend some time painting the Saint Louis Symphony in rehearsal, no one could have anticipated the impact of his request.

O'Donnell specializes in landscape work. However, sketching a musician friend at a jazz club had gotten him thinking about the challenge of painting a full orchestra on stage. "It wasn't a business deal; it wasn't a plan that was laid out. I just wanted to paint the orchestra, and if the symphony could make use of the images, that was fine," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in January.

O'Donnell spent time with the SLSO at rehearsals in early 2001, getting to know the musicians and Music Director Hans Vonk and doing fourteen different paintings. Each was completed in one session as O'Donnell moved his easel around Powell Hall. O'Donnell works in the en plein air style, perhaps best known from the Impressionists, who did quick studies of their subjects to capture changes in light, color, and mood. The SLSO was so pleased with the results that it used one of the paintings for its season brochure this year and emblazoned the image on banners, posters, T-shirts, and its web site. Meanwhile, the artistic collaboration has been generating a buzz around town; a St. Louis-area gallery recently auctioned the full orchestra painting shown here for $16,000, with all proceeds benefiting the orchestra.