Composers Datebook®

Mackey's “Stumble to Grace"

Composer's Datebook - September 23, 2023


On today’s date in 2011, the Saint Louis Symphony under David Robertson premiered a new piano concerto by the American composer Steven Mackey. The soloist was Orli Shaham, Robertson’s wife, to whom the new work was dedicated.

The new concerto had an odd title, “Stumble to Grace,” which Mackey explained:

“There is a narrative running through the piece … the piano is all thumbs … as it stumbles in its first entrance, playing naïve and awkward plinks and plunks. By [the end], the piano plays sophisticated, virtuosic and, at times, graceful contrapuntal music—a fugue, in fact …

“The inspiration … came from observing my now two-and-a-half year old toddler learning to become human … I wanted to open my compositional process to incorporate some of the whimsy and exuberance that he brings to his exploration of the world.”

Mackey concludes, “A preoccupation with one’s children is common among most new parents but this seemed particularly appropriate … for a piece written for Orli Shaham. She and her conductor husband, David Robertson, have twins less than a year older than my son and we’ve had play dates and shared narrations about new parenthood.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Stephen Mackey (b. 1956) Stumble to Grace Orli Shaham, p; Los Angeles Philharmonic; David Robertson, cond. Canary Classics CC-11

On This Day


  • 1899 - American composer William Levi Dawson, in Anniston, Ala.;

  • 1920 - Armenian composer Alexander Arutiunian, in Yerevan; His Trumpet Concerto, composed in 1950, is his best-known work;

  • 1926 - American composer and jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, in Hamlet, N.C.;

  • 1928 - American pianist and composer Robert Helps, in Passaic, New Jersey;


  • 1835 - Italian opera composer Vincenzo Bellini, age 33, in Puteaux (near Paris);

  • 2006 - British composer Sir Malcolm Arnold, age 84, in Norfolk county, eastern England;


  • 1777 - Gluck: opera, "Armide," at the Académie Royale in Paris;

  • 1913 - Charles Wakefield Cadman: Piano Trio in D, at a private home in Denver; The first public performance took place the following month in Minneapolis;

  • 1958 - Stravinsky: "Threni," at San Rocco in Venice, by the North German Radio Orchestra of Hamburg (who had commissioned the work), conducted by the composer;

  • 1962 - Copland: "Connotations" for Orchestra, at Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) during the opening season of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein; This concert, televised by CBS, also included the "Gloria" from Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" and the first movement ("Veni, creator spiritus") from Mahler's Symphony No.8;

  • 1965 - Diamond: "Elegies" for Flute, English Horn, and Strings, by Murray Panitz (flute), Louis Rosenblatt (English horn), and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting;

  • 1990 - James MacMillan: "Sowetan Spring" for winds, at the Glasgow Hospitality Inn by the winds of the Royal Scottish Orchestra, John Paynter conducting.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®