Bach, Improvisation and Live Performance


Organic, spontaneous embellishments and classical music aren’t often two concepts heard in the same sentence, but cellist Juliana Soltis is trying to change all that. She’s released an album, “Going Off Script,” celebrating the marriage of these two concepts, performing Bach’s famed 6 Suites for Unaccompanied Cello with her own improvisations, and entirely on historical instruments, no less, including the 5-string violoncello piccolo.


Violoncello piccolo

Cellist and historical performance specialist Juliana Soltis found herself asking that
question one day while practicing music by J.S. Bach. She started improvising on the repeats — and it sounded pretty good. She thought, “Too bad I can’t do that in real life.”

But why not? 

From there, “I started thinking about everything I’d learned about Bach [and] historical performance. I realized that there was no good reason, either from a historical or artistic perspective, why you wouldn’t ornament Bach’s music.”

-via The Baltimore Sun

Check out the article linked above to learn more about her philosophy on improvisation, and her thoughts on the future of classical music performance! Below, check out a preview of the album – we’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.

Back On Stage with the Youth Orchestra


Brendan Faegre

In March 2018, our very own Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra (PYSO) performed the world premiere of “Analog Intelligence” by Brendan Faegre—a young composer who has reimagined what an acoustic orchestra can do. “Analog Intelligence,” for example, recreates an electronic soundscape by manipulating different parts of the orchestra to mimic effects created by a synthesizers and drum machines. The 3 movements are named after 3 related styles of electronic dance music, namely Dubstep, IDM (Industrial Dance Music) and Drum’n’Bass. Faegre’s composition represents forcing electronic music idioms into the classical form – no easy task.

It took much practice by the PYSO to create the effects needed for the full expression of this piece. Some of the innovations used to make the work more immersive included organizing the orchestra to sound like music was oscillating from ear to ear, creating a sort of stereo pulsing effect. To create a distortion effect, the strings put aluminum foil mutes on their fingerboards, giving their sound a grit and buzz.

Check out their performance of this unique, genre-bending piece below:


This coming Monday at 7 p.m. (Nov. 18), Pacific Symphony’s Youth Orchestra returns to the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall to perform popular favorites from Marquez, de Falla, Ginastera and Britten in their PSYO Fall Concert! We’re very excited to see what they have in store.

Other Fall Youth Ensemble concerts include:



Jacob Sanchez is an arts and culture writer based in Southern California. His work has been published in the “Inkslinger” and “River Voice” journals.

From the Podium: Guest Conductor Mei-Ann Chen

Mei-Ann Chen  -- Manhattan School of Music

Once she stepped onto the podium, she was a force not to be denied, a dynamo. She exerted uncommon energy, but her ministrations were also precise and incisive. Watching her, you understood her enthusiasm for the music at hand, not the least because she wore a huge smile a great deal of the time. But close your eyes and listen and there was carefully calibrated and polished music-making, not just bluster.

– via Chen can’t be resisted, and who’d want to?

Praised for her dynamic, passionate conducting style, Taiwanese-American conductor Mei-Ann Chen is acclaimed for infusing orchestras with energy, enthusiasm and high-level music-making, galvanizing audiences and communities alike.

Mei-Ann ChenOriginally from Taiwan, Chen came to the United States in 1989. She graduated from New England Conservatory as the first person who held a double master’s degree in conducting and violin performance. A few years later, she continued her studies at the University of Michigan with Kenneth Kiesler and earned a Doctor of Musical Arts in conducting.

The question you had to ask Thursday night at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall was how could anyone – orchestra or audience – possibly resist her?

In her early career, she served five-years of tenure as the fourth conductor in Portland Youth Philharmonic (PYP) from 2002-07, after being selected by a committee of “musically inclined” parents, a member of the orchestra, and representatives of the Oregon Symphony and Portland Opera. During her tenure, PYP made their debut at Carnegie Hall and received its third ASCAP award in 2004 for innovating programing. In 2007, she led the orchestra on an international tour to Asia, offering six performances in 5 cities across from Taiwan to South Korea. After her service ended with PYP, she became the assistant conductor to the Atlanta Symphony for two seasons. In 2011 Chen became the music director for Chicago Sinfonietta. She recorded and released a commercial album with the Sinfonietta in 2013, “Delights & Dances,” on the Çedille label. In 2015 Chen was named as one of the “Top 30 Influencers” from Musical America.

Mei-Ann Chen is presenting “Rhapsody in Blue” featuring distinguished pianist Aaron Diehl on Nov 14-16, at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. This week’s concerts mark the third time Chen has visited Orange County to conduct Pacific Symphony, last conducting for our “East Meets West” concert back in 2013, featuring the “Butterfly Lovers” Concerto and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Her motions could be extravagant – she almost danced the score – but they never seemed superfluous. She embodied the ebb and flow of this drama, the oratorical hammering of its big moments and the serenity and mystery of its whisperings.


“Carnival of the Animals”: An Unlikely Union

PS_FamAcqBroch_Carnival of the Animals_0816_RGB

The most famous masterpiece by Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns, “Carnival of the Animals,” was not publicly performed during his lifetime. The suite was only played twice in small, intimate concerts. The musicians who were at those concerts, notably Frank Liszt, implored Saint-Saëns to release it. Saint-Saëns refused, fearful that the light-hearted nature of the piece would detract from the “serious” image of a composer. Only after his death would the world fall in love with the masterpiece that is “Carnival of the Animals.”


American poet Ogden Nash

Ogden Nash, on the other hand, built his career off light-heartedness. At the time of his death, he was declared by the New York Times as the “country’s best-known producer of humorous poetry.” His only foray into serious work ended when he decided that he had better “laugh at myself before anyone laughed at me.”

So how did two artists with such distinct careers meet? Russian-born conductor and arranger Andre Kostelanetz asked Nash to write poetry for recitation in-between each movement. It’s not clear what connection Kostelanetz saw between Saint-Saëns and Nash; perhaps it was the lightheartedness of their works that lifted the careers of both artists, one who embraced it and the other who resisted it. Regardless, the version he put together has been the definitive version ever since, with the poems often included during performances of “Carnival of the Animals” – check out a version below featuring the narrative talents of Betty White, Audrey Hepburn, Charlton Heston, William Shatner and more!

On November 16 at 1:00 p.m, the Pacific Symphony Santiago Strings will be performing “Carnival of the Animals” with the recitation done by Rich Capparela, the iconic voice in the classical world.

Jacob Sanchez is an arts and culture writer based in Southern California. His work has been published in the “Inkslinger” and “River Voice” journals.


And On The Keys, Aaron Diehl

“Diehl, a rising star of jazz piano, has an individual talent so huge that one day he may extend the jazz tradition …”

2019_AaronDiehl_photMariaJarzyna-19bw2.jAaron Diehl joins us for “Rhapsody in Blue” conducted by Mei-Ann Chen Nov. 14-16.

Taking jazz and classical music to a new generation, Aaron Diehl has established himself as one of the preeminent interpreters of the Great American Songbook. At only 33 years old, Diehl has worked with many accomplished classical musicians, such as NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson and Philip Glass, and has toured with his own jazz trio.

While most 17-year-olds spend their time watching TV or studying for exams, Diehl was already making strides in classical music when he was a finalist in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington competition. In the years since, he has shown an affinity for early jazz and mid-20th century “third-stream” music. His latest endeavor has been tackling modern classical works, performing pieces by George Gershwin with the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra and LA Philharmonic.

“I really want to bring ensemble playing back to the forefront – not just for me, but for everyone in jazz. When you have a group, a true co-op group, you can really heighten the possibilities of all the treasures of jazz.”

Diehl grew up in Columbus, Ohio and was influenced by his grandfather, Arthur Baskerville, who was a pianist and trombonist. Due to the nurturing musical environment and natural, inherited talent, he began studying classical piano at age 7. His passion for jazz was further fueled while attending the Interlochen Arts Camp as a pre-teen. After graduating from Julliard, he continued to win the American Pianists Association’s Cole Porter Fellowship in 2011, be named the youngest ever Monterey Jazz Festival Commission Artist, and has released two critically acclaimed albums with Mack Avenue Records. If you have not listened to some of his music, check it out here in all its jazzy glory!

“… whatever blues Gershwin got from Broadway were given the real thing by Aaron Diehl, who added considerably improvised embellishment to the piano solos.”

Bonus video: in this interview, Aaron’s asked fun get-to-know-you questions, such as “Favorite composer?” and “Which fictional character do you relate to?”


Emma Ballen is a Senior at Chapman University, studying Business Administration, and is currently an entertainment host as Disneyland, interning with the Symphony’s Marketing & Public Relations department.

Orange County Board Of Supervisors Honor Pacific Symphony As “Orange County’s Arts Ambassador To The World”

Orange County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution honoring Pacific Symphony as Orange County’s “Global Arts Ambassador” reflecting the success of Pacific Symphony’s historic tours to China, Europe, and a sold-out Carnegie Hall performance, as well as its national television debut on PBS Great Performances. It also reflects the Symphony’s strategic goal of celebrating world cultures representing the extraordinary diversity of Orange County. For example, the Symphony will be presenting a celebration of the Iranian New Year tradition of Nowruz, a Lunar New Year celebration, and a free, day-long Lantern Festival. In 2018-19 it also presented the “Defiant Requiem,” a commemoration of the Holocaust and the 100th Anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia.

With each of these celebrations, Symphony President John Forsyte commented,

“We are not only an ambassador for Orange County to the World, but, perhaps more importantly, an ambassador within Orange County to deepen understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures through the universal language of music.”

The Pacific Symphony family was the first to hear the news when Michelle Steel, Vice Chair, Second District Supervisor, took center-stage at the beginning of Pacific Symphony’s Thursday, Oct. 17 concert to present the official proclamation to Music Director Carl St.Clair and President and CEO John Forsyte. The audience applauded enthusiastically.

The formal presentation of the proclamation took place the following Tuesday, Oct. 22 at The Hall of Administration in Santa Ana’s Civic Center at the beginning of the bi-weekly Board of Supervisors meeting. Vice Chair Michelle Steel read aloud the proclamation’s final resolution:

“The Orange County Board of Supervisors takes great pleasure in honoring Pacific Symphony for its commitment to artistic excellence, exceptional music performances and education and community programming; and recognizes Pacific Symphony’s significant contribution to the quality of life in Orange County, as well as its national and international reputation; and hereby proudly designates Pacific Symphony as “Orange County’s Arts Ambassador to the World.”

Vice Chair Steel described herself as a recovering cellist, commenting on how important musical training has been in her life, and how important such training is for children. She expressed in her own words,

“It is a pleasure to designate Pacific Symphony as ‘Orange County’s Arts Ambassador to the World.’ For many years now Pacific Symphony has played a vital role in the county, and showcased their commitment to great music around the world. I am so very proud to have them in my District.”

Receiving the framed, gold-engraved proclamation, Pacific Symphony’s President John Forsyte remarked,

“It’s deeply moving for the Pacific Symphony family to be recognized by the Board of Supervisors. I want to thank Michelle Steel for initiating this honor. It’s Carl St.Clair’s 30th anniversary, making him the longest-tenured music director of a major America orchestra. In the past 60 years, only one orchestra has been elevated to ‘Tier One’ status (the largest and most accomplished orchestras) by the League of American Orchestras, and that’s your Pacific Symphony.”

A large copy of the proclamation can be viewed at Pacific Symphony concerts in the lobby of the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.



Halloween with Hildur Guðnadóttir

0_odd-WmYem8NgYFG7Pacific Symphony is here to give you the chills and thrills of a composer with two eerie soundtracks – Happy Halloween!

Five episodes and 19 Emmy nods later, HBO’s “Chernobyl” felt like a real cultural event. If you haven’t seen this breathtaking limited series, this miniseries led by Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson dramatizes the true story of the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in the north of the Ukrainian SSR, based in part on recollections of Pripyat locals, as told in Svetlana Alexievich’s book “Voices from Chernobyl.”

sU8y4WqoWhat makes this dread-filled series perfect for the Halloween spirit is its spooky, ethereal soundtrack by Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, known for her work on creating the atmosphere of 2015’s “Sicario” and 2016’s “Arrival.” If you’re interested in her composition process for “Chernobyl,” make sure to check out this great Classic FM article here – she discusses how she utilizes real field recordings of a nuclear power plant in her haunting score. You’ll want to listen to the soundtrack to get a sense of the tense world she builds – check it out on Spotify here!

maxresdefaultGuðnadóttir also composed the soundtrack for one of the most-discussed films of the year: “Joker” featuring Joaquin Phoenix. After Jared Leto’s portrayal of the iconic DC villian garnered widespread disapproval from fans, the stakes were high for this origin film. However, if the box office is anything to go by (currently holding the top spot for highest-grossing R-rated film of all time at $857.9 million), Phoenix’s portrayal is set to be a pop-culture rival to the late Heath Ledger’s iconic 2008 performance in “Dark Knight.” Guðnadóttir’s again provides a proper soundtrack for this film: tense, slow-moving, atmospheric and most importantly, goosebump-inducing.

“Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?”

Listen to Guðnadóttir’s “Joker” soundtrack on Spotify here! Have a spooky and safe Halloween!