“Defiant Requiem” Concert Finds Light Admidst the Horrors of Nazi Concentration Camps

This is an excerpt of an article by Paul Hodgins, for Voice of OC. You can find the full article on their website here.


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[Murray Sidlin], who is in town to perform a work that uniquely honors victims of the Holocaust, said he’s saddened that anti-Semitism is becoming a regular headline in his native country. The Pittsburgh synagogue massacre last October was a turning point, Sidlin thinks.

“Does (this new round of anti-Semitism) surprise me? Yes it does. Prior to a couple of years ago, according to the Anti-Defamation League and the State Department, the U.S. had the lowest rate of anti-Semitic behavior in the world – not non-existent, but hardly newsworthy or threatening. Now that’s all changed.”

Sidlin is in Orange County to present “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín” with the Pacific Symphony on April 16. Created by Sidlin, “Defiant Requiem” tells an amazing story about a group of Jewish prisoners in the Terezín Concentration Camp, located about 30 miles north of Prague during World War II, who performed Verdi’s huge and challenging Requiem Mass under unimaginably trying circumstances.

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Murry Sidlin, “Defiant Requiem” conductor

Sidlin’s multi-media work combines Verdi’s choral masterpiece with live actors, video testimony from survivors, film footage from Terezín and interviews with original chorus members. “Defiant Requiem” recounts how and why these Jewish prisoners chose to learn and perform the Verdi Requiem during their darkest hours, using only a single smuggled score. They sang it 16 times; one performance was attended by senior SS officials from Berlin and an International Red Cross delegation. Conductor Rafael Schächter told the choir, “We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them.”


If you’d like to learn more about this concert, please visit our website here.

The 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing

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Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin salutes the American flag during the first Moon walk

Like many of us of a certain age, composer Michael Daugherty remembers watching the Apollo 11 Moon landing on television. It was the culmination of the Space Age, one of our era’s defining events, a moment that divided history into before and after. And Daugherty particularly remembers something that can be lost in the passage of time: there was no guarantee that the three astronauts would return.

“Back in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, my mother and father and four brothers and I all watched together,” he says. “I remember that it was an important media event, like The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, in that everyone, the world, was watching. Watching and wondering if they would make it there and back safely. There was a lot of suspense, whether it would be successful or not. President Nixon had prepared a speech to the nation in case a catastrophe happened, expressing condolences to the families. There was a high expectation that they would not make it back.”

Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins did make it back, though, to a tickertape parade and international acclaim. And the landing date is enshrined as one of the great dates in history, a triumph for adventure, exploration and science. This year marks the 50th anniversary of that awe-inspiring achievement, and Daugherty has paid tribute to the Giant Leap for Mankind with a new work for orchestra, “To the New World.” Pacific Symphony, which commissioned the work, gives the piece its World Premiere April 11-13 at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in a program that includes another “space-y” work, Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra.”

Daugherty had been Pacific Symphony’s composer-in-residence during the 2010-11 season, when he completed “Mount Rushmore” for chorus and orchestra, and is happy to be returning with something new.

“The Symphony said, ‘We have an idea for the piece, and we think you’re the person to do it,’” says Daugherty. “I thought, ‘Yes, that would be great, but oh my god, what am I going to do?’ And the work is paired with ‘Zarathustra,’ one of the greatest symphonic works of all time.  When you’ve got a work being performed, there are some other works you don’t want to be near: “Zarathustra,” “Rite of Spring,” Beethoven’s Ninth, “Carmina Burana”—all great orchestral masterpieces. I wanted to do something that would stand up next to the Strauss, and thought, ‘This is what emotionally I can connect with. Now I need a concept, a script, an idea, that gets me going.’ I work with whatever comes to mind, and then one thing leads to the next.”

Daugherty typically spends months researching and reading in preparation for the compositional process. In this case he visited the Neil Armstrong Museum (“It’s in Wapakoneta, Ohio, about two hours from where I live in Ann Arbor”), watched the film First Man, and watched the new movie Apollo 11 (“It’s phenomenal. They found fifty hours of footage they’d taken of the liftoff, which no one had ever seen before. It looks like you’re right there in the control room”). In the process, he discovered a few odd but useful facts about Armstrong, namely that he was a lifelong music fan and played euphonium during his time at Purdue University.

“When I discovered that, I decided to have a euphonium solo in the first movement,” he says. “The first movement is one of mystery, suspense, trepidation. So musically it’s more dissonant, more ambiguous, and mysterious.  But I do use echoes of the second movement of the Dvořák [on the voyage, Armstrong brought along a tape recording of Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, subtitled “From the New World”]. The echoes come in and out occasionally. I suppose that was maybe the astronauts thinking about going home. That they were going forward but also thinking about back home.

“Another thing, one of my teachers in the 1980s, György Ligeti, was famous for his music in the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. So, as an homage to Ligeti, I’ve put in cluster chords, some other reference points and put my own framing and take on all that. The second movement is more of a whimsical movement because the astronauts had a great sense of humor. When they landed, they started to goof around, jumping, doing strange things, making jokes. It must have been a relief that they were on the moon finally. So the second movement is very whimsical. I also decided to use a soprano—I’ve never done this before—but there’s a singer who sits with the orchestra and is like a Theremin. The score asks for the vocalist to go ‘aaa’ and ‘ooo,” blending in with the orchestra, glissing up and down. Armstrong was a fan of the Theremin. There was some bachelor pad space music in the 50s that used the Theremin, and he liked it, so I reference that sound world.”

As for the final movement, “Splashdown,” Daugherty found inspiration in the mission name itself.

“I asked myself what can I do,” he said, “and then thought, ‘Apollo 11. Maybe I should write in 11/8 or 11/4.’ I’d never done that before, and had a blast. The 11-beat rhythm goes throughout, and it leads to a very catchy tune. I take the 11 over 4 and get these polyrhythms. It’s really cool.”

Underlying the music, though, is a stark realization: the landing was one of the few unifying moments in world history.

“It was an amazing time, when the whole nation rallied around these people,” he says. “JFK kept saying this was a peaceful mission for all mankind, and the entire world for one moment was one.  Millions of people were watching and it was one of those rare moments when the whole world came together, maybe because it was outside the world and we could put down our animosities. That it was happening so far outside. The moment was short-lived but that’s also what music does. It brings people from different walks of life into the hall to celebrate music. It’s unifying.”


Peter Lefevre has written for Opera News, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Orange County Register, among others.

Composer Note: “To the New World” (World Premiere)

A huge thank-you to composer Michael Daugherty for giving us some insight into this world premiere. “To the New World” was commissioned by Pacific Symphony, and was written in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the historic Moon landing by the crew of Apollo 11 in 1969. You can find more information, and purchase tickets, at our website here.


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Michael Daugherty

On Sept. 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech, “We choose to go to the Moon!” launched America’s race to become the first country to land a human on the Moon. On July 16, 1969, a massive Saturn V rocket propelled the crew of Apollo 11—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collin—from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida into outer space. Like the rocket, which separated in three stages after lift-off, and the spacecraft, which was divided into three modules, my 22-minute composition is in three movements. I have created otherworldly music, evoking the sense of awe and trepidation that the Apollo 11 astronauts must have felt as they traveled to the new world.

“Moonrise,” the first movement, takes its title and inspiration from the 1917 Imagist moon.jpgpoem by the poet Hilda Doolittle: “O flight, / Bring her swiftly to our song.” Neil Armstrong, the commander of the Apollo 11 mission crew, played euphonium during his college days and was a lifelong music enthusiast. For his historic trip to the Moon, Neil Armstrong brought along cassette tape recordings of his favorite music, including Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, subtitled “From the New World,” and Les Baxter’s “Music Out of the Moon,” a mixture of lounge jazz and exotic music featuring a theremin. A favorite instrument of Neil Armstrong, the theremin was a microtonal electronic musical instrument often used in 1950s science fiction film soundtracks. In a tip of the hat to Neil Armstong, I have added a solo euphonium to the brass section and a soprano vocalist, singing and glissing like a theremin. I also interweave musical fragments and chords from the second movement of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 with atmospheric cluster chords and atonal punctuations, performed by the harp, celesta and mallet instruments. On July 20, with only 25 seconds of fuel left, Neil Armstrong landed the “Eagle” lunar module on the Moon’s surface, in an area known as the “Sea of Tranquility.”

The second movement, “One Small Step,” is inspired by his memorable words, beamed back to Earth as he became the first human to walk on the surface of the Moon: “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” I have rhythmically translated these words into a repeated, syncopated rhythmic pattern (ostinato) that is first heard in the marimba. To dramatize the unearthly sensation of Armstrong’s moonwalk, this movement features an amplified soprano vocalist singing an eerie wordless melody, accompanied by a waterphone (an inharmonic acoustic percussion instrument, which creates sound by bowing a stainless-steel resonator filled with water).

Cropped Earth.jpgAfter completing their mission on the moon, the astronauts returned in a command module streaking into the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 25,000 miles per hour. They safely splashed down into the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969, and were greeted to a hero’s welcome around the world. In “Splashdown,” the third and final movement, I celebrate the return of Apollo 11 in a dance rhythm composed in a recurring musical motif of 11 beats. This motif, first heard in the double basses and cellos, moves at lightning speed through the strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion of the orchestra. I also create polyrhythms by superimposing the 11-beat motif over a four-beat pulse. To heighten suspense, I feature flexatones that create strange glissando effects in the percussion section. A spirited coda brings our celebration of the historic first landing on the Moon and “a giant leap for mankind” to a rousing conclusion. But before the final triumphant chord, the glockenspiel, harp and celesta softly play an ascending scale, as I imagine the three astronauts glancing back at the Moon one last time.


Michael Daugherty is an multiple GRAMMY award-winning American composer,
pianist and teacher. One of the most widely performed American concert music composers, he was Composer-in-Residence with Pacific Symphony during the 2010-11 season. As part of the residency, Pacific Symphony commissioned and recorded Daugherty’s “Mount Rushmore” for orchestra and chorus for the Naxos label.

Assistant Concertmaster Chair Now Endowed!

A  Message from Pacific Symphony President, John Forsyte

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Judy Whitmore,     Board Member

I am so pleased to announce the newest endowment of a Pacific Symphony musician’s chair. Board of Director member Judy Whitmore has agreed to endow, in perpetuity, the Assistant Concertmaster Chair, held by the distinguished violinist Jeanne Skrocki. Judy’s family history aligns so beautifully with this gift as her grandfather was the great Hollywood studio violinist Sam Fiedler. Sam’s father and grandfather were both violinists in Poland. This multi-generational history of violinists aligned with Jeanne’s own family history. It’s a wonderful story best summed up by the quote Jeanne provided:

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Jeanne Skrocki,                Assistant Concertmaster

“I am both proud and honored to occupy the newly endowed Arlene and Seymour Grubman Assistant Concertmaster Chair in Pacific Symphony. I feel many emotions, knowing that this has brought someone very special into my life, not just the life of Pacific Symphony—Judy Whitmore. I am so inspired by her passion and enthusiasm for Pacific Symphony and especially her love of the violin. This endowment is personally meaningful as we have become acquainted and have realized how many similarities we have in our lives—I am the middle of three generations of violinists, and Judy has three generations of violinists on her mother’s side. We both have our pilot’s license. We have both pursued other careers besides music. We even grew up in the same geographical area, the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles! I look forward to a lasting and meaningful relationship, both personally and for Pacific Symphony.”

You may recall that Judy has a multi-faceted career: real estate management, jet pilot, cabaret singer, theatrical producer and best-selling author! Judy was thrilled to learn about all the remarkable qualities and history that Jeanne possesses. We, therefore, announce the creation of The Arlene and Seymour Grubman Assistant Concertmaster Chair.

If you don’t know Jeanne’s history, she has been in the orchestra for 27 years and 26 as Assistant Concertmaster. Her bio on the Pacific Symphony website can be found here.

We extend congratulations to Jeanne and a heartfelt THANK YOU to Judy!

~ John Forsyte

Pacific Symphony Presents: “The Music Man” In Concert!

“Please observe him if you will.
He’s Professor Harold Hill,
And he’s here to organize a River City boys band!”

MusicMan logo on whiteProfessor Harold Hill, the all-American conniver at the heart of Meredith Willson’s signature work The Music Man, is the most celebrated example of a cherished archetype: the charming huckster. Ever since he hit Broadway in the 1950s, his irresistible mixture of guile, charm and ingenuity has made him the model for ramblin’ rogues in generations of novels, plays and movies. As we see in the musical’s key opening scene, which evokes the rhythmic motion of a train through a proto-rap routine, cadres of corporate-backed product salesmen once rode the rails and the roads to hawk anything from vacuum cleaners to encyclopedias. There were thousands of them, precursors of Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman, getting by on a shoeshine and a smile. For them it was a tough life made all the tougher by shady characters like Hill, who would often skip town after collecting a down payment. If you’re trying to cadge an honest living and a shady character like Hill gets there before you, it’s like the man says: you’ve got trouble, my friend. And yet, with his lightning-fast patter and crafty evasions, it’s hard not to like him.

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Jeremy Stolle as “Professor Harold Hill”

The Music Man is generally described as an affectionate evocation of a more innocent time in America. But this is, at best, half true; more accurately, Willson cast a sharp, appreciative eye on an America with growing pains. The action takes place early in the 20th century, with the Civil War still a living memory. Transcontinental rail and telegraph services were new. Everything was changing, unsettled, raw—especially in the territories that had recently achieved statehood, as Meredith Willson’s home state of Iowa had in 1846. In a time and place like that, people yearning for domestic stability were prime targets for a man like Harold Hill.

Willson’s fondness for the people of The Music Man was real, and he even modeled the estimable Marian on his wife, whom he both admired and adored. But he also understood his characters’ shortcomings, which are astutely rendered in the book and music. He depicts bedrock Iowans as comically provincial; they’re narrow-minded, grouchy, skeptical of new ideas and suspicious of strangers. Engrossed in their intolerant gossip, the nosy ladies of River City become a bunch of pecking hens. The Midwestern salesmen who complain about the scurrilous Hill are so unimaginative that they unthinkingly chant the same lines over and over. Even the local barbershop quartet betokens lack of imagination. Does any other musical genre so clearly say “don’t go outside the lines”?

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Elena Shaddow as “Marian Paroo”

As for Hill himself, we may love the guy, but Willson forces us to think twice about him. He’s so practiced a liar that his dissembling seems as natural as breathing, though more energetic. Willson warns us with Professor Hill’s false credentials: “Gary Indiana Conservatory of Music, class of ‘05.” As if! The 1967 movie The Flim-Flam Man tips its cap to Hill with the character Mordecai C. Jones, M.B.S, C.S., D.D.—“master of back-stabbing, cork-screwing and dirty dealing.”

Do these guys ever spare a thought for those they’ve hurt? Sometimes not. Consider the case of Harry Lime, the fictional black marketeer that Orson Welles portrayed in the 1949 cinema noir thriller The Third Man, written by Graham Greene. Harry could be Harold’s evil twin: a suave, witty, good-looking liar and master of the narrow escape. But in ravaged post-World War II Vienna, Harry’s antics aren’t so endearing. They include selling fake penicillin to treat wounded children, and he is content to let his best friends think he’s dead—which he soon is.

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Jacob Keith Watson as “Marcellus Washburn”

But once Harold Hill sets his sights on the appealing yet formidable Marian Paroo, he’s different. Though Harold, like Harry, has put a vulnerable child at risk—Marion’s 10-year-old brother, Winthrop—she falls for him against her better judgment. But if his transformation starts with a single person, it’s someone far less likely: his former partner in crime, worldly-wise Marcellus Washburn. Very much a fish out of water in River City, Marcellus astonishes Harold by saying he likes the folks there. What’s more, likes sharing their way of life. In the course of The Music Man, we do too.

Ultimately, the power of art and the willingness to dream save River City, and River City saves Harold Hill. Each has something the other needs: Harold needs a reason to choose decency, and a way to be decent. River City, a town of steady habits and tight-wound neighbors, needs to get a glimpse of art and of wider possibility. Once they’ve seen Professor Hill’s glorious marching band, nothing can ever be the same. What about actually learning to make music? That can come later.

You’ll have a chance to witness this lovable huckster and the townspeople of River City onstage at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at 8 p.m. on May 31 & June 1, rounding out Pacific Symphony’s 18-19 Pops series. Jeremy Stolle performs the lead “Professor” Harold Hill, while Elena Shaddow portrays the leading woman Marian Paroo in this semi-staged production of Meredith Willson’s charming The Music Man, backed by Pacific Symphony’s orchestra. Tickets here. 

Carl St.Clair interviews André Previn

André_Previn.jpgIn light of André Previn’s recent passing, we’d like to share an interview between him and Carl St.Clair in front of an American Composers Festival audience from 2015. The two discuss his pieces “Owls” and “Honey and Rue,” the latter a song-cycle performed that night by soprano Elizabeth Caballero.

St.Clair asks the late Previn about the the story behind “Owls,” the difference between conducting one’s own works, and hearing them performed as an audience member. Previn finishes the interview by complementing Pacific Symphony, saying, “That’s a wonderful orchestra. You should be extremely proud of them.”

Previn’s comments are deeply meaningful to us. Please enjoy this brilliant composer’s interview with our Music Director.

 

André Previn (1929-2019)

André Previn was a celebrated German-American pianist, composer, arranger, and conductor. His career started by arranging and composing Hollywood film scores for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Previn was involved in the music for over 50 films over his entire career. He won four Academy Awards for his film work and ten Grammy Awards for his recordings (and one more for his Lifetime Achievement). He was also the music director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Oslo Philharmonic, as well as the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In jazz, Previn was a pianist-interpreter and arranger of songs from the Great American Songbook, was piano-accompanist to singers of jazz standards, and was trio pianist.