Mythbusting the “Mozart Effect”

maxresdefault.jpgMany of us have heard of the “Mozart Effect” in some form or another—play classical music for your unborn or infant child and they’ll miraculously grow up to be intelligent. Admittedly, I know that even my own mother kept “Baby Mozart” and “Baby Beethoven” on constant loop at home and in the car when I was an infant.

This article from the Scientific American opens up with a statement that humorously sums up phenomenon that is the “Mozart Effect”:

The phrase “Mozart Effect” conjures an image of a pregnant woman who, sporting headphones over her belly, is convinced that playing classical music to her unborn child will improve the tyke’s intelligence.

Psychological researchers have been busting the “Mozart Effect” myth over the past two decades, but how about outside of the scientific community? It’s important that we ordinary people know what the original “Mozart Effect” study actually looked at.

A report from the Telegraph notes how Frances Rauscher’s original study found improvements in performance by college students who listened to a Mozart sonata before taking a test that measured spatial relationship skills; that spatial relationship skill tested if students could determine how a paper folded several times over and cut would look when unfolded—not quite the same as an academic test. There was no actual mention of IQ, or child development, in the study.

This isn’t to say that listening to classical music doesn’t have its benefits.

Exposure to classical music can inspire children to participate in its performance, which has shown improvements in general intelligence. A UCLA study found that among 25,000 students, those involved in musical extracurricular activities tested higher on SAT’s and reading proficiency exams. Music teaches discipline, which translates into better study habits, and learning to read music is like reading another language, on its own.

Regardless of fact or fiction, it’s important that we keep classical music alive throughout our own lives and the upbringing of our children, whether it be personal or educational.

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Infographic via TakeLessons.com


 

This article was written by Alison Huh, one of Pacific Symphony’s Marketing & PR interns. Alison will be a sophomore at University of California, Berkeley, where she studies English. She was formerly a member of Pacific Symphony’s Youth Orchestra, playing flute.

A PSYO Success Story!

Below is a letter from a former-PSYO (Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra) member Daniel Smith’s parents. We’re very proud to acknowledge that Daniel has gone on to receive tenure as the Associate Principal Bass at the San Francisco Symphony! A huge thanks to his parents for sharing this touching letter.


 

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Daniel Smith, via San Francisco Symphony

“Has anyone ever told you that you look like Carl St.Clair?”

On a quiet afternoon, I’m standing in line behind a bespectacled gentleman at the grocery store,
who reminds me of the Orange County maestro that I always see dressed in a tuxedo. He responded to my question with a smile and said “Just my mother!”

After we both laughed, he offered me a warm handshake and introduced himself. I told Carl, “Thank you so much for the wonderful experience that our son Daniel had when he was in the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra!” Carl asked what Daniel was doing now, and I proudly told him that Daniel had just won tenure with the San Francisco Symphony as the Associate Principal of the Bass section. Carl asked if I would share his story on the Pacific Symphony Orchestra website.

Daniel was very excited as an 8th grader to be accepted in the PSYO, and he learned so much from playing in this excellent group as well as taking lessons from the Pacific Symphony Assistant Principal Bassist, Doug Basye. After three years with PSYO, he began playing with the American Youth Symphony, and was accepted in the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston. After graduating in 2013, Daniel’s professional career was launched. He was accepted on a music scholarship at Music Academy of the West, and later became the Principal Bass of the Santa Barbara Symphony. He also played with the San Diego Symphony for two years, and occasionally as a substitute bassist with various groups including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, LA Chamber Orchestra and New World Symphony. In 2017, Daniel won the Associate Principal Bass position in the San Francisco Symphony, and in April 2019 received tenure.

At the request of my new friend, Carl St.Clair, I gladly submit this story of Daniel G. Smith and the start of his music career as a member of the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra. My wife and I offer a resounding and heartfelt “Thank-you!!” to Carl and Pacific Symphony for the wonderful and career launching experience Daniel enjoyed as a member of PSYO!

 

Most gratefully yours,

Kevin and Karen Smith

Review: Mahler’s Titan (via LA Opus)

Our season finale has come and gone, and not without notice. Although we’re starting our summer season shortly—check out our SummerFest offerings here—a review of our last concert, Mahler’s Titan, has arrived via David J. Brown’s thoughtful LA Opus.

The concert began with Mozart’s 1778 Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major for Flute, Oboe, Horn and Bassoon.

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[The] solo quartet were well matched (by and large the melodic materials are shared out pretty evenly, with all four getting solo moments in the sun and every combination of duet explored), and each player seized the opportunities for heartfelt eloquence in the Adagio’s melodic writing.

After a relatively short first-half and intermission, it was time for the behemoth Mahler work, his First Symphony.

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I am old enough to remember when—at least in London in the ‘60s—Mahler symphonies in the concert hall were rare enough to be sought out and relished. Now, with Mahlerdolatory past the saturation point, one’s first reaction on seeing one programmed tends to be “again?… really?” And yet, a first-rate account of one of these behemoths still has the power to get under the skin and thrill and inspire an audience, and this was just what Maestro St. Clair and the PSO at beyond-full strength gave to theirs.

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[The] symphony’s start—a sustained ppp A on all the strings over seven octaves—has a uniquely vernal and premonitory magic, and it was a tribute both to Maestro St. Clair’s balancing of forces and the Segerstrom Hall’s acoustic …

There was much detail to be relished: a chunky, feet-stomping Scherzo; just the right degree of glissando from the violins at the start of the Trio; the ear-tickling clarity of section leader Steven Edelman’s muted piano solo double-bass at the beginning of the slow movement; a perfect sharp-intake-of-breath pause before Maestro St. Clair unleashed the storm at the beginning of the finale.

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Make sure to read the full review on LA Opus!

 

Reflecting On iTunes’ Past And Future In The Classical Sphere

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A screenshot from the first-ever iteration of iTunes in 2001.

Gone are the days when our listening loyalties were limited to repertoire we already knew, whether it be local symphony recordings or famed performances like Jacqueline du Pré’s iconic Elgar Cello Concerto.

With Apple’s macOS update ending iTunes’ reign and the giving rise to streaming giants like Spotify or Apple Music, we classical-music listeners can look back on how iTunes helped make our favorite symphonies and musicians come to life at home, while also looking forward to where music streaming will take us.

This interesting article reflects on the evolution of iTunes over the past couple decades:

“In the beginning, and for many years after, there was only music, because music was the only option given the technology of the time… [Then] Apple began to pile on early; it added audiobooks support in 2002, then TV shows, music videos, and podcasts in 2005.”

This “pile” that Barrett refers to as a “toxic hellstew of technical cruft,” however, opened doors for a new concert-going experience, allowing us to watch our favorite performances by the Berlin, New York or Vienna Philharmonics with nothing more than a computer or iPod at home. Even the convenience of having all our media collected onto a single device—rather than various discs—was revolutionary at one point!

But what does iTunes’ demise mean for classical music’s future?

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One of Spotify’s numerous Classical playlists.

Discovery—with the prominence of streaming services emphasizing exploration, we have more access than ever to discover new composers, different ensembles, rising soloists and more music in general. There also comes greater sharing capability with their open-access platforms and social media connectivity. More importantly, it welcomes younger generations of listeners that are growing up with these services. Who knows—someday, they may unknowingly stumble upon those same, familiar recordings you once treasured and see it as something new.


 

This article was written by Alison Huh, one of Pacific Symphony’s Marketing & PR interns. Alison will be a sophomore at University of California, Berkeley, where she studies English. She was formerly a member of Pacific Symphony’s Youth Orchestra, playing flute.

Charlie and Ling Zhang Community Support Challenge

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Charlie & Ling Zhang at Pacific Symphony’s 2018 Gala

Pacific Symphony patrons Charlie and Ling Zhang have long been interested in expanding community support of the orchestra in its work to inspire, engage and serve all of Orange County’s residents.

To help motivate the community, Charlie and Ling have established a generous challenge grant. Between now and June 30, 2019, Charlie and Ling have agreed to match new and increased gifts to the orchestra.

Please see our website for details of this important new appeal and join us today!

 

NEW and RETURNING DONORS
Right now, every dollar you give to Pacific Symphony will be tripled! We have a goal of 1000 new donors joining us by June 30.

  • $100 becomes $300
  • $500 become $1,500
  • $1,000 become $3,000

CURRENT DONORS
Right now, every dollar MORE THAN YOU GAVE LAST YEAR will be doubled!
We have a goal of $100,000 in increased contributions by June 30.

A Time to Reflect, A Time to Celebrate: Carl St.Clair Muses on His Milestone 30th Anniversary (Part 2/2)

Carl St.Clair with Leonard Bernstein; Summer, Tanglewood 1985.JPGSt.Clair reminisced, “I knew Bernstein was going to conduct Beethoven’s Seventh, but I didn’t know, when I planned for my first program with Pacific Symphony in fall of 1990, that that was going to be the last work Bernstein conducted. My first program as Pacific Symphony’s music director began with Beethoven’s Seventh and was a deeply emotional experience for me.

“And that first program of my music directorship really laid the groundwork for everything that I have followed since. The program held a new work called ‘Vintage Renaissance’ written in 1989 by William Kraft, a California composer. We played a colorful French piece – Alborado del gracioso – because the orchestra didn’t have orchestral color at that time. We did a very standard romantic piano concerto, Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. And we did a classical symphony. Those four prongs have been basically my tenet for programming ever since: to do colorful repertoire, to do new pieces, and to do standard repertoire.”

St.Clair is pleased to include pieces next season by composers he’s enjoyed working with in the past: Christopher Rouse, Elliot Goldenthal, Frank Ticheli, and possibly a work of John Williams (to be announced). St.Clair commissioned Goldenthal and Ticheli to compose new works for his anniversary season, which will be world premieres.

7-Carl St.Clair, Pacific Symphony, and Pacific Chorale.jpgPacific Chorale, of course, had to figure into the programming because, as St.Clair says, “The Chorale has been by our side at almost all of the pivotal, life-altering moments, whether it was our first opera, or first large recording with the Vietnam Oratorio of Goldenthal, or whether it was Beethoven’s Ninth that we’ve done numerous times, or all the Requiems – Mozart, Verdi, Brahms, and Duruflé. John Alexander often said we’ve done more commissioning of large scale works than probably any other orchestra: Michael Daugherty’s Mount Rushmore, Richard Danielpour’s An American Requiem and Toward a Season of Peace, and so many more.”

Pacific Chorale features prominently throughout the season, on Opening Night’s Carmina Burana and Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, on Verdi’s Otello, and for the spectacular season finale, Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand.

St.Clair’s 30th anniversary promises to be a musical feast that embodies all the richness of a musical life well-lived. And a music directorship well-loved by Orange County audiences.

With an orchestra the size of Pacific Symphony, it’s unusual for a music director to stay for 30 years. St.Clair, however, elaborates on his past three decades with the Symphony. “The reason I’ve stayed here is that we’ve never stopped growing. There have always been opportunities to commission new works and make recordings. We’ve been able to have composers-in-residence working with the orchestra and to have presented ground-breaking American Composer Festivals.

European Tour 138“In 2006, we embarked on our first international tour performing in nine cities in three European countries and returned home to play Disney Hall at the League of American Orchestra’s national convention. Fall of that year, we opened the new Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in grand style with two commissioned works: William Bolcom’s Songs of Lorca with Plácido Domingo as soloist and Philip Glass’s The Passion of Ramakrishna. The Glass piece went on to become the centerpiece of our Carnegie Hall debut last year. The concert sold out and received rave reviews. That same year the orchestra made its national PBS Great Performances debut with Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America.

St.Clair concluded by saying, “We’ve balanced our budget 27 years in a row and the orchestra continues to get better and better and better. All of this keeps my motivation strong. When you arrive at 30 years, it gives you a certain viewpoint: For me, it’s not an ending, it’s a new beginning. My 30th season is a celebratory year–I’m healthy, vibrant, and thankful for these three decades of music-making, and I look forward to continuing in a unique way.”


Chicago native and musicologist Jeanne Quill has been working in the classical music industry and writing about music for the last 25 years. A past editor for Clavier magazine, she has blogged for The Huffington Post as well as writing articles for Chamber Music America, Ovation Magazine, and other media outlets.

A Time to Reflect, A Time to Celebrate: Carl St.Clair Muses on His Milestone 30th Anniversary (Part 1/2)

carl-st.clair-2011-12-season-3.jpgBlockbuster film composer John Williams and Carl St.Clair go back a long way—30 years to be exact. In fact, one could say we’ve got John Williams to thank that St.Clair came to Pacific Symphony in the first place. St.Clair took time out during his busy rehearsal schedule recently to tell the story of how it all began. He also spoke about the musical inspiration that has informed how he programmed his landmark 30th anniversary season, running from September 26, 2019 through June 13, 2020.

Carl St.Clair had no awareness of Pacific Symphony when he was on the East Coast in the late 1980s working with the Boston Symphony as assistant conductor to Seiji Ozawa. John Williams opened the Boston Pops series in 1989, and in May of that year, he said to St.Clair, “I just conducted this orchestra on the West Coast in Orange County called Pacific Symphony. They’re looking for a music director. They should know about you, and you should know about them. They’re all cracker-jack musicians playing in the Hollywood movie studios.” Williams put in a good word for St.Clair with Pacific Symphony management, and in January of 1990 the 37-year-old conductor flew out to Orange County.

For his audition, St.Clair would conduct Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute and Exsultate Jubilate along with Joseph Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne. Because St.Clair felt the program needed to be balanced with something more serious, he suggested to Lou Spisto, the Symphony’s executive director at the time, that he add Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, the “Pathéthique.” He chose it because his mentor, Leonard Bernstein, had just conducted the “Pathétique” at the Serge Koussevitsky memorial concert at Tanglewood the previous summer. In fact, every time Bernstein would do a particular piece at Tanglewood, St.Clair would try to program that same work on his next season. He was so inspired by everything Bernstein did, he wanted to utilize all he learned from him as soon as possible.

St.Clair got a call from Spisto saying, “Well, some of our board members are worried that the ‘Pathétique’ ends very soft and slow and maybe we should put that on the first half and have the soloist on the second half.” St.Clair didn’t agree: “Lou, listen, if we can play another note after a performance of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathétique,’ then don’t hire me because then we would not have played it well. We should have exhausted everything after that and be unable to play anything.”

Carl St.Clair leading Pacific Symphony in rehearsal.jpgSt.Clair’s audition concert with Pacific Symphony had some unexpected twists and turns. Just days before the first rehearsal, the guest soprano’s visa from England didn’t come through. Due to St.Clair’s good connections in the music business, he called in a favor and Benita Valente agreed to sing three of Mahler’s Rückert Lieder along with the prescheduled Exsultate Jubilate. There had been some confusion about which Mozart overture would be performed. St.Clair was ready with The Magic Flute, but the printed program book read The Marriage of Figaro Overture, for which orchestra parts had already been rented. In spite of some minor fiascos, St.Clair commented that the “‘Pathétique’ was particularly powerful and forged a really strong relationship between the audience, the musicians, and me. That work played a pivotal role in my being hired as Music Director–it was based on my music-making of that Tchaikovsky symphony. That’s why it had to be included in my 30th season programming.”

Carl St.Clair Opening of Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.jpgLooking over the 2019-20 season, St.Clair admitted, “There are a lot of mental, emotional, and personal associations with the works I’ve programmed for my 30th. This season has more connective DNA tissue than any season I’ve ever assembled. I’m honoring my teachers, my friends, and fellow musicians. For me, this is a time to reflect and to celebrate so many meaningful musical moments.” He went on to mention a few other works and composers that needed to be included because of their unique associations with his career and with Pacific Symphony.

St.Clair continued, “One of the pieces that had to be on the season was Beethoven’s Seventh. That’s crucial because it was on Bernstein’s last program and was the last piece he conducted in August 1990. I actually shared that program with him and premiered his final composition, Arias and Barcarolles.”

(To be continued … )


Chicago native and musicologist Jeanne Quill has been working in the classical music industry and writing about music for the last 25 years. A past editor for Clavier magazine, she has blogged for The Huffington Post as well as writing articles for Chamber Music America, Ovation Magazine, and other media outlets.