A note on Paul Chihara’s ‘Wild Wood’

The following note on “Wild Wood” was provided by the composer Paul Chihara. The orchestral version of the score, substantially rewritten from the original for wind band, will be given its premiere by Pacific Symphony in concerts Feb. 1-4. I have attached an MP3 recording, made at the premiere, of the wind band version of “Wild Wood” at the end of the post.

“Wild Wood” was commissioned by the Tanglewood Music Festival and premiered at the final concerts of the 2015 summer programs celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Berkshire Music Festival in 1940.

The original instrumentation was for a large wind and percussion band without strings: woodwinds in groups of threes, six horns, five trumpets, five trombones, tuba, 10 percussionists, harp and double basses. It was a celebratory work, filled with fanfares and brilliant instrumental colors. The original composition was in binary form, the two parts modeled on the Baroque tradition of Slow and Fast, a sort of grand “song and dance”!

The opening music is solemn and processional, a stately choral scored primarily for the six horns, later reinforced by the trumpets, trombones, and tuba. Woodwinds enter to give color and movement to this formal opening, and introduce a Chinese pentatonic melody that Ravel incorporated in his gorgeous “Mother Goose” Suite.

Part Two, is a wild dance — based on ethnic and popular tunes from America and Japan, echoing the rhythmic patterns and pop (“big band”) orchestrations of the Big Band era.  I incorporate the Japanese folk melody “Tonko Bushi” (so familiar to those who attend the Bon Odori Matsuri (the Japanese summer dance festival in Little Tokyo everywhere.

Part Three brings the composition to a rowdy conclusion, with percussion and the opening brass choral returning in splendor and joy!

This new version of “Wild Wood” (being premiered during these concerts) includes a large string section in the orchestration, and a somewhat less extravagant brass and wind ensemble. Its form is also expanded now to be a three part structure:

Slow, Fast, Grand. The strings are not simply sweetening the previous music of brass, winds and percussion. They have new melodies and textures, giving the entire work an Impressionistic grandeur. –Paul Chihara

Pacific Symphony: February concerts

Pacific Symphony will perform in 12 concerts during the month of February. Here’s your quick, mobile-friendly guide to them, with link to tickets.

Having forged a musical friendship with Carl St.Clair through solo appearances with the National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica, Ukrainian pianist Alexander Romanovsky, winner of the Busoni Competition at the ripe age of 17, in 2001, makes his debut with Pacific Symphony (Feb. 1-3). His vehicle will be the impossibly difficult and wonderfully barbed Piano Concerto No. 2 by Prokofiev. St.Clair and the orchestra open the program with the Third Symphony of Brahms. The distinguished American composer Paul Chihara’s celebratory “Wild Wood” from 2015 will also be heard, in the world premiere of a new version for orchestra. Tickets here

At 3 p.m. on Feb. 4, the musicians perform a shortened version of the same program without intermission. Chihara’s piece and the Prokofiev concerto are reprised in their entirety; the third movement of the Brahms provides contrast. Tickets here

The next installment of the Family Musical Mornings series is Feb. 3, an opera for kids program featured a masked ball for super heroes set to selections from Johann Strauss, Jr.’s “Die Fledermaus.” Roger Kalia conducts; students from Chapman University’s opera program sing. Two performances. Tickets here

The Symphony’s annual Chinese New Year celebration will feature a long list of performers and a program spanning Eastern and Western music (Feb. 10). Carl St.Clair leads the multidisciplinary extravaganza. Tickets here

The Cafe Ludwig chamber music series continues with a program that honors both the 100th birthday of Bernstein and the 80th birthday of Steve Reich. Music by Bernstein (the Sonata for Clarinet), Reich (the Quartet for two pianos and two vibraphones), Hanson, Schoenfeld and Ewazen is performed. Tickets here

Conductor Richard Kaufman returns to the Pops Series, this time focused on the “yacht rock” of Christopher Cross, the stellar guest on this occasion (Feb. 16-17). Tickets here

The month closes with three performances of Mozart’s final opera “The Magic Flute,” in semi-staged performances on Feb. 21, 23 and 27. Robert Neu is the stage director; Robin Walsh is lasted as  “puppet designer” (that should be fun) and Katie Wilson the costume designer. John Tessier (Tamino), Hadleigh Adams (Papageno) and Tess Altiveros (Pamina) head the cast. Tickets here


A video of one of Leonard Bernstein’s last rehearsals has recently surfaced. …

The Minnesota Orchestra will be the first major American orchestra to visit South Africa. …

The Houston Symphony has named a new CEO, someone from Orange County. …

A hologram of Maria Callas makes its concert debut and The New York Times is there to see it (her?). …

Mozart beat Beethoven as the most performed classical composer in 2017; Arvo Pärt was the most performed living composer. …

Wow, is Steven Spielberg really going to remake “West Side Story”? …

In New Orleans, they’re reviving a 19th century opera on tabasco, written by an important American composer. …

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon has written a new work for the Chicago Symphony, a Low Brass Concerto that’ll take full advantage of the orchestra’s famed section. …

Interview: Pianist Alexander Romanovsky to make Pacific Symphony debut with Prokofiev’s Second Concerto


Alexander Romanovsky is a Ukrainian pianist who lives in southern Switzerland, near Lugano, about 400 meters from the Italian border. When he goes jogging in the morning he likes to venture into the neighboring country, the border guards not even bothering to stop him. “No, they know me already,” Romanovsky says with a smile.

The pianist was speaking recently on Skype, where his image fluctuated between ghostly and frozen but where generally his talk came through. He isn’t well known in the U.S. yet, having played here but little. (He has appeared with the New York Philharmonic at the Bravo! Vail Festival and with the Chicago Symphony at Ravinia.) He’ll be making his California debut with Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony in concerts Feb. 1-4 at Segerstrom Concert Hall.

Romanovsky and St.Clair are well acquainted though. The two met for the first time in Costa Rica a couple of years ago when the pianist came to perform Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra there, for which St.Clair serves as music director.

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Bernstein, Made for TV

The importance of Leonard Bernstein will be discussed again and again this year, the centennial of his birth. The multitalented musician can be a little hard to pin down, though, because he did so many things so well (and not as well as he wanted to do). In the podcast below, Bernstein’s talent as an educator is cogently considered, specifically as host of the Young People’s Concerts at the New York Philharmonic, broadcast on CBS television from 1958-1972. From Sara Fishko at WYNC.

Student tickets for $10

Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, home of Pacific Symphony

Did you know that if you are a student you can attend most Pacific Symphony concerts for less than the price of a movie? These are not Rush tickets. You’ll have them before you arrive.

Join the orchestra’s Student Rewards program and get access to $10 tickets. Non-student friends and family can come along for just $20.

Sign up for the email newsletter and 4-6 days before each concert for which Student Rewards tickets are available (usually, every Classical, Casual Connections and Organ series concert; others based on availability), you’ll receive instructions on how to buy $10 tickets for the event. Go here to sign up for the newsletter.

There’s also a discounted subscription program for students who would like to go a little more often. Call (714) 755-5799 for more details on that.

Here’s a list of Pacific Symphony’s upcoming concerts.

Video: Xenakis, with audience

Would you buy a ticket to this? The piece is “Terretektorh” for 88 musicians (1966) by the Greek avant-garde composer Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001). The orchestra is supposed to “scatter” itself among the public during a performance, as you see is being done here. The music is fascinating to me and even a bit playful at times.

Playlist: Some British symphonic music

It was gratifying last week to see the audience’s response to Pacific Symphony’s first performances of Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 (and how well the orchestra played it, under the baton of guest conductor Michael Francis). We don’t get much British symphonic music here in California, or in the U.S. generally, so I thought I’d put together a little playlist for those of you who are curious to explore a little more.

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