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.

“Pavarotti Documentary Misses All The Right Notes” via NPR

pavarotti-fix-sacha-gusov-31f7f7d834df54fe1ec8efc1d882a9ac02106acb-s1600-c85NPR contributor Tom Huizenga recently wrote a great review on their blog on Ron Howard’s recent “Pavarotti” documentary, titled after one of the largest voices, and personalities, in the opera world.

Although Luciano Pavarotti passed almost 12 years ago, the Italian opera tenor left a lasting impact on the operatic world, crossing over into popular music, and eventually becoming one of the most commercially successful tenors of all time.

Huizenga writes on the shortcomings of the documentary, but also how it succeeds.

The real Pavarotti was a man of many paradoxes, an artist blessed with an enormous gift which in turn saddled him with immense responsibilities he often found impossible to fulfill. Upholding the standards of a 400-year-old operatic tradition is stressful enough, but doing it when you have become one of the most recognizable people on the planet adds another dimension of stress. Not to mention the tsunami of money that came rolling in, especially after the of popularity of “The Three Tenors.”

( … )

What the film emphasizes, with success, is the childlike side of Pavarotti’s winning personality. With a beaming smile, good cheer and witty rejoinders, the tenor won friends easily and could seemingly charm the pants off almost anyone. And apparently he succeeded, with any number of “secretaries” and girlfriends, all while married to his long-suffering wife Adua. But that’s another story largely left untold. Pavarotti finally got his wish when his divorce from Adua was finalized in 2002. She gets one of the best lines in the movie: “He got used to having everything. If he asked for chicken’s milk, they would have probably milked a chicken.”

You can read Huizenga’s entire review here.

Did you see this documentary? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Orange County Arts Awards to Honor Carl St.Clair

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Arts Orange County, the leader in building appreciation of, participation in and support for the arts and arts education throughout Orange County, has announced Carl St.Clair as an honoree at the Orange County Arts Awards, taking place on October 16. Maestro St.Clair will receive a Helena Modjeska Cultural Legacy Award in special recognition for his 30th anniversary as music director of Pacific Symphony. He was previously honored by Arts OC as an artistic visionary in 2009.

Read more.

“Hotel California: A Salute to the Eagles” Launches SummerFest

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Pacific Symphony has once again put together an entertaining July 4th program for 2019 at Pacific Amphitheatre (located in the heart of Orange County). Pop open a bottle of wine, kick back, relax and enjoy the perfect celebration for summer evenings under the stars. The SummerFest kicks off at the OC Fair & Event Center with the classic sounds of highly-acclaimed, Eagles tribute band “Hotel California” headlining the extravaganza with mega-hits like “Love Will Keep Us Alive” and “Take It Easy”—plus enjoy patriotic favorites, a traditional salute to the U.S. armed forces and a dazzling fireworks finale!

Read more, and buy tickets!

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Roger Kalia Snags Music Director Position

rkCongratulations to Roger Kalia who was named the new Music Director of Symphony New Hampshire, beginning with the 2019-20 season. He will continue in his position as Pacific Symphony’s Associate Conductor for one more season. Carl St.Clair has had a tremendous track record selecting young conductors who meet with success. “Roger has made important musical contributions to Pacific Symphony,” says St.Clair. “In just a little over three short years, he has gained the respect of the musicians and also the staff with whom he works very closely.”

Hailed as a conductor who leads with “passionate intensity” and recognized as “one to watch,” Roger Kalia is one of America’s most exciting young conductors. A three-time recipient (2018, 2017 and 2013) of The Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Award, Kalia was also recently named Music Director of Orchestra Santa Monica. Kalia also serves as Co-Founder and Music Director of the Lake George Music Festival in upstate New York, which was recently featured in the League of American Orchestra’s Symphony Magazine as one of the premier summer classical music festivals in the country.

Read more!