From Costa Mesa to Costa Rica

When Carl St.Clair had the idea of a video project that would bring together the principal trumpets of the two orchestras where he is currently the music director, he approached Barry Perkins, Pacific Symphony’s principal trumpet. As Perkins tells it, “Carl asked if it were possible for me to collaborate on a video project with Juan Carlos Meza, principal trumpet of the National Symphony of Costa Rica. I was certainly more than happy to get something together for this musical endeavor and fortunately, I stumbled upon an arrangement I had done for my group, The Barry Perkins Collective, called ‘La Muerte del Ángel’ by Astor Piazzolla. I thought if I could re-arrange this for 5 to 7 trumpets, it would fit perfectly as a musical mosaic for Juan and me.”

Perkins continues the story, “Also, now that video creation and editing is my new passion, I thought this was a great way to put these skills to work! Seeing that both of our orchestras were not performing because of the pandemic, we were able to get this recorded in a relatively short amount of time. The result so far has been very well received both here in the United States as well as in Latin America.”

“La Muerte del Ángel” turned out to be a fortuitous choice for this Costa Mesa-Costa Rica collaboration. Astor Piazzolla was born in Buenos Aires, but grew up in New York City. He returned to Buenos Aires to play tango and study with Alberto Ginastera. As an Argentine-American composer he represents both American and Latin American cultures. Piazzolla, who was a master of the bandoneón (the tango accordion), revolutionized the traditional tango into a new style called nuevo tango, which incorporates elements from jazz and classical music. As an added bonus, Juan Carlos Meza had actually experienced Astor Piazzolla himself performing “La Muerte del Ángel” in Buenos Aires.

Piazzolla composed “La Muerte del Ángel” as incidental music for the three-act play “El tango del Ángel” (1962) by the Argentine dramatist Alberto Rodríguez Muñoz. The work tells the story of an angel who comes down to earth to heal broken human spirits in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, but ends up dying in a brutal knife fight with the devil. “Death of the Angel” is a startling example of the manner in which Piazzolla pushed the limits of traditional tango. It is a five-voice fugue with a propulsive bassline. The rhythms and harmonies are uncompromising, and the piece itself is exhilarating.

Barry Perkins’s arrangement is completely faithful to the energy of Piazzolla’s original composition. In fact, the intensity of five trumpets seems to emphasize the angular muscularity of the fugue. Listening to this arrangement, it’s easy to imagine the desperate knife-fight to the death between angel and devil.

Watch Barry Perkins’s video here!

In the 1950s, Astor Piazzolla became a pariah back home for his unconventional, complex tangos.

Symphony Mixer Serves Up Musical News & Views

Every Wednesday at 4 p.m., Pacific Symphony’s Principal Flute Ben Smolen hosts the Symphony Mixer. It’s a weekly web series where Ben interviews conductors, composers, Symphony colleagues, and people in the music business.

The conversations are stimulating and thought-provoking and include intimate performances. Watch Pacific Symphony’s Facebook page for notices of upcoming Mixers to join the show live. But all the Mixers are recorded so that you can enjoy them on demand whenever you’d like. Just click here!

Pacific Symphony’s Summer Replay Series

If you’ve been missing your Pacific Symphony, you’ll be glad to know about “Summer Replay,” a virtual summer symphonic series, available for streaming online. Carl St.Clair, who conducts all the concerts in the series, enters his fourth decade as Pacific Symphony’s music director re-imagining the orchestra’s contribution to the community and pivoting to an online presence on the worldwide web. This complimentary four-concert virtual series invites audiences to revisit Pacific Symphony performances of great masterworks featured in past seasons. The series host will be Eileen Jeanette, the Symphony’s senior vice-president of artistic planning. She welcomes audiences to each program and interviews Pacific Symphony musicians before each concert begins.

The virtual summer symphonic series premieres on Thurs., July 30 at 7 p.m. You can sign in with an email address at beginning at 6:30 p.m. The concert begins at 7 p.m. and each program will be available on demand for 45 days after each performance premiere date. Read more!

Locked-down in Long Beach? No problem!

Photo courtesy: Long Beach Block x Block

Do you wonder how artists are satisfying their creative urges during the pandemic? Being naturally resourceful with creative minds, they’re relying on themselves to create opportunities for artistic expression. A number of Pacific Symphony musicians have turned to socially distanced al fresco chamber music and remotely recorded video projects. A group of Symphony musicians who are neighbors living in Long Beach started performing chamber music outside at each other’s houses, calling themselves Long Beach Block x Block. Pacific Symphony’s Dennis Kim masterminded a number of video projects including a mosaic video he calls “Concertmasters Coast-to-Coast” involving six concertmasters from across the country.

Writer Pete Lefevre speaks with all of them on the trials and tribulations of living an artist’s life in the times of coronavirus. Read his Voice of OC article here!

PSYO Mosaic Video Premieres

The Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra today released a mosaic video virtual performance of the dramatic final movement of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. Roger Kalia, who was Pacific Symphony’s associate conductor and music director of the PSYO for five years, conducted the ensemble remotely from his home.

Traveling to Indiana to assume his new position as music director of the Evansville Philharmonic, he took a moment to express his thoughts on the making of this video. “I am very proud of the wonderful musicians of PSYO for their exciting and powerful performance of the finale of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. We were all set to perform this work for our March concert, but unfortunately, we were unable to due to the pandemic. I didn’t want their countless hours of hard work and preparation to go unnoticed, and we decided that it would be extremely meaningful to showcase these talented musicians in a virtual performance of the finale.”

Kalia continued, “Musically, it’s one of the most impressive and emotional moments in all of classical music. There is a sense of triumph over adversity, which is very appropriate during this time. I am so proud of these outstanding young musicians, and while I wish we could have performed this work live in front of audiences in the OC and in Europe as part of our summer tour, I am so glad we could at least come together one last time in this special virtual performance.”

Watch the video here!

Sunday Evenings with Pacific Symphony on KUSC

Pacific Symphony’s official classical radio station, KUSC 91.5 FM broadcasts seven 2019-20 Classical Series concerts to over half a million listeners in Southern and Central California, beginning July 26 at 7 p.m. and continuing on summer Sunday evenings through Sept. 6. Popular radio personality Rich Capparela hosts the broadcasts, which include fascinating interviews with Music Director Carl St.Clair, guest artists and Symphony musicians. Alan Chapman’s pre-concert talks and program notes for each concert on our website. For more information and a complete concert listing, click here

AXP@Home Session #1 Recap

“The AXP magic truly prospered despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic,” AXP@Home Session 1 Director Edward Johnson said as he reflected on the first session. The beautiful thing about artists, Johnson said, is “their imagination can find a space to create anywhere.” These words were never more true than when arts-X-press had to reimagine summer camp a few weeks ago. With the COVID-19 pandemic still haunting daily life, the staff of the immersive summer arts program announced the transition online. “With AXP@Home,” said AXP@Home director Alison Levinson, “students can look forward to an escape from their day-to-day, a creative outlet, opportunities to meet new friends, inspiration from professional artists and the special type of fun and magic that AXP brings out in people.”

Music Director Carl St.Clair address the virtual camp-goers

The online structure included activities like singing, dancing, writing music, sculpting, creating a theater presentation, and more. The class contents were all the same, minus the in-person instruction. Instead of instructors moving easel to easel, or watching the dance floor for improvements, they would lean in closer to their screens, trying to beautify form and improve technique over Zoom. Or instead of taking a field trip to the Pageant of Masters festival in Laguna Beach, students watched the previous year’s performance with a Pageant of Masters artist, all the while asking her questions, trying to understand how and why she created a piece, and the path she took to be an artist in the first place. Another similar activity took place while watching Cirque du Soleil with the head coach and stage director. Students wondered how these athelete-performers brainstorm ideas on the tightrope or how they increase risk in acrobatic feats. The students were able to grasp how much creativity goes into staging an event; not just in the execution, but in the planning, the lighting, the stage direction, and how it all comes together to present a polished show.

The online-only element seemed to not disadvantage the camp-goers, and instead boosted a sense of togetherness, camaraderie and artistic excellence. Kids who felt hesitant during activities, became bolder as the classes went on. They saw their peers sing or act for the first time, and they saw that their first attempts maybe weren’t so bad. They began to explore avenues of art that they felt an inclination to and ones they were less inspired by. Students learned to dance with the “whole body in rather than just certain parts,” and about “different songs from around the world” that became “stuck in their [minds].” Pacific Symphony musicians visited a couple of times, allowing the conversation to get personal, with the musicians talking about future goals and personal ambitions. On multiple occasions, Music Director Carl St.Clair joined the students, encouraging them to set goals and to go after their dreams. And over the course of the program, the students began to understand how it’s possible.

At the end of the session, the recurring theme in the student responses was that they became emboldened. All of the “AXP magic” would not have been possible without all of the people involved. The overextension of effort by AXP staff and guests was palpable. Hopefully, next year arts-X-press will return to its original format, but this year’s AXP@Home certainly does not lack energy, enthusiasm and passion. It continues to artistically inspire in the hearts of the next generation.

Onto Session 2!