Pacific Symphony’s Creativity Continues Through Pandemic

The pandemic may have temporarily halted Pacific Symphony’s ability to perform live music, but it could not deter the organization’s creativity and engagement with the Orange County community. Pacific Symphony musicians recorded over 100 concerts from their living rooms for our “Quarantine Clips” series. Members and alumni of Pacific Symphony Youth Ensembles also contributed video recordings from their homes. The Symphony’s virtual concerts have been viewed by audiences in all 50 states and over 50 countries around the world. The orchestra’s online audience has grown since mid-March, increasing two-and-a-half times for more than 4.7 million social media impressions.

Pacific Symphony’s education and community engagement team migrated all programs online and re-imagined each program in a digital context, with some highlights including:

  • The award-winning “arts-X-press” summer camp program was rebranded as AXP@Home, with almost 100 middle-school students experiencing the magic of the arts over Zoom through interactive classes, workshops and performance experiences
  • Students in the three Pacific Symphony Youth Ensembles continued their learning in Zoom sessions with composers and conductors
  • Santa Ana Strings, in partnership with Boys and Girls Club of Santa Ana and New Hope Presbyterian Church, provided violin lessons over Zoom, and over 60 pre-recorded lessons, to students in 2nd through 6th grades
  • Over 14,000 students in Class Act, Pacific Symphony’s Elementary School Partnership program, received customized video content including lessons, assemblies and concerts direct to their homes

In addition to serving existing program constituents the education and community engagement team launched a “Music and Arts Learning” portal on to offer valuable resources for teachers, parents, students and lifelong learners in Orange County and beyond.

The Impossible Orchestra

The Impossible Orchestra: Danzón No. 2 (Full Video)

The pandemic may have stopped live orchestral performances temporarily, but it hasn’t put a stop to musical creativity. Of all the recent videos online, one of the most interesting may be “The Impossible Orchestra.” Composed of 29 outstanding musicians from 14 different countries, it is truly an all-star ensemble that has been brought together by conductor Alondra de la Parra. Where else might you find famous soloists Maxim Vengerov (violin), Alisa Weilerstein (cello), Emmanuel Pahud (flute) joining forces with jazz greats Arturo Sandoval (trumpet), Paquito D’Rivera (clarinet, saxophone), and operatic tenor Rolando Villazon playing claves?

The Impossible Orchestra made its debut with the interpretation of the quintessential Mexican symphonic composition: Danzón No. 2, by Arturo Márquez. The music is accompanied by prima ballerina Elisa Carrillo with choreography created specifically for the event by renowned Christopher Wheeldon. 

Worried about the impact of the pandemic in her home country, Mexican conductor Alondra de la Parra has launched one of the most ambitious projects in contemporary music in order to help Mexican women and children affected by COVID-19. The Orchestra is born from the conviction that music has the power to unite us. No matter our origins, our nationalities or our differences, music creates a universal language of hope in difficult times.

You can read more about this project and view this remarkable video at The Impossible Orchestra website.

Inception Reflection

The creativity of Pacific Symphony musicians knows no bounds. The orchestra’s Principal Trumpet Barry Perkins keeps stretching his musical invention and filmmaking skills above and beyond. In fact, if there were Academy Awards for music videos, Perkins’ latest might be in the running. His video “Inception Reflection” pays homage to the 2010 science fiction action thriller “Inception,” directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  

The video opens with Perkins acting in two roles, evoking the surrealistic mood and ambiguous color palette of the movie’s beginning where DiCaprio sits across the table from his benefactor, Saito, played by Ken Watanabe. This becomes the starting point for a brilliant mosaic video that features Pacific Symphony’s intrepid principal trumpet and the Pittsburgh Symphony’s Principal Trumpet Michah Wilkinson playing original music by Perkins.

In describing the piece, Perkins says, “I used the basic beginning chordal structure from Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack, but the rest is an original composition with influences from Telemann, especially when the piccolo trumpet enters.” Perkins has gotten a lot of positive feedback from all over the country. He commented, “There is even a university in Florida that is using the video as a listen/watch assignment.”

“Inception Reflection” is a thought-provoking video, especially in the middle of a global pandemic when reality can, at times, seem like a dream and dreams can be even more unreal than usual.

Younger Listeners Find Solace in Classical Music

As observed by Classic FM, “with the rise of streaming services, young people are listening to more Mozart and Bach than they did 10 years ago. And during lockdown, classical music has experienced a second boom.”

Classical music is gaining more popularity among young audiences, according to joint studies performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the streaming service Deezer (a Spotify competitor) and British Phonographic Industry (BPI). Of those who are streaming classical music, one third (34 percent) were aged 18-25 this past year, and during the same time period, classical streams by people under 35 years old increased by 17 percent.

When the nation’s lockdown began in March, classical musicians had to start getting creative and for many, this meant reaching out to a broader audience. Musicians are doing this by combining today’s popular music and classical music—making classical versions of many songs that are widely listened to by younger audiences. Deezer reports that over 3 months, classical music streams among 18 to 25-year-olds increased by 11 percent.

Of those streams, composers Mozart and Bach were the most popular, and streams of female pianists, including Martha Argerich and Khatia Buniatishvili, soared during those 3 months.

Also, according to an earlier report done by the RPO, 35 percent of people under age 35 said that listening to orchestral music helped them relax and maintain their wellbeing during the lockdown.

During these difficult times, it can be hard to stay positive when you are dealing with feelings of isolation. One way to help alleviate those tough emotions is with mood-based playlists. Playlists such as “Calm,” “Feel Good” and “Sleep,” have been linked to the pandemic, as young people listened to these playlists as a method of reassurance and relaxation. (Check out our favorite one, “Soothing Classical,” here!)

Not only are playlists gaining more popularity, but albums are making somewhat of a comeback, as classical music listeners tend to stream them in full, in comparison to listeners of other genres who often seek out the latest hit singles from chart-topping popular artists.

Alexandre Desplat

Academy Award-winning film composer Alexandre Desplat expressed, “It’s heartening that the appeal of classical music is clearly expanding and connecting with a broader and younger audience.

“The ease of discovery and connectivity through streaming, must be playing its part,” he adds, “but so too is the global reach and power of film soundtracks, which draw such inspiration from classical composition.”

British-German composer Max Richter comments, “As well as being a historical art form, classical music is also part of what is happening now, and it is great to see more people embracing it.” Richter makes the important point that classical music isn’t a dead art form, but one that is constantly evolving and growing with its audience.

Classical music time and time again has been found to aid others through tough times and is utilized in other fields of work such as psychology and music therapy to help those in need. Musicians do what they do because there is nothing more rewarding than being able to truly reach someone through this art form, and that is what many people struggling during this time look forward to embracing.

Alessandra Ramos is a Los Angeles-based music writer, oboist and marketing intern for Pacific Symphony.

The Organization Exploring Diversity in Composition

Are you looking for new music to listen to or for new repertoire to learn, during this time of self-isolation? The Institute for Composer Diversity is a great resource to find music by composers in underrepresented groups. With over 4,000 composers in the databases, you might just find your next favorite artist!

Operating within the State University of New York at Fredonia’s School of Music, the Institute has evolved over time from a simple resource project for the School to bring more awareness to female composers, into a robust research and advocacy organization.

Elfrida Andrée

If you’re in the mood to jump down a classical-themed rabbit-hole, you can dive into the Institute’s Composer Diversity Database to find composers you may have never heard before – broken down by genre, sub-genre, gender, demographics and location.

For example, here’s a wonderful composer this writer had never heard of: Elfrida Andrée (1841−1929), from Sweden. Noted as a pioneer for Swedish women in composition, performance and conducting, Andrée was the first woman in Sweden to graduate as an organist. Her work, “Andante quasi recitativo,” is a longing and gorgeous one-movement piece for string orchestra. Check it out below!

You can also check out their social media @instituteforcomposerdiversity.

Shaham Plays Mozart

Acclaimed “first-rate Mozartean” by the Chicago Tribune and an “exquisite Mozart interpreter” by The Orange County Register, internationally-renowned pianist Orli Shaham performs Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major for this latest Summer Replay virtual concert this Thursday at 7 p.m.

Shaham holds degrees from The Juilliard School and Columbia University, and in the fall of 2019, she released recordings of Mozart’s Piano Concertos K. 453 and K. 491 (Nos. 17 and 21) with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

This bright and joyous concerto was one of the rare concertos that Mozart wrote for another artist to perform (and not himself) – the Austrian pianist Barbara Ployer. As his guest, Mozart brought along the renowned Italian composer Giovanni Paisiello, whose latest piece, “The Barber of Seville,” had already made Figaro an operatic celebrity before either Mozart or Rossini took a stab at the character.

Eileen Jeanette, Pacific Symphony’s senior-vice president of artistic planning, opens this concert with an interview with Orli Shaham, so please join us on Thursday, August 13 at 7:00pm to watch this free virtual performance of Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major by W.A. Mozart as part of our Summer Replay series!

Check out her ongoing Midweek Mozart project below, as she prepares to release her album of the complete Mozart piano sonatas!