Why Beethoven?

Roll over Beethoven! Festivities to mark the composer’s 250th birthday are continuing into 2021 around the world, due to the complications of the pandemic last year. If any composer deserves to celebrate his birthday for two full years, it’s Ludwig. 

In that spirit, we offer this guest blogpost “Why Beethoven?” from pianist Orli Shaham, curator of Pacific Symphony’s Café Ludwig chamber series. ©2001 Musical America Worldwide, used by permission. Read the original here!

A 250th birthday celebration is a big deal. Only a miniscule number of figures from history merit a worldwide outpouring after so much time. So what is it about Beethoven that elicits such a personal reaction from masses of people? Even during an overwhelming pandemic, when people are wondering about whether their beloved holidays are actually worth celebrating, Beethoven birthday celebrations are still planned, virtually, all around the world. Why Beethoven?

In the late 90’s, I had the privilege of meeting one of the most observant, perspicacious, and expressive people in our culture, Charles Schulz. As is well-known, Schulz’s young pianist character Schroeder nearly always played works by Beethoven, and both creator and character admired Beethoven wholeheartedly. Schulz regularly used excerpts from his piano sonatas in his strips. The great cartoonist couldn’t read music, but he loved the look of the notes, and he reproduced them faithfully and precisely. I am sure I’m not the only music nerd who spent their childhood trying to guess which Beethoven sonata yielded the little snippet over Schroeder’s toy piano. Perhaps because Schulz didn’t read music, but chose the notes for their looks and occasional comic potential, this little guessing game was at times quite difficult! The excerpts were rarely the ones a musician would have picked.

Beethoven looms so large in Peanuts that there is a countdown to his birthday as elaborate as an Advent calendar. When I was a teenager, this countdown inspired me to listen to all nine of his symphonies every December 16th. I know I’m not alone.

When I met Schulz, who turned out to also be the kindest, most generous, thoughtful and empathetic conversation partner, I had to ask him, “Why Beethoven?” He told me that although Brahms was his favorite composer, Beethoven was “just funnier.” I’ve spent over 20 years thinking about that answer and why it is so true.

Of course, it’s built into the name. Especially in English, the two “e”’s look silly next to each other, the fact that someone would be named after a root vegetable is hilarious, and that his name ends in an “oven” is riotous.

But it’s much more than his name. This creator—who overcame a severe disability and nevertheless out-composed all of us and all of his contemporaries; who refused to budge on his ideals, but held himself equally to the strict standards he held for others; whose genius was incomprehensible to most and yet who could barely master basic grooming; who defied all the conventions he thought were unnecessary but reverently studied and adapted those he deemed worthy; who was gruff to some but a loyal friend to those who had earned it; who believed in our intrinsic rights, our equality, our human brotherhood; who sought to uplift, just as much for himself as for the rest of us; who never hid his struggles from us, both great and petty, whether they were over a lost penny, over a revered leader who caved under the dark magic of power, a manuscript that was worked and re-worked (though to us the final version seems inevitable); who wasn’t afraid to share his sadness with us—this creator was quintessentially a member of the human race. Like us, he aspired to something greater than himself, and was often frustrated by his own perceived shortcomings. Like us, he went after that football again and again, believing deep down that someday he would surely kick it to infinity. Did he ever!

Beethoven is funny because we are. Those jagged sforzandi, the overwhelming dynamic contrasts, the relentlessness of pulse, the endless, obsessive struggles over whether a pitch is this one or that one, over and over again within a piece, the drawn-out, arduous efforts to bring a dominant FINALLY down to the tonic after 20 minutes of music–these resonate with us as labors we deal with throughout our lives, within ourselves. Beethoven reminds us that occasional transcendence is possible. It’s no surprise the creator of Charlie Brown understood this long ago. Beethoven captures, in his music and in our imagination, the essence of what it means to be human, and that is Why Beethoven.

Did You Miss Our Town Hall?

Recently, Music Director Carl St.Clair joined Pacific Symphony President & CEO John Forsyte for a virtual town hall. They presented a roadmap to recovery from the pandemic, exciting news about our virtual concerts, updates on the status of the Symphony, plans for reopening and how we continue to educate, engage and connect with the greater community. Watch it here:

To the Rescue: Upping the Symphony’s Streaming Game

With attending live performances sidelined for the time being due to the pandemic, virtual concerts are the primary way Pacific Symphony can perform for audiences. In the past, orchestra concerts were filmed largely just to document the performance for the Symphony archives.

As Pacific Symphony management planned presenting concerts online, they wanted to create a visual experience closer to the current production values of film and television that audiences have come to expect. They knew they would need to upgrade to state-of-the-art audio, video and lighting equipment.

Enter Janet Curci to the rescue. A well-known philanthropist in the Newport Beach-Costa Mesa area and an active supporter of Pacific Symphony (especially its opera programs), she made a generous gift to the orchestra from the Janet Curci Family Foundation, and the Symphony was able to purchase all new equipment. With video cameras that are able to connect to the internet, powerful computers, high-end microphones, high-definition monitors and so much more, the Symphony has a whole new system for filming and streaming concerts.

And the results are sure to please Symphony audiences. They will see concerts in a whole new way from new and unusual angles provided by 12 video cameras: close ups of individual musicians, interaction between musicians and the ever-changing musical expressions on conductor Carl St.Clair’s face at close range.

As you watch PacificSymphony+ virtual concerts, remember the generous woman who made it all possible, Janet Curci!

For more on PacificSymphony+, click here.

Download Our App For A Chance To Win Amazon Gift Cards!

Pacific Symphony will be hosting the program notes for “Thursdays @ 7,” our virtual concert series, exclusively on our very own app! Free to download in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, and working for both iOS and Android devices, our Pacific Symphony app streamlines the concert-going experience for new and veteran Symphony audience members. Plus, when you download the app, you may be one of four lucky winners each week who will receive a $25 Amazon gift card!

How To Win:

  • Simply go to your app store and search “Pacific Symphony” and download
  • Click the first card at the top “Win an Amazon Gift Card” – this will bring up a Google Form
  • Fill out your name and email address in the Google Form, and voilà, you’ve been entered to win! Winners will be emailed, and announced on social media on Fridays

In the app, you’ll be able to find program notes for that evening’s virtual concert, see upcoming concerts, check out our social media and blog feeds, and find all the info you need about the performers.

For example, you can read the program notes to tonight’s first-ever “Thursdays @ 7” virtual concert, “Strauss & Tchaikovsky” while you watch the performance tonight at 7 – streaming free on Facebook and YouTube! The app is the perfect companion for the virtual Pacific Symphony experience.

Meet PacificSymphony+, A Digital Concert Hall For The Orchestra’s Streaming Content

Pacific Symphony has returned to the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall stage after an absence of nearly one year, due to the uncertainty caused by coronavirus. After an in-depth collaboration with UCI’s Department of Public Health to develop Covid protocols in order to ensure the health and safety of the musicians, the Symphony has been given permission from the OC Health Officer to begin recording new content.

PacificSymphony+ is a new way to experience your Symphony online and on-demand, so you can enjoy the magic of music whenever and wherever you can. Starting Feb. 25 at 7 p.m., newly recorded footage from the Concert Hall will be premiered every Thursday, beginning with Classical events and eventually including Pops, Family and chamber programming. Many of the programs will be free of charge. The classical offerings are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation. Their ongoing support is greatly appreciated. A generous gift from the Janet Curci Family Foundation helped the Symphony to upgrade its video cameras and internet streaming equipment to enhance the online presentation of these concerts. The Feb. 25 concert is sponsored by Mike and Ellie Gordon. 

Music Director Carl St.Clair planned the repertoire for these online concerts in such a way that each piece can be performed by a smaller ensemble rather than the full orchestra. This allows the orchestra to be properly socially-distanced on stage and assures that everyone is safe. Last weekend, for example, Richard Strauss’ Serenade for 13 Winds and the finale of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings were recorded.

The following week’s concert on March 4 will feature the Symphony’s brilliant brass section in two works: Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” and Daugherty’s “Asclepius.” Other highlights of the upcoming Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Foundation Virtual Classical Series on subsequent Thursdays at 7 p.m. will include: Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” Suite and Suite from “The Firebird;” Mozart’s “Serenata Notturna;” Gounod’s “Petite Symphonie for Winds” (finale only); selections from Ravel’s “Mother Goose;” Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 3;” and a number of Bach concertos. Symphony Thursdays @ 7 will be streamed on Pacific Symphony’s YouTube channel, Facebook page and on the Symphony’s website. Individual events will remain available for online viewing for 30 days. Additional programming will be announced as it becomes available.

AXP@Home Students Celebrate New Beginnings with Paint-to-Music Workshop

“The ultimate currency in human existence is time—and how you spend it. It’s being spent every second of your life, and you can never get it back.”

Music Director Carl St.Clair

With 2020 came a collective anxiety, as the pandemic quickly shirted our routines, work schedules and social lives. Despite the challenges of adjusting to this new normal, the arts-X-press team found a way to carry on their tradition of summer fun by introducing AXP@Home, the remote format of Pacific Symphony’s immersive arts summer camp. With the success of last summer’s virtual camp, AXP@Home has since been expanded through alumni workshops that focus on a different art form each month. 

With the dawn of the New Year, AXP@Home invited students back to celebrate new beginnings and explore how the fusion of instrumental music and visual art can inspire creative expression. 

Jennise Hwang, Pacific Symphony ‘s principal second violinist, joined the workshop as a special guest to play a collection of her favorite pieces that represent the excitement and optimism of a fresh start.

While listening to the pieces played by Jennise, AXP@Home students reflected on the music in real-time through drawing and painting, with guidance from visual arts instructor Allison Chatman Trujillo. Using an array of different colors, patterns and movement styles, students explored the language of music through their own visual interpretation of Jennise’s solo violin renditions of Jules Massenet’s Méditation from Thaïs, “A Whole New World” from Disney’s “Aladdin” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 

Allison led students through exercises and provided a brief history of the connection between the visual arts and music. She emphasized that listening to music “can bring back a memory or trigger emotions, whether it’s happy, sad or uplifting. There is no right or wrong way to describe what you feel or see when you listen to music.” 

Upon listening to “A Whole New World,” Counselor Kayla described her corresponding art piece as a representation of legato style, or long and flowing sound. “I took colors that reminded me of the night to go with the mood and memories of the song.” 

In reflecting “The Star Spangled Banner,” AXP alumna Brooke “blended a large range of colors with shading dynamics in order to visualize the meaning of togetherness from the piece.” 

AXP alumna Sophia noted how she communicated emotion in her painting by using “both light and dark colors to symbolize the parts in the piece that were happier than others.” 

Prior to beginning the creative exercise, Carl St.Clair, music director of Pacific Symphony and arts-X-press co-founder, joined students in discussion to reflect on the opportunities of the new year and their individual meanings of success. 

“Just to be able to live a happy life would be [my own personal definition of success], AXP alumnus Ryan expressed. “I don’t think money necessarily differentiates success from failure, as long as you’re happy in your life overall.” 

St.Clair encouraged students to maximize their opportunities for success by being aware of how they spend their time. “The ultimate currency in human existence is time—and how you spend it. It’s being spent every second of your life, and you can never get it back.” 

These moments of reflection showcase how the arts can continue to push us beyond adversity and help us embrace new opportunities as part of our creative processes. Furthermore, exhibiting the close relationship between music and visual art can also expand our artistic interpretations and allow us to perceive the world in a different light. 

St.Clair emphasized how “the happiness and joy we get out of our personal accomplishments” can always define our success. Regardless of the challenges we face individually or the afflictions that overwhelm our world, it remains important to center ourselves with what brings us meaningful enjoyment and connects us to fresh perspectives. 

The next workshop in the AXP@Home Alumni Workshop series—“Building Confidence & Embracing Quality”—will be a dance-centered workshop taking place on Weds., Feb. 24, 2021. 

Please stay tuned to @artsXpress on Instagram and Facebook for updates on news and content!

Celebrate a Valentine’s Day Spectacular with Exquisite Chamber Music

Feb. 14 | 1-2:30 p.m. | In Your Living Room

For centuries, love has inspired some of the greatest music ever written. Whether you’re a die-hard romantic or a stone-cold skeptic, Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to pull out all the stops and bask in the sounds of beautiful music.

Long Beach Block x Block—an exceptional ensemble of Pacific Symphony virtuosi—invite you to celebrate the holiday with a digital concert of musical arrangements they have written and lovingly curated. The program will feature all new, original selections of music relating to all aspects of love. You can revel in everything from Vivaldi to klezmer, waltzes to tangos. The Valentine’s Day Spectacular will take place Sun., Feb. 14 from 1–2:30 p.m. on Zoom. (Ticket buyers will receive a link to the event upon purchase.) The members of Block x Block will be on hand hosting, answering questions and offering unsolicited relationship advice.

Violist Meredith Crawford commented, “The exciting thing about Valentine’s Day is that it’s a holiday centered around love, and love is a subject that’s inspired so much incredible music throughout the ages—our group basically had endless choices when deciding how to program this show. Love is also a very versatile topic: we can talk about playful love, serious love, love lost, love found, romantic love, platonic love, fiery passionate love, chaste love, unrequited love … the list goes on!

“I’m personally very excited to show people what a Block x Block Valentine’s Day looks like,” Crawford added. “I think we’ve come up with a truly unique and fun event for everyone to enjoy in celebration of the holiday.” 

Flutist Ben Smolen shared his thoughts on the program, “One of my favorite new arrangements we’ll be presenting is violinist Christine Frank’s arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s famously fiery Libertango; I dare you not to end up twirling around the room by the end!”

Tickets for Block x Block’s Valentine’s Day Spectacular start at $25 and can be purchased at various levels. Perks for various tiers include holiday treats by MaddieCakes in Newport Beach; BxB-branded masks, shirts and mugs; custom videos; and even deluxe, hand-knit woolen hats by Ben Smolen! If you purchase at the $50 level or above, you will get access to an archival recording of the event to watch on-demand after February 14. Please note: if your ticket order includes baked goods, they can be picked up locally (Long Beach or Orange County) on February 13.

To order tickets, click here.

About Block x Block
After the pandemic forced all performing arts organizations to cease producing live concerts, many musicians were getting stir crazy and missing the connection that exists between performer and audience. Six Pacific Symphony musicians who live in Long Beach decided in early May to begin producing outdoor, socially distanced chamber music concerts in various yards and open spaces around town. The concerts were an immediate success, and the group’s biggest problem was keeping them secret enough to manage crowd sizes! They have been humbled and honored to be able to say that during 2020, when live music came to a standstill around the world, Block x Block was able to produce 84 safe, socially distanced concerts. 

One of the aspects of Block x Block that makes it interesting for the musicians and fun for audiences is that they perform a huge variety of music. Because they create all of our own arrangements, the music they play reflects the personal musical tastes of each member of the group. The result is concert programs that might include classical music, Appalachian fiddle tunes, Nordic folk music, pop and klezmer all in a single show. They are constantly creating new arrangements, and every show’s program is unique. 

Read more about Block x Block at their website.