My Favorite “Messiah” Story

In my previous incarnation as a freelance oboist, I got a call to play Handel’s Messiah with a pickup orchestra at Monumental Baptist Church on Chicago’s Southside—a Sunday afternoon rehearsal and concert, $50 check at the end. Easy gig. I got there and was bummed to see Mozart’s arrangement—which includes clarinets—on music stands. The conductor Dr. Hortense Love was long on enthusiasm, but a bit short on authentic performance practice. The rehearsal droned on and I resigned myself to a less-than-inspiring experience. Halfway through the rehearsal, Dr. Love says “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Mr. William Warfield.” Wow! He’s the famous bass-baritone, who famously recorded Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” with Leontyne Price.

Warfield rips into “Why do the nations,” all fire and brimstone, his bulging eyes glaring a challenge to this feeble band of freelancers as if to say: “I double-dog dare you to match this intensity!!!” Hard to believe, but the concert is even MORE intense. Congregants start fainting left and right. Nurses stationed in the center aisle with oxygen tanks at the ready adroitly administer masks to those overcome with emotion. With the scent of fried chicken wafting in the air, Warfield storms the heavens, alternately fierce and transcendent, transfixing the audience. It’s now an interactive Messiah with the congregation in rapid call-and-response mode: “YAAAS!”…“Tell it!”…“Whoa!”…“Lord Jesus!!”…“Brang it on home!” Afterward, Dr. Love invites the orchestra to the social hall for the tastiest fried chicken feast in the whole world. BEST. MESSIAH. EVER!

But I must say that “Messiah” is such a great piece that in every performance I hear something new. I’m looking forward to hearing Pacific Symphony this Sunday, December 8, which is sure to be a memorable performance with its use of theorbo (long-necked Baroque lute) and countertenor. No fried chicken, though.

You can learn more about Pacific Symphony’s concert here.


Jean Oelrich, Pacific Symphony’s Director of Marketing and Communications, is a recovered oboist.

Interview: Christopher Warren-Green


Ahead of our always popular “Handel’s Glorious Messiah,” we sat down to interview guest conductor Christopher Warren-Green who will be manning the podium, conducting Pacific Chorale, soloists and Pacific Symphony in this staple of the holiday season.

—Alexey Bonca, Public Relations & Social Media Manager


AB: You include the theorbo in this performance of Messiah – how do you see this instrument blending with a modern orchestra? Was your thought to evoke a somewhat historical performance sound when the theorbo is playing with the harpsichord? 

Credit_info_Jeff_CravottaCWG: My intention with the theorbo is to create a dramatic sound. The theorbo is actually louder than the harpsichord, in the right hands. Although it’s more involved in Italian baroque, I’ve found that I can do without the harpsichord if I’ve got the theorbo. And the organ. Using both together is actually a lot of fun. The point here is that I have my own material marked up to make a modern orchestra sound like an original orchestra, but with the power of the modern instruments. And Handel was an operatic, dramatic composer—it was the drama of the Messiah that I draw out. That’s why I use the theorbo.

AB: You also include a countertenor as soloist; is this in place or an alto soloist? Could you expand upon your choice here?

CWG: Handel used different singers in almost every performance, sometimes using sopranos. With the version that I do, which is almost like the “1754 Foundling Hospital” version, I’ve always found that the right countertenor, for me adds, again, more drama. With the countertenors that I like I can actually get more drama from them. In other words, you’ve got a man’s voice in a woman’s register. If you have a countertenor that sounds like a mezzo- or contra-alto, you’ve defeated the object: you want a countertenor who sounds like a tenor in the woman’s register.

AB: Quick follow-up question: did you hand-pick the soloists for this concert?

CWG: Yes. Pacific Symphony has been absolutely fantastic about getting me people I want. Without them, you can’t get the Messiah that you want.

AB: Anything else you’d like to add in terms of this performance? Maybe what the audience can expect, especially in terms of the aesthetic presence of this piece, and its history of performance for over hundreds of years.

CWG: You know, the Victorian tradition of doing it with huge orchestras, and huge choirs—all of it is fantastic, because the piece is simply fantastic music. What I try to do is use modern instruments creating a kind of sound that can be more brutal and more dynamic than people can perhaps understand; they think if you’re going for an authentic performance, it’s going to be really too delicate, but that is not the case—far from it with my Messiah, far from it. So, I use more-or-less a baroque-size orchestra. I know by reputation that your chorus (Pacific Chorale) and orchestra are fantastic, so given that I’ve been allowed the theorbo, and the large organ as well, and with the soloists that I wanted, I’ll be able to give the Messiah that I want to give.

Here’s our guest theorbo player, Michael Leopold, giving a demonstration of the unique period instrument.

If you’re interested in buying tickets, or learning more about the concert, you can visit our website here.

Pacific Symphony’s President Recommends

dsc0601-original-2.jpgNext week is a great concert to bring guests and introduce them to the Symphony! It’s a busy time of year, but this program is perfect for the season.

It’s a glorious program of British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (based on 16th-century hymns for string orchestra), the monumental Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 (performed by Markus Groh, the brilliant German pianist who stepped in for an ailing André Watts more than 15 years ago and helped select the beautiful Hamburg Steinways we use), and a brilliant re-imagining of “The Nutcracker.”

Here is a well-written preview specifically about the Ellington/Strayhorn version of “The Nutcracker.” Also, we expect this will be an emotional return for Principal Cellist Tim Landauer, who has been absent from the concert stage for a number of months. His duet with the piano soloist in the Brahms is one of the most beautiful solos in the orchestral literature.

—John Forsyte, Pacific Symphony President


Check out “A ‘Nutcracker’ Like You’ve Never Heard” in Voice of O.C.



Lower Your Taxes with the New Tax Law

New this year!

For smart taxpayers, the new law provides easy opportunities to lower taxes even more.

Congress doubled the standard deduction to: $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married filers. Whether you typically itemize or take the standard deduction, there are some strategies you can use to receive new tax savings as well as other non‑tax benefits.

The most significant opportunity for you is probably the standard deduction.

It can be used instead of itemizing your deductions, where in the past you might have claimed a deduction for mortgage interest, state and local taxes and charitable giving.

Muffin Man Musical Storytime

Make an outright gift of an appreciated asset to charity.  This strategy allows you to support the causes that matter most to you while generating a charitable tax deduction and potentially capital gains tax savings. This strategy provides tax benefits to itemizers and non‑itemizers.

Give from your pre‑tax assets by making an IRA rollover gift. If you are 70½ or older, this strategy allows you to give up to $100,000 directly from your IRA rather than take the required distribution from your IRA. This strategy does not result in a charitable deduction but will help you avoid tax on the distribution. This strategy works for both itemizers and non‑itemizers.

Fund a charitable gift annuity. Provides you with annual income, a charitable income tax deduction and potentially favorable capital gains treatment while allowing you to support the causes that matter most to you. Your specific benefits will be affected based on whether you itemize or take the standard deduction.

Elizabeth Kurila, Pacific Symphony’s planned giving expert, can help you take advantage of the new law to its fullest. You can reach her at, or (714) 876-2374.

“Holiday Classics – Nutcracker Sweet” Playlist

The holidays just got a little bit jazzier!

This season Pacific Symphony will play selections from the original Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky and from the rendition from American jazz band leader Duke Ellington for the Holiday Classics: Nutcracker Sweet Concert on Dec. 6-8 at 8 p.m.

Tickets are still available to purchase. But for now, please enjoy a preview of the set list below.

1. The Nutcracker: Overture by Tchaikovsky:

2. “Overture” by Ellington/Strayhorn:

3. “March of The Toy Soldiers” by Tchaikovsky:

4. “Sugar Rum Cherry” by Ellington/Strayhorn:

5. Trepak (Russian Dances) by Tchaikovsky:

6. “The Volga Voulty” by Ellington/Strayhorn:

7. Coffee (Arabian Dances) by Tchaikovsky:

8. Tea (Chinese Dances) by Tchaikovsky:

9. “Toot Toot Tootie Toot” by Ellington/Strayhorn:

10.”Dance of the Reed Flutes” by Tchaikovsky:

11. “The Waltz of the Flowers” by Tchaikovsky:

12. “Dance of the Floreadors” by Ellington/Strayhorn:


Have a Jazzy Holiday from Pacific Symphony!


Carl St.Clair conducts Markus Groh!

“Holiday Classics – Nutcracker Sweet” isn’t the first time Carl St.Clair and renowned German pianist Markus Groh have collaborated before, and hopefully, it won’t be their last.

Last year, Carl St.Clair conducted a concert with Costa Rica’s Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional, a familiar event since becoming their Principal Conductor last year. Markus Groh joined the program with Brahms’ First Piano Concerto, and epic and beautiful work performed exquisitely by Groh. You can find the entire video below!

Make sure to catch Markus Groh and Carl St.Clair on stage together again in our first classical concert of the holiday season. Grab your tickets for “Holiday Classics – Nutcracker Sweet” here today!