Pacific Symphony Youth Concert Band Takes its First Bow

In this their inaugural year, Pacific Symphony Youth Concert Band (PSYCB) is the newest addition to the PSYE family of ensembles. Founded in 2022 through the generous sponsorship and advocacy of Hans and Valerie Imhof and John and Elizabeth Stahr, PSYCB is led by award-winning music educator Angela Woo and benefits from the artistic guidance of Pacific Symphony Music Director Carl St.Clair. “I couldn’t be more delighted to welcome Angela into our Pacific Symphony ‘family’ as the newest member of our conducting ‘team,’ commented Maestro St.Clair. “Having known Angela for over three decades, it has been wonderful observing her impressive career development. Her many accomplishments have distinguished her as one of the leading conductors and educators with middle school and high school aged musicians. There is no one more perfect than Angela to lead this new and exciting initiative in the Symphony’s Youth Ensemble Program.”

PSYCB’s inaugural concert on November 20 at 1 p.m. featured a program that includes works of Ticheli, Balmages, and Meyer. The audience was enthusiastic and appreciative.

Representing middle schools throughout the SoCal region, PSYCB provides an experience that nurtures the confidence, poise and musical sensitivity of young musicians through the study and performance of outstanding concert band literature. PSYCB serves instrumentalists in grades 6 through 9 and is one of four Youth Ensemble programs offered by Pacific Symphony.

Each season, students enjoy an interaction with Maestro Carl St.Clair, as well as interactions with guest artists and professional musicians of Pacific Symphony. Students also engage in an annual weekend retreat and are offered free and discounted tickets to Pacific Symphony performances throughout the concert season.

PSYCB presents a two-concert series each season at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Rehearsals for PSYCB take place on Sundays from 5-7 p.m. at the University of California, Irvine. The ensemble season continues through May. 2023. Conductor Angela Woo shares her thoughts and excitement for the PSYCB kickoff concert in this brief interview.

Rodrigo’s Famous Adagio

Pacific Symphony’s first concert in December—Miloš Plays Rodrigo (Dec. 1-3)—features Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Written in 1939, the work could be considered Spain’s most famous musical export. Not only is the Concierto a stunningly beautiful work for guitar and orchestra, but its second movement has become something of a pop phenomenon, hailed for its poignant beauty. The melody is so lush and gorgeous that artists have adapted it to many genres, including pop, classical, jazz, hip hop, fado, rock, and more. The piece was featured to good effect in the 90s British comedy-drama, Brassed Off. In the film, a young euphonium-playing Ewan MacGregor falls head-over-heels for flugelhornist Tara Kennedy when she plays the slow movement of what the bandmaster calls the “Concerto d’Orange Juice.”

Jazz great Miles Davis was inspired to reinterpret the Concierto’s Adagio movement on flugelhorn for his Sketches of Spain album. His arranger Gil Evans commented, “We hadn’t intended to make a Spanish album. We were just going to do the Concierto de Aranjuez. A friend of Miles gave him the only album in existence with that piece. He brought it back to New York and I copied the music off the record because there was no score. By the time we did that, we began to listen to other folk music, music played in clubs in Spain… So we learned a lot from that and it ended up being a Spanish album. The Rodrigo, the melody is so beautiful. It’s such a strong song.” Miles Davis said of the Adagio: “That melody is so strong that the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets.”

Santana, one of the best-selling rock bands of all time, interpreted “En Aranjuez” with its trademark fusion of rock with Latin American jazz. American jazz trumpeter Chris Botti included his version of “En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor” on his album Impressions, which won a Grammy Award for “Best Pop Instrumental Album” in 2013. The arrangement of the Adagio by popular Croation cellist Hauser shares the spotlight with a guitarist.

Lyrics in Spanish—“En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor”—were given to the second movement and were sung by Jose Carreras, Andrea Bocelli, Jose Feliciano, and many others. In French “Aranjuez, Mon Amour” were popularized by European singer Nana Mouskouri and the famous Portugues fado diva Amalia Rodrigues.      

Perhaps the most striking adaptation of Rodrigo’s Adagio is that of the Lebanese singer Fairuz sung in Arabic. “Li Beirut” (“To Beirut”) was released at the height of the Lebanese Civil War. It is a heartfelt plea for healing of the conflict that divided her hometown. The lyrics express nostalgia and longing for a lost world.

Viet Cuong Marches to His Own Unusual Drummer

Music Director Carl St.Clair shared his thoughts about Pacific Symphony’s new Composer-in-Residence Viet Cuong: “From literally the first seconds of hearing Viet’s music, I realized that I was in the presence of a special voice, one connected in a most profound way to that special realm which offers music its beauty and meaning. Viet’s music was fresh, colorful, and captivating. Then, we met. He was just the person I began to know through this music—kind, gentle, yet with a quiet strength of belief and conviction.” 

Voice of OC’s Paul Hodgins interviewed Viet Cuong and has quite a story to tell about this gifted young composer. Read the story here.

Welcome to the 2022-23 PSYE Concert Season!

It is with immense pride and pleasure that we welcome you to our 2022-23 Pacific Symphony Youth Ensembles concert season! 

Angela Woo, PSYCB Conductor

This is an exciting season of firsts as we celebrate the arrival of our newest PSYE family member, Pacific Symphony Youth Concert Band (PSYCB). Made possible by the generous support and advocacy of Hans and Valerie Imhof, and John and Elizabeth Stahr, this newest youth ensemble is led by renowned music educator and conductor Angela Woo, who leads the ensemble in their auspicious premiere performance on November 20 at 1 p.m. in a program that includes works of Ticheli, Balmages, and Meyer.

Additionally, it is a joy to welcome Dr. Johanna Gamboa-Kroesen as Pacific Symphony Santiago Strings (PSSS) music director, taking the reins from founding PSSS Music Director Irene Kroesen. Dr. Gamboa-Kroesen will lead PSSS in their exciting season opener on November 20 at 7 p.m., in a program including works of Glinka, Schubert, and Nishimura.

Dr. Johanna Gamboa-Kroesen, PSSS Conductor

Not to be outshone, our Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra (PSYO) and Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble (PSYWE), under the exceptional leadership of Dr. Jacob Sustaita and Dr. Gregory X. Whitmore, will explore the musical heights in their upcoming season openers, including PSYO’s brilliant essay of major works of Verdi, Mascagni, and Mahler on November 14 at 7 p.m., and PSYWE’s noble and inspiring exploration of works of Holst, Maslanka, Perrine, Grant, and Sousa on November 21 at 7 p.m.

Looking ahead, we anticipate a rich and varied season of PSYE concert experiences in 2022-23, including celebrated guest artists, resident composers, and a world premier commission by renowned composer Derrick Skye, and we invite you to join us in these exciting musical adventures! 

Dr. Gregory X. Whitmore, PSYWE Conductor
Dr. Jacob Sustaita, PSYO Conductor

It is through the artistic vision and leadership of Pacific Symphony Music Director Carl St.Clair (PSYE Artistic Advisor and Guardian Angel), the support and advocacy of our PSYE and Pacific Symphony Boards of Directors, the extraordinary support of our many generous donors, and the inspiring involvement of our SoCal community of friends, family members and music lovers like you that make this program possible.

Thank you so much, and please enjoy the music!

Shawne Natalia Zarubica

Managing Director, Pacific Symphony Youth Ensembles

“I loved being part of a group where all my peers were equally dedicated and interested in producing music, and I appreciated how seriously Dr. Whitmore considered our work. He held us to the same standard as professional ensembles, which encouraged us to perfect our skills at home and focus on the musicality of the piece during rehearsals.”

Ashley Lee, PSYWE flutist, now studying Human Biology, Music, and East Asian Studies at Stanford University

Pacific Symphony League: Ambassadors for Music Education

With Pacific Symphony’s 2022-23 season now underway, it’s important to look behind the scenes and offer appreciation to all the individuals who volunteer their time and resources to ensure the success of the Symphony. Devoted to the organization’s mission, goals, and values, the Pacific Symphony League has been serving as the Symphony’s premier volunteer and support group since 1990. With their long-time passion and commitment to the Symphony, the League contributes most importantly as “friend-raising” ambassadors to help further music education in the local community. 

League members at the Symphony Shop with Director of Volunteer Services Abby Edmunds

The League supports many Pacific Symphony education and community engagement programs such as Santa Ana Strings, Heartstrings, arts-X-press, and Class Act. These programs actively make a difference in the local community, helping to inspire and foster a love for music for all ages. The League’s time, effort, and contributions are essential in making that happen. Support from the League finds itself in many different ways, including donations, fundraising, volunteering, and solely operating the Symphony Shop, and Pacific Symphony Store online. 

– Music Director Carl St.Clair and President & CEO John Forsyte

This year, the League welcomes and congratulates six new board members who just began working with the League last year. These new board members are sure to offer a new and dynamic direction for the League as they are in the process of choosing a music education program to highlight for the season. Last year’s season was Class Act, a program that connects the Symphony to elementary school music programs by offering musical expertise and education. Symphony musicians are able to connect with students as Class Act teaching artists through a variety of music-oriented activities. This program has helped to enhance the goals of the Symphony by exposing young students to symphonic music, and to their educators and families. 

One of the ways that the League is able to support these amazing programs financially is through their operation of the Symphony Shop. The shop curates unique items that interest all music lovers. Their products range from clothing, books, and jewelry to toys and music-oriented gifts. Sales from the shop directly benefit all Symphony education and community engagement programs, so your purchases help to positively impact the local community. The shop is open before and after most live performances and anytime at the Pacific Symphony Online Store.

The League will host its Autumn Luncheon on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, at Andrei’s Restaurant. It will feature the Symphony’s Principal Trombonist, Michael Hoffman, who will speak and perform at the event. This event is for League members and potential newcomers interested in joining. There will be time for socializing, Q&A, and of course, delicious food. For more information on attending the luncheon, please contact Abby Edmunds: aedmunds@pacificsymphony.org.

This blog was written by Public Relations/Marketing Intern Samantha Horrocks. She is currently a senior at California State University, Fullerton studying Communications with a concentration in Entertainment and Tourism. 

Welcome to our First popUP Prelude Party!

Put your party hats on! Pacific Symphony is giving donors, subscribers, and patrons a taste of our Pops Season with our first-ever popUP Prelude Party!

Pacific Symphony announced the addition of a special popUP concert on Tues., Oct. 25. Guest conductor Enrico Lopez-Yañez curates and hosts this unique “part concert, part party” event that defies traditional classical music presentation with a program of great live music performed by Pacific Symphony in a laid-back and relaxed atmosphere. He will offer highlights of the 2022-23 season along with Broadway tunes and the sweeping, cinematic new music of GRAMMY®-nominated singer/songwriter/composer Cody Fry including his viral TikTok hits, “I Hear a Symphony” and “Eleanor Rigby.”

We sat down with our Enrico Lopez-Yañez to talk about this unique concert and his thoughts on what makes a great pops program.

“I’m very excited about this concert,” explained Maestro Lopez-Yañez, the concert’s guest conductor and the principal pops conductor of the Nashville Symphony. 

“This program, in addition to being full of thrilling music, offers a little of bit of something for everyone. It began with the concept of wanting to highlight some of the various genres and programs on the 2022-23 Pops Series. Then, of course, we added a collaboration with an incredible young talent, Cody Fry, a GRAMMY®-nominated singer/songwriter/composer and producer, whom I had the opportunity to work with at the Kennedy Center this past summer.”

Born in the U.S. and of Mexican descent, Lopez-Yañez grew up playing piano, trumpet and drums while traveling around the globe with his family as his father performed in operas. He also performed with his sister and mother in a group called Me and the Kids, even making a self-titled album before beginning his classical music education (he holds a Master’s in Music, and another Master’s in Orchestral Conducting).

Enrico Lopez-Yañez photo by: Liz Ross Cruse

Lopez-Yañez, an immeasurable advocate for music education, is artistic director and co-founder of Symphonica Productions, an organization that curates and leads programs designed to cultivate new audiences. He also arranges and conducts everything from holiday shows to disco, Latin Fire symphony concerts, and collaborations with artists of every genre. 

When asked what makes a good pops program, Lopez-Yañez explained, “A symphony orchestra has the power, more than almost any other group of musicians, to enhance any style of music. A great pops program involves taking an element of familiarity that the audience expects to hear, then creating something truly unique with the addition of the orchestra.

“Put your favorite ‘80s rock, Hip Hop or Frank Sinatra score in front of an orchestra and you can watch it come to life in a one-of-a-kind way because you have 80-plus musicians enhancing the sound and creating something like you’ve never heard before. Not only is it special sonically, but it’s also special visually. Our art form can so beautifully symbolize what we should have a lot more of in this world—many different voices and individual artists coming together to create something collaboratively beyond anything that is possible individually.”

“My aim in programming is much more about having people fall in love with symphonic music. So that doesn’t necessarily mean classical. That just means music in which an orchestra is involved in the music’s creation,” he added.

This leads us back to this evening’s popUP Prelude Party and the talents of this evening’s guest artist and viral sensation, Cody Fry.

“He is one of the few artists today that doesn’t merely add orchestral elements to an existing song but actually composes his music starting from the idea of the symphony as a primary component. That’s what makes him so unique and special,” continued Lopez-Yañez.

“Enrico is a delightful presence on stage and in real life,” explained Cody Fry, “and I’m thrilled to be working with him again. This is a dream collaboration. I’m so excited to showcase my music with Pacific Symphony.”

“What I love about the music industry right now is that there are just no boundaries or rules or genres,” said Fry, when describing the rise of orchestral music on TikTok. “Gen Z, in particular, has broken down all barriers in terms of listening to and enjoying music. They don’t care if Kate Bush was big 30 years ago; they’re just like, this is the first time we’ve heard this, and it’s dope.

“They don’t care if they’re listening to Debussy, Max Richter or John Williams, and they don’t care what year it’s from. Their attitude is, this is great music, and we enjoy it.”

And we know you’ll feel the same about this popUP Prelude Party. Enjoy!

Cody Fry photo by Samuel Cowden

Just Added To Pacific Symphony’s 2022-23 Pops Season: The Righteous Brothers

Photo Credit: The Righteous Brothers. Bucky Heard (L) and Bill Medley (R).

Pacific Symphony just added a special Valentine’s Day show with blue-eyed soul pioneers, The Righteous Brothers (Feb. 10-11, 2023), to the 2022-23 Pops Season led by Principal Pops Conductor Laureate Richard Kaufman and underwritten by the Sharon and Tom Malloy Family.  

The Righteous Brothers enjoyed a string of top-ten hits, including the most played song in radio history, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame duo of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, originally from Orange County, topped the charts for four decades. After Hatfield’s death in 2003, Bill Medley continued to perform to sold-out crowds around the world, but fans and friends pleaded with him to keep The Righteous Brothers alive. Medley said, “No one could ever take Bobby’s place, but when I caught Bucky Heard’s show it all came together—I found the right guy to help me recreate the magic.”

The Righteous Brothers concert experience features their biggest hits—“Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Soul & Inspiration,” “Unchained Melody,” “Rock and Roll Heaven,” Medley’s Grammy-winning Dirty Dancing theme “The Time of My Life” and much more, all backed by the lush Hollywood sound of Pacific Symphony. The Bill Medley/Bucky Heard pairing came as something of a happy accident. Medley said it just seemed right: “I’d been friends with Bucky for years, but when I caught his show he just killed me! The next day it hit me. That’s the guy, someone I could sing hard with, laugh hard with, love and respect—on and off stage. He fits The Righteous Brothers live performance show perfectly. And, we’ve even recorded some new material together.”

The addition of The Righteous Brothers to Pacific Symphony’s Pops Season completes this series of seven singular sensations, which also present the Season Special Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone™ in Concert (Oct. 28-29). The 2022-23 Pops Season officially begins Nov. 4-5 with a tribute to legendary film composer Maestro John Williams in honor of his 90th birthday. Five other blockbuster shows in the Pops series include renowned artists across jazz, pop, disco, Broadway and rock: The Manhattan Transfer, Kristin Chenoweth, Gloria Gaynor, The Music of The Rolling Stones and Renée Elise Goldsberry. The finale of the 2022-23 Pops Season will close June 9-10, 2023, with Hamilton: An American Musical alumna and Girls5eva star Renée Elise Goldsberry.

All concerts begin at 8 p.m. and take place at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, CA. Subscriptions for the seven-concert series are now available and start at $245. Single ticket sales begin in August and start at $35. For more information or to purchase tickets, please contact our Patron Services team at (714) 755-5799, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or visit us online at PacificSymphony.org.

To learn more about the 2022-23 Pops Series and subscribe, please click here.

Programs, artists, prices and dates are subject to change.

What’s Happening Next Month: May 2022

May is right around the corner and that means we’re getting closer to the end of the 2021-22 season. What a journey it has been. Thank you for joining us through it all. From Paul Jacob’s solo organ recital (May 1) to Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble’s final concert of the 2021-22 season (May 23), here’s your lineup for May 2022.

PACIFIC SYMPHONY PERFORMS TICHELI AND BEETHOVEN WITH JENNIFER FRAUTSCHI | May 1, 2022 • 3 p.m.

Two-time GRAMMY nominee and Avery Fisher career grant recipient Jennifer Frautschi has garnered worldwide acclaim as a deeply expressive and musically adventurous violinist with impeccable technique and a wide-ranging repertoire. The program includes Frank Ticheli’s moving Rest, and Beethoven’s only concerto for one of the most popular instruments of his day: the violin.

This performance will take place at Soka Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo. Pacific Symphony will be under the baton of Maestro Carl St.Clair.

To learn more about the show and get tickets, please click here.

ORGAN RECITAL: PAUL JACOBS | May 1, 2022 • 7 p.m.

Pacific Symphony favorite and Grammy Award-winning organist Paul Jacobs makes his return at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall for a solo recital The program will feature works by John Weaver, J.S. Bach, Cesar Franck, Dudley Buck and Alexandre Guilmant. Enjoy image magnification on our big screens during the concert for a closer look at the organist! There is no Preview Talk for this performance. Doors open at 6 p.m.

To learn more about the show and get tickets, please click here.

RAVEL’S PIANO TRIO | May 8, 2022 • 3 p.m.

French Impressionism caps off this delightful afternoon with Ravel’s colorful and climatic piano trio. Before that, music by the Hungarian composer, Ernst von Dohnányi treats you to shifting chromatic tonality while Czech composer, Bohuslav Martinů, explores the virtuosity of the woodwinds. Join host and curator Orli Shaham for the final concert of the 2021-22 Café Ludwig chamber music series. Just in time for Mother’s Day. The event will also feature Concertmaster Dennis Kim, Principal Violist Meredith Crawford, Principal Cellist Warren Hagerty and Principal Flutist Benjamin Smolen. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers and mother figures out there! This concert will take place at the Samueli Theatre.

To learn more about the show and get tickets, please click here.

THE MUSIC OF ABBA | May 13-14, 2022 • 8 p.m.

Photo Credit: Arrival from Sweden

The world’s top ABBA tribute Arrival from Sweden joins Pacific Symphony in the second half to perform some of the most iconic songs ever written: “Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia,” “Waterloo,” “S.O.S.,” “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme” and so many more will have you dancing in the aisles and singing along. With hundreds of performances over the past two decades, The Music of ABBA has audiences all in agreement: This is the closest to ABBA you’ll ever get! Pacific Symphony will be under the baton of Principal Pops Conductor Laureate Richard Kaufman.

To learn more about the show and get tickets, please click here.

PSYO: CELEBRATIONS IN SOUND | May 16, 2022 • 7 p.m.

Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra wraps up its 2021-22 season with a special program featuring performances by the two winners of PSYO’s annual concerto auditions in concertos by Shostakovich and Bruch, a much anticipated and truly thrilling event! The concert is capped by Respighi’s colorful depiction of the Pines of Rome. Admission is free, but tickets are required. Seating is general admission. They will be under the baton of Music Director Dr. Jacob Sustaita.

To learn more about the show and get tickets, please click here.

MOZART & SALIERI | May 19-21, 2022 • 8 p.m.

David Ivers as Antonio Salieri in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 production of Amadeus. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2015.)

The incredible story of genius musician Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, told in flashback by his peer and secret rival Antonio Salieri—now confined to an insane asylum. Adapted from the Tony Award-winning play and Oscar-winning movie Amadeus by Peter Shaffer, Mozart & Salieri includes a complete performance of Mozart’s Requiem—featuring the Grammy Award-winning Pacific ChoraleDon Giovanni Overture and other selections. South Coast Repertory Artistic Director David Ivers stars as Salieri. You can listen to the preview talk recorded by Classical California KUSC host Alan Chapman here. Pacific Symphony will be under the baton of Maestro Carl St.Clair.

To learn more about the show and get tickets, please click here.

MUSIC FROM THE MOVIES! | May 21, 2022 • 10 & 11:30 a.m.

Experience the magical music of Disney! Be our guest and enjoy your favorites from Frozen, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Star Wars. Come dressed as your favorite Disney or Star Wars character! This is a fun and fascinating 45-minute concert designed especially for children 5-11. Pacific Symphony will be under the baton of assistant conductor, Dr. Jacob Sustaita.

To learn more about the show and get tickets, please click here.

MOZART’S REQUIEM | May 22, 2022 • 3 p.m.

Maestro Carl St.Clair and David Ivers, actor and artistic director at South Coast Repertory, explore Mozart’s “Requiem” — one of the most enigmatic pieces ever composed, mainly due to the myths and controversies surrounding it. Mozart’s “Requiem,” which was left unfinished at the time of the composer’s death, now enjoys an elevated status as one of the most magnificent achievements in sacred music. Featuring the Grammy Award-winning Pacific Chorale. Doors open at 2 p.m. There is no preview talk for this performance.

To learn more about the show and get tickets, please click here.

PSYWE: FOR THE PEOPLE | May 23, 2022 • 7 p.m.

Wrapping up their 2021-22 season, Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble presents a program of soaring beauty and quirky wit, including the world premiere of Steven Mahpar’s Simurgh, and Giovanni Santos’ I Dream Awake. They will be under the baton of Music Director Dr. Gregory X. Whitmore. Admission is free, but tickets are required. Seating is general admission.

To learn more about the show and get tickets, please click here.

What show are you looking forward to the most? Let us know in the comments!


 

Coming Soon: Mozart & Salieri

Photo by Karl Hugh. Utah Shakespeare Festival 2015.

Pacific Symphony audiences will enjoy Mozart & Salieri, a creative collaboration between South Coast Repertory (SCR), Pacific Chorale and the Symphony, May 19-21, 2022.

Adapted from the Tony Award-winning play and Oscar-winning movie Amadeus by Peter Shaffer, Mozart & Salieri includes a complete performance of Mozart’s Requiem, Don Giovanni Overture and other selections. The incredible story of genius musician Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is told in flashback by his peer and secret rival Antonio Salieri—now confined to an insane asylum. SCR Artistic Director David Ivers stars as Salieri. James Sullivan, who conducted Ivers when he appeared as Salieri in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 production of Amadeus, is directing this production as well. He wrote a director’s note sharing his thoughts about the program.

Director’s Note

“Mozart is the expression of eternal truth.” The renowned conductor Josef Krips said this, in an interview recorded in 1964. “Beethoven maybe reaches heaven, but Mozart comes from there…. What he wrote was written for Eternity.”

The Antonio Salieri of Peter Shaffer’s great play Amadeus could hardly disagree. What else could explain this astounding talent? But when Wolfgang Mozart blazed comet-like across the firmament of the 18th-century European sky and landed with ground-shaking force in Salieri’s Vienna, Antonio perhaps could only seethe with envy—and plot an upstart rival’s demise. Mozart’s offense was essentially nothing less than his own breathtaking brilliance. Salieri can see himself as nothing more than a middling mediocrity. Envy becomes treachery. Such is the story of Amadeus that is excerpted in this performance with the mighty presence of the Pacific Symphony as led by Carl St. Clair utterly enveloping David Ivers’ Antonio Salieri with the sublime music that is “of heaven.”

But is the story true? We can never know. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died in deep poverty and was buried – no one knows just where—in a pauper’s grave. Mozart—divinely inspired Mozart— failed to gain in Vienna the patronage he so desperately sought. Salieri, competent but unremarkable Salieri, prospered there; the same Salieri who held several influential music posts at the Viennese Court, the same Salieri who certainly could have lifted young Mozart into a position of employment, if not prominence. That we know. But whispers, gossip, and then legend had it that Salieri literally poisoned Mozart—the scandalously sensational tale getting its boost from an 1830 drama by Alexander Pushkin—and furthered by Mozart and Salieri, an 1890s Rimsky-Korsakov opera based on the Pushkin tragedy of treachery. And then, of course, came Peter Shaffer’s international dramatic sensation, later the Oscar-winning film, Amadeus. But whatever happened, if any of this perfidy did, seems almost inconsequential to what is popularly believed. According to whisper, gossip, and legend Antonio Salieri stands in the villainous company of the Borgias, of Richard III, of Lady Macbeth.

There is one stirring thought to contemplate, a poignance that could surely have been the case for Salieri; and that, the agony of encountering the very brilliance he so desperately prayed to have in himself. Salieri’s own skills were in fact considerable. He must have easily heard and understood that Mozart was a miracle beyond explanation, a genius not of this earthly realm but of heaven itself. Amadeus. The sublime beauty of the music may have broken his heart.

It is an extraordinary privilege and pleasure to work on this project, especially with my longtime friend, David Ivers of South Coast Rep, and a new friend, Carl St. Clair of Pacific Symphony. And, of course, and especially this magnificent orchestra. To watch and to hear as these heavenly threads of sound surround and suffuse Salieri’s mind, heart and soul is a rare experience and true delight. With full orchestral force, it is—as Josef Krips had said—Eternal Truth told in the dramatic and heard in transcendence. 

—J.R. Sullivan

For more information about Mozart & Salieri or to buy tickets, please click here.

REVIEW: Pacific Symphony Mounts a Surefire Production of Verdi’s ‘Otello’

This photo features tenor Carl Tanner as Otello (left) and soprano Kelebogile Besong in her role debut as Desdemona (right). Photo by Doug Gifford. April 2022.

This review was originally written by Timothy Mangan, a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC.

It was time once again for the Pacific Symphony’s annual opera performance, Thursday night in Segerstrom Concert Hall. This was the 10th anniversary of the orchestra’s opera initiative, undertaken (in part) to fill a need for grand opera in Orange County after the closing of Opera Pacific. Thursday’s effort (scheduled for repeat Saturday and Tuesday) was ambitiously devoted to Verdi’s penultimate opera, “Otello.”

As with past productions, this one was semi-staged. The orchestra is placed onstage and the action and singing unwind mostly in front of it, with minimal sets, but in costume. Conductor Carl St.Clair, in keeping with the plan, always chooses operas that have an integral role for the orchestra, not just accompaniment.   

The company of Verdi’s “Otello.” Baritone Stephen Powell as iago (top left), tenor Eric Barry as Lodovico (top right) and tenor Norman Shankle as Cassio (stage). Photo by Doug Gifford. April 2022.

In his director’s note, Robert Neu (who worked with the orchestra previously in “The Magic Flute” and “La Traviata”) indicated he took a less-is-more approach with “Otello.” “There are times that a director needs to get out of the way and completely trust the material,” he wrote. Wise man.

Based closely on Shakespeare’s “Othello,” Verdi’s opera seemed to take on new relevance here, though not necessarily because of the production. “Othello” is a story about the destructive power of jealousy (you will remember), but here there was another layer of meaning in it. The ensign Iago instills jealousy in Otello for his faithful wife Desdemona with the use of fake news, even going so far as to stage fraudulent scenes in front of Otello. Iago’s fake news eventually leads to where fake news often does: violence and murder.

Not that Neu or anyone brought this out, or should have. It was just there for the viewer’s taking, as such things often are in old masterpieces.

As promised, Neu kept his apparent contributions to a minimum, moving the singers efficiently around the stage among simple wooden block forms. The costumes by Katie Wilson quietly put us in the mood of the Renaissance era.

This helped put the emphasis squarely on the music itself. It’s luxury casting to have a full symphony orchestra play this music and St.Clair and the Pacific musicians sounded ready for it. The opening storm scene revealed the group in fine form, rich and luxuriant in the strings, warm and clear in the woodwinds, the brass in easy balance. The orchestra performed without the usual risers and it sounds better on this stage, both more blended and lucid.

Positioned in the loft above the orchestra, the recently Grammy-winning Pacific Chorale gave a fit and trim account of the extensive parts for chorus. St.Clair led a steady and considered reading of the score, keeping the large forces easily together (the opening storm scene made its usual impression) and not forcing expressive issues. An occasional lack of Italianate style mattered little.

Tenor Carl Tanner, veteran of Opera Pacific and of this role at the Metropolitan Opera under Gustavo Dudamel, gave a commanding portrayal of the title character. Its strenuous vocal demands, high, low, loud, soft and lots of it, were met with relentless verve and power. His tone remained firm and focussed, despite fortissimo demands. It was a confident performance, through and through.

This photo features Southern California Children’s Chorus (left) with soprano Kelebogile Besong as Desdemona (back center) and mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore as Emilia (right). Photo by Doug Gifford. April 2022.

Baritone Stephen Powell clearly enjoyed singing Iago, not with a villainous twirling of mustaches or overplaying, but by savoring the words and phrases as if they were evil chocolate morsels. And he stood toe to toe with Tanner in their duets.

Making her debut in the role, soprano Kelebogile Besong provided a fragile and vulnerable account of the doomed Desdemona. Her tones shimmered, her phrases filigreed. An occasional unevenness in color and a tendency not to start notes squarely on pitch should disappear when she settles into the part.

Ironically, Otello was played by a white singer (Tanner) and Desdemona, a white woman in the Shakespeare play, was played by a Black singer (Besong). This is not that unusual in opera these days.

Margaret Lattimore (Emilia), Norman Shankle (Cassio), and Eric Barry (Roderigo) were proficient in their smaller, crucial roles. The Southern California Children’s Chorus made a crisp contribution.

Finally, a couple of purely personal observations. The average operagoing Italian of the 19th century must have loved protracted death scenes, such as in “Otello.” They no longer play so well, especially on a weeknight after a long day at work. Some judicious cutting (sacrilege!) would help many of them.

The Pacific Symphony is to be commended for presenting an opera a year in semi-staged productions this last decade. But now that it is clear that Opera Pacific will never come back, or that any other company comparable in size will be established, it is time for the orchestra to consider performing fully-staged opera, in the original Segerstrom Hall, once a year. Difficult? Yes. Unfeasible? No. Where there’s a will there’s a way.