Wednesday in Shanghai

The first rehearsal of the tour — and last, I hear — in the afternoon, after an hour and twenty minute drive from the hotel to Shanghai Poly Grand Theatre. It’s a post-modern building, formidably austere to my eye, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando. 

Rehearsal began with announcements from Symphony vice president of artistic and orchestra operations Eileen Jeanette, a busy woman on tour. This being the first gathering of everyone together since the tour started, she introduced the tour physician, Dr. Larry Snyder, who stood on stage just behind her. Among other sundry items, she announced the location of the concert after party at the hotel (“the first drink’s on us”), the hour of luggage collection the next day (it will be sent on its way to Wuxi while we go to Hefei) and the nature of our pre-concert meal (a boxed dinner that had been previously tried and approved of by the New York Philharmonic no less, Eileen said).

Rehearsal was interesting. The orchestra hadn’t played together since Saturday, but was completely familiar with the program, having performed it five times in March and rehearsed it again last week. But the hall was new to everyone. I heard differing reports after the rehearsal, depending on where the musicians sat there, but most thought the situation onstage less than ideal.

Out in the hall, though, the sound was bright and clear, and mostly well balanced. Roger Kalia, assistant conductor, sat with the score in the hall and helped St.Clair make some adjustments. “I feel the harps are almost too loud at the opening,” he said of Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloe.” He also mentioned some sizzling cymbal work near the end. It was a lively venue.

Though there were rough patches here and there, the rehearsal went smoothly. “Everyone feel pretty comfortable? I do,” St.Clair said after finishing up the Ravel. “We’re making music the way we always do, doesn’t matter where we are.” To which the orchestra responded by approvingly stomping its feet.

I kept one eye on the audience during the performance; we all did. It’s difficult to generalize about an audience and a little unfair, too. But this one was definitely different from ours. Before the concert, a long list of rules and suggestions were read aloud in Chinese and English over the PA. One puzzler: Chewing gum was “strictly prohibited.” The request that one should be “dressed appropriately” was odd as well. Would the offender who wasn’t leave and come back in improved attire?

This audience wanted to take pictures and perhaps videos on their phones during the concert as well. Ushers would either run over to stop them or, believe it or not, a laser beam from somewhere in the back would flash onto the cell phone screen, which would be immediately pulled down.

Though restless and active, the audience was not inattentive. It liked “Daphnis,” it liked Zukerman and Mozart and seemed familiar with and liked the Theme to “Schindler’s List” that the violinist played as an encore. It appeared to be warming up as the concert progressed and fairly roared after the superb performance of “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

This brought two encores. Leonard Bernstein’s “Mambo” was greeted with great excitement, heads bobbing and everyone shouting “Mambo” when cued by St.Clair. Then he pulled out a new arrangement of something called “Love My China” and when the audience heard the melody (a folk song) it was beside itself with joy, singing along and clapping rhythmically during the march sections.

We made an impression here and it was wonderful to see.

Carl St.Clair signing CDs for fans backstage Wednesday at Shanghai Poly Grand Theatre

Shanghai, Tuesday evening

Off last night (Tuesday) in a van, weaving through the streets into an older part of Shanghai, for a fan/media event. Violinist Pinchas Zukerman (our soloist on tour) and conductor Carl St.Clair chatted about the world of classical music and their previous experiences in China along the way, and then we arrived at the venue, what we would call a small independent book store with a gathering place for events in the back.

As the crowd gathered, St.Clair and Zukerman were interviewed by media in another room, and a video showcasing Pacific Symphony’s activities was shown to the audience, which eventually filled the room and numbered around 100.

An hour long interview in front of the audience ensued, hosted by the very lively Zhang Ming (left), who also translated all of the answers made by Zukerman, St.Clair and Symphony president John Forsyte in great and extensive detail. As us English speakers sat quietly listening to the translation, not understanding a thing, we would be occasionally startled by an English phrase — “bank account,” “Bernard Haitink” — popping out in the middle of it.

Some of the questions were odd. Zukerman, for instance, who appears to be something of a, perhaps, sex symbol here — I observed one woman snapping one photo after another of him in close up — had to field this question: “What is the best quality that the Chinese woman has?” Laughing and saying he was married, Zukerman remained on his toes and quickly came up with “fashion.”

All questions, odd or not, were answered amiably and well by our trio, however, and Forsyte made an explicit pitch for all those present to visit us sometime in Orange County. This truly was a cross-cultural event and the audience seemed passionate about Western classical music. They mobbed Zukerman and St.Clair at the end of the interview, asking for autographs and photos with them. Forsyte was also asked for his signature and photo. One fellow even requested a pose with yours truly.

Wednesday morning addendum: Up early, walked to the second tallest building in the world, Shanghai Tower, went to the 119th floor and snapped this photo for your viewing pleasure.

This afternoon: Rehearsal. Tonight: First tour concert at Shanghai Poly Grand Theatre.

Monday, wait, Tuesday in Shanghai

After a punishing 14-hour flight, the second and smaller portion (Group B) of Pacific Symphony arrived in the most populous city on Earth, in the most populous country on Earth — Shanghai, China — at approximately 6:30 a.m. local time, Tuesday, May 7.

We had departed LAX at a little after 1 a.m. on Monday. That’s a lot of time to watch movies. Upon arrival, we had to clear immigration and customs (we were all electronically fingerprinted) and then we waited for the bus to arrive.


When the bus for our luggage arrived on this wet and dreary morning, we noticed an advertisement on back for our concert tomorrow night.

It’s been nice to say hello to many of the musicians again, quite a few of them for the first time since the 2006 European tour. Then it was another hour or so into downtown Shanghai, much of it spent on an elevated freeway peering out the windows at the vast metropolis.

Downtown Shanghai is very modern and includes the fourth largest building in the world — one of these I think:

Luckily, the orchestra doesn’t have to perform today. The first rehearsal and concert is tomorrow. Tonight, there’s a press conference of some type which I plan to attend. Meanwhile, here’s the view from my hotel room.

André Watts, 16, debuts with New York Philharmonic

The 16-year-old André Watts debuts with the New York Philharmonic in a Young People’s Concert, nationally broadcast in prime time on CBS, Jan. 15, 1963. Leonard Bernstein introduces him with distinct references to Watts’ race. (His parents were Hungarian and African-American.) This was the Civil Rights Era, after all.

“Look, he was a very smart man, he thought this through,” Watts, referring to Bernstein’s speech, told me in 2016. “I’m sure he discussed it, ‘Can I say this? Can I not say this? How far can I go?’”

With this same piece (Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1) a couple weeks later, Watts substituted for an ailing Glenn Gould on New York Philharmonic subscription concerts, Bernstein conducting. Watts had to ask his mother if it was OK first. A commercial recording on Columbia was also made at the time and is still in print.

Watts performs Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto tonight and tomorrow with Pacific Symphony.

Here are two interviews I did with Watts, nearly 26 years apart.

André Watts Sounds Off. Los Angeles Times, Nov. 30, 1990.

André Watts Looks Back on a Storied Career. Orange County Register, May 27, 2016.

New subscription series: ‘Symphonic Voices’

Pacific Symphony has launched a new subscription series focused on the human voice.


Dubbed “Symphonic Voices,” the four-concert package is centered on the annual semi-staged production of an opera, which next season will be Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” (Feb. 21, 23, 26).

To this is added the other opera on the schedule, Ravel’s “L’enfant et les sortilèges” (May 16-18, 2019); a semi-staged production of “My Fair Lady” on the Pops series, conducted by Richard Kaufman (May 31-June 1, 2019); and the season-ending performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, “Symphony of a Thousand,” featuring the Pacific Chorale, the Southern California Children’s Chorus, and soloists to be announced (June 6-8, 2019).

Carl St.Clair conducts everything except “My Fair Lady.”

For those who sign up for the subscription in the near future, a fifth concert, “Bernstein @ 100,” celebrating the centennial of Leonard Bernstein (Oct.25-27, 2018), is added free.

Subscriptions to “Symphonic Voices” are available for $270. Call (714) 755-5799 for more information or to purchase. This offer is not available online.

California symphonic concerts in May

For those who enjoy a good browse, this is an entertaining list provided by the Association of California Symphony Orchestras. See what orchestras around the state are up to this month.

Counties: Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Colusa, Contra Costa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Marin, Mendocino, Modoc, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo, and Yuba

Alameda County

Sunday, May 6, at 5 PM
Berkeley Symphony
Joana Carneiro, music director
René Mandel, violin
Deanna Badizadegan, viola
Peter Wyrick, cello
Britt Day, piano
Bohuslav Martinu: Duo No. 1 for Violin and Cello, H.157
Rebecca Clarke: Sonata for Viola and Piano
Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25
Piedmont Center for the Arts, 801 Magnolia Ave., Piedmont
(510) 841-2800

Friday, May 18, at 8 PM
Oakland Symphony
Michael Morgan, conductor
Liana Bérubé, violin
Bernstein: Serenade after Plato’s “Symposium” for Violin & Orchestra
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 ‘Pathétique’ in B minor, Op 74
Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland
(510) 444-0801

Sunday, May 20, at 4 PM
Community Women’s Orchestra
Dana Sadava, conductor
Joan Tower: Made in America
Aaron Copland: music from Our Town
Dvorak: New World Symphony
Lake Merritt United Methodist Church, 1330 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland
(510) 463-031

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