In Memoriam: Mohammad Reza Shajarian

Today we mourn the loss of Mohammad Reza Shajarian, Iran’s legendary vocalist who passed away at 80 years old after battling kidney cancer for years. We had the great pleasure of hosting Shajarian’s son, internationally celebrated vocalist Hamayoun Shajarian, during our 2019 concert celebrating Nowruz, Iranian’s New Year. Mohammad Reza Shajarian was known across the globe as a pioneer of Persian classical and folk music, his cultural impact supported by his numerous cultural awards and record sales. In the United States, two recordings from his musical group Masters of Persian Music were nominated for Grammys, in 2002 and 2005. He will be greatly missed, and his musical legacy will be forever remembered. 

Below is Mohammad Reza Shajarian’s NPR Tiny Desk concert from 2013, showcasing his powerful, emotional voice.

Visit Pacific Symphony’s New Online Store

Pacific Symphony’s new online store launched last week. You’ll want to check out all the fun gift ideas for family and friends of all ages – just click here!

You may want to stock up on music note face masks, Symphony coffee mugs, baseball hats, totes and music boxes, to name just a few items available. For a limited time, you can receive an introductory free gift with every purchase or for orders over $50, you can receive a free gift and free shipping.

Pacific Symphony League, the volunteer group that supports the shop at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, also manages the online Symphony Store. The League was founded in 1990 and Its dynamic members serve as avid ambassadors throughout the community, existing to provide financial and volunteer support, specifically for its education/community engagement programs.

All Symphony store purchases benefit Pacific Symphony’s Education and Community Engagement Programs. Your support matters!

Symphony Mixers

More than 20,000 people have viewed the 15 virtual Symphony Mixers that have taken place since the spring! If you haven’t tuned in yet, you’ll want to check out this weekly web series hosted by Principal Flute Ben Smolen. The program features interactive discussions about the world of music. Many Pacific Symphony musicians have joined Ben—including Principal Viola Meredith Crawford, Principal Bass Michael Franz, Principal Bassoon Rose Corrigan, violinist Christine Frank, clarinetist Josh Ranz, English horn player Lelie Resnick and horn player Adedeji Ogunfolu.

Other guests have included internationally-celebrated Spanish guitarist Pablo Villegas, Vice President of Education and Community Engagement Susan Kotses, conductor Mei-Ann Chen, composer Christopher Theofanidis and Music Director Carl St.Clair. To check out past Symphony Mixers on YouTube, click here.

Mixers coming up this month include popular KUSC radio host, Brian Lauritzen (Oct. 7) and Pacific Symphony favorite, pianist Alexander Romanovsky (Oct.. 14).

To join the webinar, make sure you click the registration link in our social media posts, or emails if you’re a subscriber. (This is the best way to ensure you can participate in the Q&A portion of the Mixer.) You can also watch each Mixer on Facebook Live during the event.

Make sure to follow us on social media for upcoming Mixer guests!

Southland Sessions Presents Pacific Symphony

Episode 1: “Opening Night with Pacific Symphony”
Sept. 30 at 8 p.m. on KCET | Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. on PBS SoCal

Following in the tradition of past season openers, Pacific Symphony’s virtual “Opening Night” has been reimagined for the uncommon era in which we find ourselves. The program—a virtual piano extravaganza—will be offered in an innovative way, featuring five internationally renowned piano soloists in their home studios around the world: Olga Kern, Louis Lortie, André Watts, and piano duo Christina and Michelle Naughton. Works featured include 19th and 20th century masterworks by popular composers. Music Director Carl St.Clair hosts the evening.

Here’s a guide to the “Opening Night” program with information about the performing artists.

Carnival Overture – Antonín Dvořák

“Boogie” for Two Pianos – Paul Schoenfeld
Christina and Michelle Naughton
“There’s no such thing as sibling rivalry for the Naughton piano duo” as stated by the Washington Post. Christina and Michelle Naughton are especially passionate about American 20th century music and have immersed themselves in projects to showcase their interest. Notable is their 2019 album “American Postcard,” and they performed the world premiere of John Adams’ “Roll Over Beethoven” at NYC’s WQXR Greenspace. Tonight they perform “Boogie” for Two Pianos by Paul Schoenfeld.

Le Tombeau de Couperin: “Rigaudon” – Maurice Ravel

Moonlight Sonata: “Adagio sostenuto” – Ludwig van Beethoven
Louis Lortie

For over three decades, French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie has performed world-wide, building a reputation as one of the world’s most versatile pianists. He extends his interpretative voice across a broad spectrum of repertoire, and his performances and award-winning recordings attest to his remarkable musical range. In demand on five continents, Lortie has established long-term partnerships with orchestras such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, Orchestre National de France and Dresden Philharmonic in Europe, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Dallas Symphony, and, of course, Pacific Symphony. Lortie performs the “Adagio sostenuto” movement from Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata. A German music critic coined the sonata’s nickname because he felt the “Adagio sostenuto” movement reminded him of moonlight glistening on water.

Symphony No. 5 in C Minor: I. Allegro con brio – Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major: II. Andante con moto – Ludwig van Beethoven
André Watts

The internationally renowned André Watts enjoys a long association with Pacific Symphony and a close friendship with Carl St.Clair. Both were discovered by the legendary Leonard Bernstein. Watts burst upon the music world at the age of 16 when Bernstein chose him to make his debut with the New York Philharmonic on one of the orchestra’s Young People’s Concerts, a concert which was broadcast nationwide on CBS-TV. Only two weeks later, Bernstein asked him to substitute at the last minute for the ailing Glenn Gould in performances of Liszt’s E-flat Concerto with the New York Philharmonic, thus launching his career in storybook fashion. More than half a century later, André Watts remains one of America’s most distinguished and celebrated performing artists. Watts performs the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, a work he has performed frequently throughout his career. The New York Times praised Watts’ interpretation of the Fourth Concerto for his “straightforward interpretation enhanced by pianism of extraordinary refinement…He seemed to have an almost infinite range of colors and moods at his disposal.”

Moment Musicaux No. 4 in E Minor – Sergei Rachmaninoff
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Variation 18: Andante cantabile – Sergei Rachmaninoff
Olga Kern
Russian-American pianist Olga Kern is now recognized as one of her generation’s great artists. With her vivid stage presence, passionately confident musicianship and extraordinary technique, the striking pianist continues to captivate fans and critics alike. Olga Kern was born into a family of musicians with direct links to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff and began studying piano at the age of five. She jumpstarted her U.S. career with her historic Gold Medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas as the first woman to do so in more than thirty years. At age 17, Kern won First Prize winner of the Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition and throughout her career, she has been a favored interpreter of the composer’s music.

Stories with Richard Kaufman

Principal Pops conductor Richard Kaufman celebrates his 30th anniversary season with Pacific Symphony this year. Over the decades, he’s conducted many memorable pops concerts that Symphony audiences have enjoyed. His programs featuring soundtracks and live music to film, have been especially popular.

Richard Kaufman sat down for a digital chat with Eileen Jeanette, Pacific Symphony’s senior vice-president of artistic planning. In an expansive three-part conversation, he recounts the early days of his career working at MGM and other Hollywood recording studios. You’ll hear about tricks-of-the trade in Hollywood film music-making. How is it that he’s able to conduct a live orchestra playing the soundtrack to synchronize it to the film the audience is watching? You’ll want to know.

Kaufman also reminisces about his early days as Pops conductor with Pacific Symphony. Before he conducted the orchestra, he played violin on one performance of Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” as a free-lance musician. When the popular crooner and TV star Andy Williams (“Moon River”) engaged Kaufman to conduct his symphony concert tours, one of the appearances was with Pacific Symphony. He enjoyed working with the Symphony and found the audience to be incredible so he decided to write the executive director at the time, Lou Spisto. At that time, Kaufman was the vice-president of music for MGM television and in his letter he expressed an interest in doing a concert of film music as a part of the Symphony’s pop series. In 1990, he was invited to conduct at Pacific Symphony and the rest is history.

You’ll enjoy hearing Richard Kaufman’s stories of 30 years with Pacific Symphony. Kick back, watch this entertaining conversation and offer a champagne toast to this remarkable musician who has been so integral to Pacific Symphony’s growth.

Part I: Introduction

Part II: Tenure at Pacific Symphony

Part III: The Hollywood Years

Pacific Symphony Partners with KCET and PBS SoCal

This fall, Pacific Symphony is partnering with KCET and PBS SoCal for the upcoming airing of four programs as part of its new weekly arts and culture series “Southland Sessions.” Pacific Symphony is pleased to be featured on this new series, which showcases the vibrancy and resilience of creators across Southern California during the pandemic, featuring everything from drive-thru art exhibitions to Chicano comedies and underground DJ sets. Pacific Symphony concerts to be featured include “Opening Night with Pacific Symphony,” “Virtual Violin Virtuosos,” “A Salute to the Heroes” and “Beethoven @ 250.”

Due to the uncertainty caused by coronavirus, Pacific Symphony is postponing the originally scheduled 2020-21 season at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall to the 2021-22 season. Music Director Carl St.Clair has pivoted in his creative thinking to reimagine programming for the current season, keeping in mind current health regulations. Southland Sessions Presents Pacific Symphony is the first reimagined programming to be announced for this season.

“As Pacific Symphony has focused on alternate, reimagined programming for the 20-21 season, we are pleased to partner with KCET and PBS SoCal on the innovative Southland Sessions series,” comments Pacific Symphony President and CEO John Forsyte. “For the four programs, the orchestra is opening its vaults of recorded concerts. Each concert will feature the Symphony in replays of masterworks from the archives and newly recorded original performances, as well as artist and conductor interviews. And our Music Director, Carl St.Clair, will be the host for all four episodes.”

Enjoy your Pacific Symphony in four engaging episoldes from the comfort of your home:

“Summer Replay” Serves Up Mozart, Berlioz & Tchaikovsky

As summer comes to a close, we would like to thank all of our new and returning patrons for tuning in to our free, virtual Summer Replay Series! Here’s a quick recap of all the concerts we have available – all 3 are available until the dates noted below.

Shaham Plays Mozart Available through Sept. 26

Acclaimed “first-rate Mozartean” by the Chicago Tribune, and “exquisite Mozart interpreter” by The Orange County Register, internationally-renowned Orli Shaham performs Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major. This bright and joyous work is one of the rare concertos that Mozart composed for another soloist to perform, instead of himself—the Austrian pianist Barbara Ployer.

According to American musicologist and critic Michael Steinberg, “On May 27, 1784, Mozart paid 34 kreuzer—roughly $10 in today’s money—for a starling who could whistle the beginning of the finale of his G Major Piano Concerto, or at least something very close to it. Mozart jotted down the musical notation in his account book with the comment ‘Das war schön’—‘That was fine!’—even though the bird insisted on a fermata at the end of the first full measure and on sharping the G’s in the next bar.”

Eileen Jeanette, senior vice-president of artistic planning, opens this performance with an interview with Orli Shaham.

Symphonie Fantastique Available through Oct. 10

One of the most revolutionary works in classical literature, Hector Berlioz’s 1830 Symphonie Fantastique, showcases large strides forward from the typical instrumentation and musical form that was commonplace in that time. Contrasting themes of light and dark, like gracious ballroom dances with psychedelic depictions of a witches’ sabbath, the piece shows the composer’s obsessive love of the great Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson.

The first movement, “Reveries – Passions,” introduces the idée fixe—the object of fixation that appears in every movement following, represents the object of the Artist’s love. The second movement, “A Ball,” takes us to a ball, where the harps lead the waltz in which the Artist is trying to win the attention of his beloved. The third movement, “Scene in the Fields,” takes place in the countryside and opens with an echo from Berlioz’s childhood: the sound of a cowherd’s melody. This masterwork’s darker, more sinister side is demonstrated in the fourth movement, titled “March to the Scaffold,” where the Artist is executed for the murder of his beloved. Finally, the fifth movement, “Dream of a Witch’s Sabbath,” is represented as a satanic fantasy, where the Artist is surrounded by sorcerers and monsters for his funeral, as well as his beloved, now a witch. The well-known Dies Irae theme is established in this movement, and the orchestra divides to enact the ritual.

Opening with an interview with Principal Bassoonist Rose Corrigan by Eileen Jeannette, this performance is one which you don’t want to miss.

Tchaikovsky Spectacular Available through Oct. 24

It is safe to say that most people recognize the flashy side of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture: the cannons, the church bells, the stabs of brass. This work is known for being widely used to accompany 4th of July fireworks shows, or in movies and TV shows, such as in the opening and ending scenes of the 2005 film V for Vendetta.

The fame and use in popular culture of this piece can be traced back in history. Tchaikovsky was tasked to compose this piece for the opening of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, Russia, and a century later, it was used to accompany a Boston Pops 4th of July show under Arthur Fiedler. This event combined Tchaikovsky’s celebratory work with celebratory fireworks for a brilliant and spectacular tradition.

Along with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, this performance includes Rimsky Korsakov’s “Procession of the Nobles” from Mlada, and Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances” from Prince Igor. The concert opens with an interview with Principal Trumpet Barry Perkins, hosted by Eileen Jeanette.

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

KUSC Broadcast: Hadelich Plays Paganini

Augustin Hadelich

This week’s KUSC rebroadcast program on Sun., Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. features an intriguing, atmospheric work by Christopher Rouse, one of America’s most prominent composers of orchestral music. His works have garnered him a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award. The New York Times described his body of work as “some of the most anguished, more memorable music around.” The concert opens with Rouse’s “Prospero’s Room,” a short work that the composer considered to be “an overture to an unwritten opera.”

Rouse notes on his website: “In the days when I would have still contemplated composing an opera, my preferred source was Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Masque of the Red Death.’… However,… I decided to redirect my ideas into what might be considered an overture to an unwritten opera. The story concerns a vain Prince, Prospero, who summons his friends to his palace and locks them in so that they will remain safe from the Red Death, a plague that is ravaging the countryside. He commands that there be a ball—the ‘masque’—but that no one is to wear red. But of course, a figure clad all in red does appear; it is the red death, and it claims the lives of all in the castle.”

The remarkable Grammy Award-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich performs Niccolò Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1. Paganini was famous for the virtuosity of his compositions, and the first violin concerto is no exception. And Hadelich is a consummate virtuoso who is up to the task. The New Yorker described him as “a singularly gifted, characterful musician. When Hadelich first came on the scene, he was noted for his pinpoint brilliance and for his sweet-cultured, almost old-fashioned tone. It was as if a Golden Age violinist had jumped out of the grooves of a 78-r.p.m. record…He has a flair for bringing older music into the present tense.”

Sergei Rachmaninoff

The final piece in this rebroadcast is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 in A Minor. The composer described the premiere of his First Symphony as “the most agonizing hour of my life.” This “agonizing hour” would be one that plunged him into a mental state that would most likely be diagnosed today as clinical depression. Yet he went on to composes a second and finally a third symphony. Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony opens with a motto theme that returns in the later movements. That haunting theme is derived from half-chant and half-prayer, heard in unison by the muted clarinet, horns, and cellos. As the movement unfolds, Rachmaninoff daringly combines both slow and scherzo characteristics.

Preceding the concert broadcast on KUSC will be a lively discussion featuring Music Director Carl St.Clair and radio host Rich Capparela on Facebook Live. For more information, click here.

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.