Bruckner 8th: Wagner tubas

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8, performed by Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony this week, requires eight (French) horn players, numbers 5-8 of whom are also required to double on a relatively rare instrument called the Wagner tuba, two on tenor Wagner tubas and two on bass Wagner tubas.

A Wagner tuba is really not a tuba at all, but rather an instrument quite similar to a French horn (and played by French horn players) but in a different shape. That different shape — with the bell up, for instance — does give it a slightly different sound than the French horn. Richard Wagner developed this instrument for use in the “Ring” cycle, it is said, to bridge a gap in the sound between the French horns and trombones. Afterwards, it was used in several orchestral works, including Bruckner’s symphonies 7-9, Strauss’s “An Alpine Symphony” and Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps.”

In the video above, you will hear the French horn players of the Berlin Philharmonic having some fun with Bruckner excerpts on both French horn and Wagner tuba. They mostly play Bruckner’s 7th, but you’ll get the idea.

Interview: Carl St.Clair takes on Bruckner 8

Carl St.Clair

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 — massive, glowering, spiritual — is on the schedule this month for the first time in the history of Pacific Symphony. The performances, on Nov. 9-11, will also be the first anywhere for Music Director Carl St.Clair, who seems determined not to waste the opportunity.

“I’ve wanted to conduct this piece for many years, but it’s like Mahler 9, it’s like all the pinnacle works, you have to build up to them,” St.Clair said recently in an interview at the orchestra’s Irvine offices. Not only does he, as a conductor, need to build up to Bruckner’s Eighth, but so do the musicians and the audience, he says. Accordingly, St.Clair has added an extra rehearsal for the orchestra. He’s also devised a prelude to the performance of the Eighth that he hopes will prepare the audience to hear the work.

“You can’t white knuckle it down the 5 or the 405 and every time you come to a stop you look at your phone, you text somebody, you send an Instagram, you answer the phone. You valet park, you run in, you slosh down a glass of white wine and you rush to your seat and then you hear the music of Anton Bruckner — it’s impossible,” he says.

Instead, audience members will enter the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall before the performance as Gregorian chant is sung from the stage by the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael Abbey. Organist Christoph Bull will play organ music by Bach and Bruckner. Video artists Nick and Clemens Prokop will project visuals on three screens that evoke the interiors of the majestic St. Florian Monastery in Linz, where Bruckner served as organist and is buried. The lighting will be low.

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Pacific Symphony: November concerts

Anton Bruckner

Here’s your roundup of Pacific Symphony concerts in November, on the quick, mobile-friendly, with links to single tickets. There are 11 concerts in all during the month.

It starts with a tribute to the great Ella Fitzgerald on the pops series. Guest conductor Larry Blank leads the orchestra and vocalists Aisha de Haas, Harolyn Blackwell and Capathia Jenkins in an evening of music made memorable by The First Lady of Song. The concerts are Nov. 3-4. Tickets here.

On Nov. 6, community musicians ages 22 and up gather in Samueli Theater for the chamber music edition of OC Can You Play With Us. Pacific Symphony musicians conduct five ensembles. Flutist Cindy Ellis, clarinetist Joshua Ranz, cellist Ian McKinnell, percussionist Rob Slack and conductor Roger Kalia direct homogeneously-instrumented ensembles of amateur musicians in this free concert. Tickets required; tickets here.

In one of the big concerts of the year, Carl St.Clair will lead the orchestra in its first-ever performances of Anton Bruckner’s giant Symphony No. 8 (Nov. 9-11). As prelude, organist Christoph Bull plays music by Bach and Bruckner and the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey sing Gregorian chant. The performance, dubbed “Cathedrals of Sound,” will include a design element by the Prokop brothers of Dusseldorf that will evoke St. Florian Cathedral in Linz, where Bruckner served as organist and is interred. Tickets here.

Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble gives its first concert of the year Nov. 12. Gregory X. Whitmore conducts a program that includes by band classics by Wagner, Grainger, Gordon Jacob and others, as well as a rare performance of John Philip Sousa’s early “President Garfield’s Inauguration March.” Tickets are free but required. Tickets here.

In the first of three concerts this season at the beautiful Soka Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo (Nov. 12), St.Clair and the orchestra offer Mozart’s final two concertos, the Piano Concerto No. 27 (with Benjamin Pasternack as soloist), and the Clarinet Concerto (with new principal clarinetist Joseph Morris as soloist). Also on the program, the Papagena/Papageno duet from “The Magic Flute,” with Yllary Cajahuaringa and Mark Peng. Tickets here.

Roger Kalia and Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra perform a program of Berlioz, Austin Wintory and Stravinsky (“The Firebird”) on Nov. 12 (tickets here); and Irene Kroesen and Pacific Symphony Santiago Strings get their season underway with music by J.C. and J.S. Bach, Prokofiev, Rimsky-Korsakov and Brian Balmages on Nov. 19 (tickets here).

The month winds up (and the next begins) with the Symphony debut of Estonian guest conductor Anu Tali. Her program (Nov.30 and Dec. 1-2) bookends a pair of Czech masterpieces — Smetana’s “The Moldau” and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 — with Gershwin’s snazzy Concerto in F as centerpiece. The noted Chinese pianist Xiayin Wang is soloist. Tickets here.

–TIMOTHY MANGAN

The making of a Bruckner 8

Coming up Nov. 9-11, Carl St.Clair will lead Pacific Symphony in its first ever performances of Anton Bruckner’s colossal Symphony No. 8. The performances will include a design element, which Carl talks about above, on a recent visit to the creators’ studio in Dusseldorf. I’ll sit down for an interview on all things Bruckner with Carl next week, and share it in this space.

Playlist: Great moments in Bruckner (scherzos) from YouTube

Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony give the orchestra’s first performances of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 on Nov. 9-11. To help you prepare, we’ve selected four wonderful examples of Bruckner’s music (all of them scherzos) from YouTube.

First classical record

My memory is a little foggy on some of the details. I was in high school, already a burgeoning trombonist, and already getting in amongst my mother’s collection of classical LPs. At some point, though, I decided to buy one of my own and that ended up being a recording of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. To the best of my recollection, chairman, that was my first classical record. At any rate, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Why Bruckner’s Fourth? I had never even heard of the composer, let alone his music, until about a week before. I was taking private lessons with a trombone teacher at Cal State Long Beach and he had gotten me started on what would come to be my daily bread for the next decade or so: orchestral excerpts. In those days they came in books (probably still do), just the trombone parts to famous and not so famous orchestral pieces that had significant contributions from the lower brass: the Overture to “William Tell,” “Ride of the Valkyries,” Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, “Bolero,” etc. Thumbing through one of the volumes during a lesson, we came across Bruckner’s Fourth and I remember my teacher playing the opening theme — two quarter notes, followed by quarter-note triplets, a characteristic Bruckner rhythm — and I thought it sounded pretty interesting and my teacher said it was a good piece, with good trombone parts. That was enough for me. I wanted to hear it.

How can I convey the impact that that record had on me? The sound of the Berlin Philharmonic, for one thing, was like nothing I had heard before, plush but gutsy, behemoth but placed by the sound engineers at a certain distance to add to the magisterial magic. Bruckner has a particular way of scoring for the trombones — the parts are often in octaves, and re-enforced by the double basses. This does something to the overtone series it seems, because the trombones sounded huge, monumental. The Berlin trombonists also had a way of adding an extra edge to their tone when playing fortissimo. It sounded like ripping cloth. As a young trombonist I related to it strongly; these Berlin trombonists were my heroes. I imagined myself in their place.

I’d listen over and over, very closely, to this record, on headphones. I remember the glow of the amplifier lamps, the glow of the Deutsche Gramophone vinyl, and the special whoosh it made with the needle in the grooves. (It didn’t sound like my mother’s RCA and Columbia records.) I also remember the liner notes in three languages, and the glossy cover with a picture of a frozen white wing, nestled in snow. All of it added up to a kind of teenage fetish. Needless to say, I still have the record, more than thirty years on.

[Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony perform Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 on Nov. 9-11. Click here for more information.]