Compliments of donor Charlie Zhang, the hard working tour staff (and guests) enjoys a duck dinner in Beijing. Pinchas Zukerman was in particularly fine form.
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.
Our videographer Paul Harkins put this together.
Saturday in New York was jam-packed for anyone associated with Pacific Symphony. My own day started pleasantly with breakfast below the Plaza Hotel with wife and brother-in-law, also in New York on business.
In the early afternoon I met Symphony videographer Paul Harkins to take care of some on camera duties around Carnegie Hall. Then rehearsal inside. Carl St.Clair brought Philip Glass with him to the podium and before running through “The Passion of Ramakrishna” said to him: “If you hear anything you can’t stand, just yell at me.”
In the event, the composer sat quietly in the hall and listened in silence all the way through. St.Clair adjusted some dynamic markings here and there and now and then turned around to see if assistant conductor Roger Kalia and Pacific Chorale conductor Robert Istad felt the balances were right. (They did.)
When “Ramakrishna” ended, a smiling Glass approached the stage and said simply, “Great, I’ve never heard it sound so good,” and made his exit. Nervous he was not.
After a break, the rehearsal of Ravi Shankar’s Sitar Concerto No. 3, with sitar soloist Anoushka Shankar, and the Glass/Shankar “Meetings Along the Edge” went similarly without incident and all seemed prepared for the big event.
My next job was to quickly stuff down a dinner — pizza at Angelo’s — for I had a pre-concert lecture to deliver at 7 p.m. at the optimistically named Manhattan Skyline Room at the hotel.
A choice audience showed up for my palaver and seemed to find it illuminating and then we were off to Carnegie — across the street.
The venerable Hall was warm and sold out. The orchestra and choir and soloists performed superbly, giving the best rendition of this program that these ears had witnessed. There were standing ovations at intermission (after the Shankar) and at the end of the concert (after the “Ramakrishna” premiere). St.Clair interviewed Glass onstage before the latter, the crowd greeting him like a returning hero. The Carnegie acoustics lived up to their reputation, the lower strings sounding especially lush and present. We heard through the grapevine that several critics were present, including someone from The New York Times. (We’ll share the reviews in this space as they become available.)
The after party — in the Rose Museum and adjoining rooms, on the premises — was everything it should be, with speeches and celebration and the composer in almost regal presence. After that, I went down the block for a ridiculously expensive beer with an old journalist colleague and a new friend, a composer who had come to the concert, Raphael Mostel, nephew of the famed Zero. Only in New York.
Friday was an eventful day for the orchestra as well as for me.
First, on the personal front, the wife and I grabbed a cab and took in the fabulous Thomas Cole exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During our ramblings there, she snapped this rather grand photo:
Some hot dogs from a street vendor, mustard on my pants and a chilly walk along Central Park …
…and I was off to Steinway Hall to hear a discussion moderated by Pacific Symphony president John Forsyte with conductor Carl St.Clair and Carnegie Hall director of artistic planning Jeremy Geffen.
Geffen, it turns out, grew up in Orange County listening to St.Clair and the Pacific Symphony and studied viola at USC. He gave the audience of Symphony patrons some insights in the artistic side of running Carnegie Hall, which is the venue for some 700 concerts a year.
St.Clair spoke movingly and emotionally about the program he has brought for the orchestra’s Carnegie debut, and offered some deep insights into “The Passion of Ramakrishna” by Philip Glass.
Steinway Hall is also a showroom for the famed piano brand. I liked this one:
After the discussion, a young pianist, Drew Petersen, winner of a 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant, gave us a short and impressive recital that included Beethoven’s Sonata, Op. 54, Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s song “Devotion,” and the crackling finale (a fugue) of Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata.
The biggest news of the day, though, was this:
The orchestra has sold out its Carnegie Hall debut concert and the poster duly went up at the entrance.
Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony are about to make a big trip, in case you hadn’t heard — a trip to Carnegie Hall. Conductor and orchestra have been invited to perform at the venerable venue on Saturday, April 21, in the final program of a series celebrating the 80th birthday of American composer Philip Glass. It will be the first time performing there for both St.Clair and Orange County’s 39-year-old symphonic ensemble.
St.Clair has been in Carnegie many times, of course, both as a listener (he remembers hearing Herbert von Karajan’s last concerts there with the Berlin Philharmonic) and as a would-be participant, during his years as an assistant conductor with the Boston Symphony, which has long made regular appearances at the hall. But as it happened, he was never asked to step in when the orchestra was visiting New York, not even in rehearsal.
“I have not conducted on that stage,” St.Clair said categorically in a recent conversation at the Symphony’s Irvine offices. But he’s looking forward to it.