Connections series renamed, programming set

Pacific Symphony has changed the name of its long-running Sunday Casual Connections series to Sunday Matinees. The substance of the series remains the same: The four concerts each are performed without intermission and last about 90 minutes. Carl St.Clair conducts and offers commentary on the pieces performed.

Subscription brochures for the series were sent out last week, and programming has been finalized. Sunday Matinees opens on Sept. 30 with pianist Olga Kern joining the orchestra for Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. St.Clair and the ensemble close with Ravel’s “Boléro.”

Concert two in the series (Oct. 28) celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia with a performance of Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” A specially-produced video will be part of the presentation.

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Special screening of ‘Ellis Island: The Dream of America with Pacific Symphony’ slated for Musco Center

Pacific Symphony announced today a free, public screening of Peter Boyer’s “Ellis Island: The Dream of America with Pacific Symphony” at 8 p.m. on June 29 at the Musco Center for the Arts at Chapman University. The screening features the PBS broadcast version of “Ellis Island,” taped at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in 2017 with conductor Carl St.Clair, Pacific Symphony and a number of guest artists. The nationwide broadcast premiere is later that night, at 10 p.m., as part of the long-running “Great Performances” series. (Check local listings.)

Using texts from the Ellis Island Oral History Project and archival Ellis Island images in combination with an original orchestral score, “Ellis Island” traces seven first-hand accounts of immigrants, narrated by guest stars Barry Bostwick, Camryn Manheim, Michael Nouri, Lesley Fera, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Samantha Sloyan and Kira Sternbach. More than 40 percent of the U.S. population can track their ancestry through Ellis Island.

“This screening of the U.S. broadcast premiere of Peter Boyer’s ‘Ellis Island: The Dream of America with Pacific Symphony’ on PBS’s ‘Great Performances’ is the culmination of a year marked with brilliant artistic milestones,” said Pacific Symphony president John Forsyte. “In April the orchestra made its Carnegie Hall debut to critical acclaim. And the following month the Symphony was warmly received during its first-ever tour of China.

“These significant landmarks, along with the national PBS special, are broadening Pacific Symphony’s audiences while increasing its national and international reputation. We thank Paul Musco and Musco Center for the Arts for providing world-class facilities to Pacific Symphony for this special occasion.”

PBS SoCal (KOCE) has also announced its broadcast schedule for “Ellis Island.” It will air first at 10 p.m. on June 29 on PBS SoCal 1, with repeat broadcasts on the same channel at 4 p.m. June 30; 7 p.m. July 4; and 1 a.m. July 5. PBS SoCal 2 will air “Ellis Island” twice on July 5 (at 7 and 11 p.m.) and four times on July 6 (at 4, 8 and 11 a.m., and 3 p.m.).

The June 29 screening at Musco is produced by Pacific Symphony in association with PBS SoCal. It will include brief interviews with composer Boyer and Nasser Kazeminy, chairman of the Ellis Island Honors Society. Free tickets are available by calling the Pacific Symphony box office at (714) 755-5799. A meet-and-greet with Boyer will be held in the Musco lobby, following the screening.

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.

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Saturday at Carnegie Hall and other adventures

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.

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Friday in New York

Tuesday night at Carnegie Hall

Friday 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.