Coming Soon: Mozart & Salieri

Photo by Karl Hugh. Utah Shakespeare Festival 2015.

Pacific Symphony audiences will enjoy Mozart & Salieri, a creative collaboration between South Coast Repertory (SCR), Pacific Chorale and the Symphony, May 19-21, 2022.

Adapted from the Tony Award-winning play and Oscar-winning movie Amadeus by Peter Shaffer, Mozart & Salieri includes a complete performance of Mozart’s Requiem, Don Giovanni Overture and other selections. The incredible story of genius musician Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is told in flashback by his peer and secret rival Antonio Salieri—now confined to an insane asylum. SCR Artistic Director David Ivers stars as Salieri. James Sullivan, who conducted Ivers when he appeared as Salieri in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 production of Amadeus, is directing this production as well. He wrote a director’s note sharing his thoughts about the program.

Director’s Note

“Mozart is the expression of eternal truth.” The renowned conductor Josef Krips said this, in an interview recorded in 1964. “Beethoven maybe reaches heaven, but Mozart comes from there…. What he wrote was written for Eternity.”

The Antonio Salieri of Peter Shaffer’s great play Amadeus could hardly disagree. What else could explain this astounding talent? But when Wolfgang Mozart blazed comet-like across the firmament of the 18th-century European sky and landed with ground-shaking force in Salieri’s Vienna, Antonio perhaps could only seethe with envy—and plot an upstart rival’s demise. Mozart’s offense was essentially nothing less than his own breathtaking brilliance. Salieri can see himself as nothing more than a middling mediocrity. Envy becomes treachery. Such is the story of Amadeus that is excerpted in this performance with the mighty presence of the Pacific Symphony as led by Carl St. Clair utterly enveloping David Ivers’ Antonio Salieri with the sublime music that is “of heaven.”

But is the story true? We can never know. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died in deep poverty and was buried – no one knows just where—in a pauper’s grave. Mozart—divinely inspired Mozart— failed to gain in Vienna the patronage he so desperately sought. Salieri, competent but unremarkable Salieri, prospered there; the same Salieri who held several influential music posts at the Viennese Court, the same Salieri who certainly could have lifted young Mozart into a position of employment, if not prominence. That we know. But whispers, gossip, and then legend had it that Salieri literally poisoned Mozart—the scandalously sensational tale getting its boost from an 1830 drama by Alexander Pushkin—and furthered by Mozart and Salieri, an 1890s Rimsky-Korsakov opera based on the Pushkin tragedy of treachery. And then, of course, came Peter Shaffer’s international dramatic sensation, later the Oscar-winning film, Amadeus. But whatever happened, if any of this perfidy did, seems almost inconsequential to what is popularly believed. According to whisper, gossip, and legend Antonio Salieri stands in the villainous company of the Borgias, of Richard III, of Lady Macbeth.

There is one stirring thought to contemplate, a poignance that could surely have been the case for Salieri; and that, the agony of encountering the very brilliance he so desperately prayed to have in himself. Salieri’s own skills were in fact considerable. He must have easily heard and understood that Mozart was a miracle beyond explanation, a genius not of this earthly realm but of heaven itself. Amadeus. The sublime beauty of the music may have broken his heart.

It is an extraordinary privilege and pleasure to work on this project, especially with my longtime friend, David Ivers of South Coast Rep, and a new friend, Carl St. Clair of Pacific Symphony. And, of course, and especially this magnificent orchestra. To watch and to hear as these heavenly threads of sound surround and suffuse Salieri’s mind, heart and soul is a rare experience and true delight. With full orchestral force, it is—as Josef Krips had said—Eternal Truth told in the dramatic and heard in transcendence. 

—J.R. Sullivan

For more information about Mozart & Salieri or to buy tickets, please click here.

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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New subscription series: ‘Symphonic Voices’

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

Puccini

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.

Miscellany

San Francisco Conservatory of Music

After four critically acclaimed seasons, Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle” is no more….

Composer Jennifer Higdon wins $100,000 Nemmers Prize….

A new economic impact study shows that the Boston Symphony is pumping huge amounts into the local economy….

British orchestra musicians may have to wear earplugs after high court ruling….

You should never have gotten rid of that record player. Something called “high definition vinyl” is in the offing….

The Pulitzer Prize in music goes to … Kendrick Lamar, hip-hop artist….

The Pacific Chorale has announced its 2018-19 season and it includes the performance of a big work with Pacific Symphony….

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music will build a huge addition which will also house its students….

Did you see the April 12 cover of The New Yorker? Classical music is featured….

Pacific Chorale announces 2018-2019 season

The Pacific Chorale, longtime artistic partners of Pacific Symphony and most recently collaborators on “The Passion of Ramakrishna” performance at Carnegie Hall, has unveiled plans for its 2018-2019 concert season.

The Costa Mesa-based resident choir of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, led by artistic director Robert Istad, will perform six programs as part of its subscription schedule.

A performance of Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation” launches the season on Nov. 4, in the Chorale’s first performance of the work in 45 years. Soprano Elissa Johnston (who recently sang with the group at Carnegie Hall), tenor Derek Chester and bass
Paul Max Tipton are the soloists; the Pacific Symphony assists.

On March 9 (2019), Istad and the Chorale offer a Baroque concert at the Musco Center for the Arts in Orange. Bach’s “Magnificat” and Vivaldi’s “Gloria” will be performed with the period instrument ensemble Musica Angelica.

A program of music by women composers is slated for March 30. Composers Hildegard von Bingen, Lili Boulanger, Gabriela Lena Frank, Alice Parker, and Rosephanye Powell are included, as well as a world premiere by Seattle composer and conductor Karen P. Thomas.

The season ends (May 18) in a concert featuring the group’s British composer-in-residence Tarik O’Regan. The agenda will include the premiere of O’Regan’s first commissioned work for the Chorale.

December is taken up with the ensemble’s popular annual series of holiday concerts, including “Carols by Candlelight” on Dec. 1 and “Tis the Season!” on Dec. 22 an 23.

The non-subscription concert (free) in the group’s annual Choral Festival will be held Aug. 12. Music by Mozart is performed with the participation of community singers.

In addition, the Chorale will make a number of guest appearances. These include performances with Pacific Symphony in a “Bernstein @ 100” program, Handel’s “Messiah,” for Chinese New Year, “Madame Butterfly,” Verdi’s Requiem and Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, “Symphony of a Thousand.” The Chorale will also partner on the latter with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall (May 30-31, June 2).

Subscription tickets are available now in packages of 3, 4 and 6 concerts, ranging in price from $60 to $500. For more information, visit pacificchorale.org or call 714-662-2345.

Reviews of Pacific Symphony’s Carnegie Hall performance

Here are links to the reviews of Pacific Symphony’s debut at Carnegie Hall on April 21 in a program of music by Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass. I will add reviews if as they come in.

The New York Times

The Orange County Register

Agence Press France

Berkshire Fine Arts

Classical Voice North America (John Rockwell)

Photo: Richard Termine

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.

See also:

Friday in New York

Tuesday night at Carnegie Hall

St.Clair and Pacific Symphony bound for Carnegie Hall in salute to Philip Glass

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

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.

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A swan song and a ‘Resurrection’: John Alexander takes the next step in a long career

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

“I’m not retiring,” John Alexander says, just to be clear.

The outgoing artistic director of the Pacific Chorale, which he has led for 45 years, is sitting in a local eatery where he is such a regular that the bartender brings him a martini without asking. One of his last rehearsals as the leader of the Chorale has just ended and he seems charged up by it, not tired. Plans and performances are lined up well into the future (including a “Messiah” with Pacific Symphony in December and a Verdi Requiem at Cal State Fullerton next spring).

He also wants to teach. “I’ve always been interested in educational issues for conductors,” Alexander says. “One of my heart’s desires is to help choral conductors learn to deal with the symphony.” The two types of conducting, choral and symphonic, require different skills, he explains, and choral conductors aren’t often trained to conduct a symphony orchestra. Through Chorus America, a national support group, he has already given workshops around the country. Now, he plans to do more.

“They really need some guidance from us,” he says of young choral conductors. “Some personal attention from us, to learn that the orchestra is not the enemy. That the orchestra actually loves you, if you can just deal with some very basic skills that will allow them to play well.”

Alexander, 72, closed out his final subscription season with the Chorale last month, leading a performance of Vaughan Williams’ massive “A Sea Symphony,” for chorus, orchestra (the Pacific Symphony), organ and soloists. But he’s got another little assignment left before he’s completely done. Carl St.Clair has asked him to prepare the Chorale for the Pacific Symphony’s season ending performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” with its big choral ending. The orchestra will also offer tribute to Alexander after Saturday’s concert.

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