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.
It was great to catch up with the musicians of Pacific Symphony on the China tour, many of whom I hadn’t spoken to since the European tour in 2006 (which I covered for a newspaper), some of whom I was meeting for the first time. Here are a few of my interactions.
Waldemar de Almeida, cello: “Wally” has been in the orchestra for more than 30 years and has lots of stories and a thick accent (he was born in Brazil). Anyway, one of the most amazing things I found out about Wally is that he was a member of the venerable Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva in 1964-65 and played under the baton of legendary conductor Ernest Ansermet there. He even made some recordings with them, which I vowed to listen to when I got home.
Eric Byers, guest principal cellist: I recognized Eric for a couple of days before I could place him. Then I realized he was the cellist in the Calder Quartet, a group I had heard perform many times. I fell in stride with Eric at a train station or airport one day and we chatted about the tour. He was impressed with the logistics and magnitude of the thing. The Calder Quartet, he explained, was a for profit organization, so all its traveling is done as cheaply as possible, including the hotels. The group might have a gig at Wigmore Hall in London, but all it has to pay for everything is the not-so-huge performance fee, so the group makes do with budget travel and lodgings. Eric was enjoying and admiring the comparatively all-arranged, luxury travel of an orchestra on tour.
Josephine Moerschel, viola: This was Josephine’s first extended trip away from her two daughters, ages 2 and 4. Turns out she is married to the violist in the Calder Quartet, and dad had his hands full in her absence, sending her S.O.S.s even as we spoke. By the end of the trip, Josephine was saying she’d be bringing home her husband a bottle of duty-free scotch to help with his recovery.
Thursday and Friday were what orchestra tours are all about: Getting a boatload of musicians (or in this case a trainload) somewhere far away and giving a concert.
Thursday morning found us in Shanghai. By the afternoon we were in unglamorous Hefei, arriving at 3:15 p.m. or so. As the buses left for the concert hall at 5:45, there wasn’t much to do anything except check into our rooms and grab a meal at the hotel restaurant.
I don’t want to sum up a city of 6 or 7 million people after only a few hours experience there. But the reader will insist on something. Let’s go with “gritty” and “bustling” and perhaps throw in “working class” and leave it at that, knowing that the description is overly generalized. I did like Hefei.
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.
The following note on “Wild Wood” was provided by the composer Paul Chihara. The orchestral version of the score, substantially rewritten from the original for wind band, will be given its premiere by Pacific Symphony in concerts Feb. 1-4. I have attached an MP3 recording, made at the premiere, of the wind band version of “Wild Wood” at the end of the post.
“Wild Wood” was commissioned by the Tanglewood Music Festival and premiered at the final concerts of the 2015 summer programs celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Berkshire Music Festival in 1940.
The original instrumentation was for a large wind and percussion band without strings: woodwinds in groups of threes, six horns, five trumpets, five trombones, tuba, 10 percussionists, harp and double basses. It was a celebratory work, filled with fanfares and brilliant instrumental colors. The original composition was in binary form, the two parts modeled on the Baroque tradition of Slow and Fast, a sort of grand “song and dance”!
The opening music is solemn and processional, a stately choral scored primarily for the six horns, later reinforced by the trumpets, trombones, and tuba. Woodwinds enter to give color and movement to this formal opening, and introduce a Chinese pentatonic melody that Ravel incorporated in his gorgeous “Mother Goose” Suite.
Part Two, is a wild dance — based on ethnic and popular tunes from America and Japan, echoing the rhythmic patterns and pop (“big band”) orchestrations of the Big Band era. I incorporate the Japanese folk melody “Tonko Bushi” (so familiar to those who attend the Bon Odori Matsuri (the Japanese summer dance festival in Little Tokyo everywhere.
Part Three brings the composition to a rowdy conclusion, with percussion and the opening brass choral returning in splendor and joy!
This new version of “Wild Wood” (being premiered during these concerts) includes a large string section in the orchestration, and a somewhat less extravagant brass and wind ensemble. Its form is also expanded now to be a three part structure:
Slow, Fast, Grand. The strings are not simply sweetening the previous music of brass, winds and percussion. They have new melodies and textures, giving the entire work an Impressionistic grandeur. –Paul Chihara