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 tubist releases new recording

Longtime Pacific Symphony tubist Jim Self has released a new recording. Like several others of Self’s recordings, this one is jazz. It’s called “Floating in Winter,” and it features both originals and standards. With John Chiding on guitars, Self plays tuba and an instrument of his own invention called a Fluba, which is like a giant flugelhorn. Here’s what it looks like (with Self playing).

Here he is talking about the new recording:

And you can sample the album below:

Pacific Overtures

Here’s our new monthly newsletter, Pacific Overtures. It is written and curated by yours truly. Much of this month’s content has appeared on this blog, but every month will be a little different in that regard. Click on the link below.

Pacific Overtures. October, 2017.

Top six posts on Pacific Symphony Blog

Catch up on the ones you missed or enjoy the thrill of reading them again.

Concert etiquette for beginners. June 13, 2017.

A swan song and a ‘Resurrection’: John Alexander takes the next step in a long career. June 5, 2017.

Pacific Symphony assistant conductor wins Solti award. June 1, 2017.

Thoughts While Attending the First Symphony in the Series My Wife Want to Buy. July 19, 2017.

Video: Yuja Wang plays ‘Tritsch-Tratsch Polka.’ August 1.

Van Cliburn gold medalist brings Rachmaninoff for his debut with Pacific Symphony. September 2.

Pacific Symphony 2017-18 classical season: A brief overview

Conductor Carl St.Clair

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

One of the more interesting discussions going on in the world of symphony orchestras these days, well into the second decade of the 21st century, concerns the matter of programming. What, exactly, can an American symphony orchestra do to reach and serve a contemporary audience, not necessarily well versed in classical music, and remain relevant in our entertainment-saturated culture? It’s a question that every orchestra struggles with and that each orchestra will answer differently.

Pacific Symphony’s answer, in its 2017-18 classical subscription season, beginning in September, is a balanced one, offering careful doses of innovation and newness while honoring a responsibility to the canonic standards. Rarely heard masterpieces get an airing. Star soloists arrive and young talent is introduced. A rich and befitting vein of American music runs through the schedule, too. But it’s all of a piece, designed for an Orange County audience right now.

The biggest news of the season, though, is that the orchestra will make its debut in that Mecca of classical music, Carnegie Hall, a huge moment in any orchestra’s life. Conductor Carl St.Clair and the ensemble have been invited to perform there by the composer Philip Glass, who celebrates his 80th birthday year as a resident composer at the venue in 2017-18.

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Classical cover: Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2

In 1945, a theme from the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (played Saturday) was turned into a popular song called “Full Moon and Empty Arms,” which over the years has been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Eddie Fisher, Robert Goulet and Freddie Hubbard, among others. The theme was also featured in the film “Brief Encounter” that same year.

Here’s how it sounds in its original form (I have the video cued up to the spot). Then below is Bob Dylan’s cover of the pop song based on same.

 

Van Cliburn gold medalist brings Rachmaninoff for his debut with Pacific Symphony

June 7, 2017. Yekwon Sunwoo  performs with the Brentano String Quartet in the final round of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition held in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Ralph Lauer)

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

Yekwon Sunwoo showed up on Skype at the appointed time recently, or rather his voice did. He initially preferred not to appear on screen — 24 hours of travel from Poland to Aspen the day before had left him disheveled, he implied — but soon enough he came on camera, his thick black hair slightly tousled perhaps, but otherwise looking fresh and fit in a pair of Clark Kent glasses and a light cardigan sweater.

Sunwoo is otherwise a superman. In June, he became the first Korean to win the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, doing it with a series of knucklebusters that included Rachmaninoff’s Second Sonata and Prokofiev’s Sixth, Ravel’s “La Valse” and, in the finals, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (all of which can be seen and heard online at the competition’s website.) Since then, life has been a whirlwind for the 28-year-old musician.

“It’s been hectic,” Sunwoo says. “Like right after winning, for about a week I had some meetings, and a photo session which went about four hours straight. Everything was happening kind of quickly and they already had concerts lined up. I had to decide everything pretty much all at once, in a short time.

“The concert tour started in the middle of July, I went to Steamboat Springs (Colorado), the Grand Teton Music Festival, which was wonderful, and the Spencer Theater in Roswell, New Mexico. Then I was in Italy for concerts, Germany, Poland. I’m really enjoying it. I’ve kind of been waiting for this moment and I love performing for the audiences. It’s just a great thing. So it’s been busy but I’m very happy about it.”

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