Thursday and Friday in Hefei and Wuxi

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.

Hefei Grand Theatre took another schlep on the bus to get there, the outside of it something of a monster.

Inside, however, was warm and friendly, the acoustics not at all bad for a multipurpose hall.

There was no group dinner or rehearsal that night. The audience was similar to what we saw in Shanghai, more like what you’d expect at a high school play (with plenty of kids running around), taking photos during the concert, talking, one man near me even answering his phone. But those in attendance do seem to enjoy themselves and this one got worked up by the end, just like the night before. Ushers walked up and down the aisles before each half of the concert with signs that warned “No Cameras,” but those were just stupid signs and who listens to them the audience seemed to think.

At intermission, a middle-aged gentleman asked to speak with me, thinking I was a member of the orchestra. Being a member of the staff was good enough for him to deliver his message. Sitting down beside me he said that we should be playing more American music, you know, like Walter Piston (he may have said Samuel Barber), William Schuman and — wait for it — Milton Babbitt. I said, Milton Babbitt? And he replied, certainly, he was a very important composer. (Well, sure. But still.)

He was a rather talkative fellow, and his English was excellent. (Turns out he teaches languages in Hefei.) He told me, among other things, that there are two orchestras in Hefei (neither good). He also said that there is a small but growing audience for classical music here. Audience sophistication is not high now, but the interest is there. After “Pictures at an Exhibition” he said that Pacific Symphony is the best orchestra he had ever heard live and he hoped we would be back.

To be continued …

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

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


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 note on Paul Chihara’s ‘Wild Wood’

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

Student tickets for $10

Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, home of Pacific Symphony

Did you know that if you are a student you can attend most Pacific Symphony concerts for less than the price of a movie? These are not Rush tickets. You’ll have them before you arrive.

Join the orchestra’s Student Rewards program and get access to $10 tickets. Non-student friends and family can come along for just $20.

Sign up for the email newsletter and 4-6 days before each concert for which Student Rewards tickets are available (usually, every Classical, Casual Connections and Organ series concert; others based on availability), you’ll receive instructions on how to buy $10 tickets for the event. Go here to sign up for the newsletter.

There’s also a discounted subscription program for students who would like to go a little more often. Call (714) 755-5799 for more details on that.

Here’s a list of Pacific Symphony’s upcoming concerts.