A Reason To Celebrate

Pianist Orli Shaham performing with Pacific Symphony during our Mozart & Don Quixote concert in the 2016-17 season. Photo by Drew Kelley.

Did you know that September is both Classical Music Month and National Piano Month? Now you have two powerful reasons to celebrate! Both month-long holidays were proclaimed in the early 1990s. National Piano Month was first named in 1991 by the National Piano Foundation. It’s an opportunity to honor pianists, piano makers, and piano music enthusiasts everywhere. In 1994, President Bill Clinton declared every September as Classical Music Month. It is an eloquently written proclamation and worth reading in its entirety.

Proclamation 6716—Classical Music Month, 1994

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

In the symphony halls of our great cities across America, in the community centers of our small towns, on radio and in recordings, a note is played that began centuries ago and resounds to this day. At the heart of classical music is continuity and tradition. What was heard in a Vienna opera house was heard again in a colonial theater in Charleston, South Carolina, was echoed at the inauguration of President Lincoln, was repeated in turn-of-the-century Chicago, and is played again today by a range of musicians from the most skilled of virtuosos to the youngest student struggling with the complexities of the violin.

Classical music is a celebration of artistic excellence. Great art endures through the ages, and in the United States we have embraced that great music and incorporated it into the American experience. Our best art reflects our Nation’s spirit—that mixture of discipline and improvisation, the combination of strong individual voices working together at the same time, the bravado, the inventiveness, the dynamism of the American character. Classical music plays in harmony with that energy and spirit to become reinvigorated and reinvented with each new orchestra or chamber group, with every performance that rings out new and fresh.

This month we exalt the many talented composers, conductors, and musicians who bring classical music to our ears. These artists carry on a great tradition of musical achievement, and we are proud of their outstanding accomplishments. Whether in new American works or in the masterpieces of the great composers of old, music is a unifying force in our world, bringing people together across vast cultural and geographical divisions. Classical music speaks both to the mind and to the heart, giving us something to think about as well as to experience.

The Congress, by House Joint Resolution 239, has designated September 1994 as “Classical Music Month,” and has authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation in observance of this month.

To mark both National Classical Music Month and National Piano Month, we’re offering you the opportunity to enjoy opening weekend’s Beethoven & Boléro concert at 50% off. When you order tickets online for Sept. 22, 23, or 24, just use promo code “Celebrate,” and the 50% discount will be applied to your order.

Watch the Pacific Overtures blog and our social media channels all month for ideas on ways to make the most of these two month-long celebrations!

Café Ludwig’s Artistic Director Orli Shaham Joins Juilliard’s Piano Faculty

Host, Curator and Pianist Orli Shaham at the Samueli Theatre during a Café Ludwig concert.

The Juilliard School just announced that Orli Shaham is joining the prestigious school’s piano faculty in the 2022-23 academic year. Shaham is an alumna of the school (Pre-College ’93; and the cross-registration program with Columbia University ’97), and for the past two years has taught at Juilliard as an interim faculty member. Pianists Soyeon Kate Lee and Shai Wosner also join the faculty.

Orli Shaham says, “I am honored and humbled to join the stellar faculty at The Juilliard School. In my years as interim faculty, I’ve seen firsthand how brilliant and inspiring these students are, and I’m thrilled to continue to dig into it all with them! Congratulations, too, to my fellow new faculty members, pianists Shai Wosner and Soyeon Kate Lee, I can’t wait to work alongside you and the rest of the Juilliard faculty and staff.”

In a statement, department chair Veda Kaplinsky says that Shaham, Lee and Wosner each “embody the ideals that are so fundamental to our mission: a passion for teaching, a keen intellect and superb artistry. We look forward to having them join our exceptional faculty and to working alongside them.” Dean David Serkin Ludwig adds that they also each “possess the rare combination of great artistry and outstanding teaching ability that defines the Juilliard faculty.”

Orli Shaham, who was born in Israel and grew up in New York, is the artistic director of both Pacific Symphony’s chamber series Café Ludwig in Costa Mesa, California, and the interactive children’s concert series Orli Shaham’s Bach Yard, which she founded in 2010. Also a regular guest host on National Public Radio’s From the Top, she’s chair of the board of trustees at Kaufman Music Center in New York City.

This season, Shaham is releasing the second and third volumes of the complete Mozart Piano Sonatas. Her Mozart recording project also includes volume 1 of the Piano Sonatas and her album of Piano Concertos with St. Louis Symphony, all of which are part of her discography of a dozen titles on Canary Classics. After receiving her bachelor’s degree at Columbia University, where she participated in the Barnard-Columbia-Juilliard exchange, she pursued graduate studies in historical musicology at Columbia. She is a winner of the Gilmore Young Artist Award and the Avery Fisher Career Grant.

Celebrate Opening Night, Sept. 30

Can you feel the excitement and anticipation building? The fall concert season is about to begin. Pacific Symphony has planned an exceptional opening concert you won’t want to miss. Music Director Carl St.Clair leads the orchestra in a program featuring the internationally renowned pianist Emanuel Ax, who is known for his “thoughtful, lyrical, lustrous pianism” (The Washington Post). He will perform Mozart’s charming Piano Concerto No. 17. Maestro St.Clair concludes the concert with Tchaikovsky’s moving Fifth Symphony. For more information or to buy tickets, click here.

For an enhanced experience, reserve an Opening Night Celebration Table or Ticket for “A Notable Gathering.” Be part of this one-of-a-kind Orange County special event, featuring a pre-concert cocktail reception and sumptuous dinner on the plaza, an inspiring concert, intermission reception and festive after-party. All proceeds for this fundraising event benefit go towards Pacific Symphony’s artistic, community and education programs. All guests are asked to provide proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test result within 72 hours the event. For more information, please contact Pacific Symphony Special Events (714) 876-2364 or Events@PacificSymphony.org

Get ready for opening night by tuning in to Symphony Mixer on Weds., Sept. 22 at 5 p.m. to experience Emanual Ax in conversation with Jacob Sustaita, Pacific Symphony’s assistant conductor. Watch the Symphony’s Facebook page for more details.

Interviewing the talent

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

The stories behind the stories: I won’t assert that they are more interesting than the stories themselves, but they’re not without interest. I’ve learned a lot about classical musicians, both individually and as a group, interviewing them through the years. Composers, to my mind, are the best interviewees. They’re smart, they work alone and they seem to enjoy the opportunity to talk about their craft. Singers tend to live up to their reputation for shallowness and flightiness, I’m not sure why.

You never know what you’re going to get, phoning up or sitting down with a classical musician for the first time. It can be nerve-wracking. I didn’t know what to expect when I phoned the great pianist, intellect, essayist and poet Alfred Brendel. He was one of the all-time best scowlers on stage, glaring at coughers, barely breaking a smile in response to thunderous applause. I was intimidated. It turned out he was an absolute delight, funny, easy to laugh, spilling his tea (and laughing at that), willing and interested to talk and reflect about everything, even his inner self. “Well, I don’t think I’m really driven,” he said. “I’m not a fanatic, I dread fanatics. Fanaticism is something that frightens me. So I have given myself the appearance, or the idea, that I do what I do out of my own free will.” And then he laughed.

Pianist Ivo Pogorelich didn’t laugh at all. He was difficult. I sat down with him for a radio interview once and he didn’t like the microphone the engineer gave him. It fit on his head; he apparently didn’t want to muss his hair. Pogorelich told us that unless he got another microphone, one that sat on the table, he was going to walk, quite the diva. We found a table microphone for him and I proceeded with the interview, delicately.

Oh, I’m sure, dear reader, you want to know what they’re all like. Cecilia Bartoli? Adorable. Riccardo Muti? Exceedingly charming, humble, a gentleman. Philip Glass? Friendly, bright, a real talker, the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind having a beer with. Pierre Boulez? Gracious, and so intelligent in response to my questions I felt brilliant for asking them. Daniel Barenboim? Gritty, philosophical, committed.

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Weissenberg plays ‘Petrushka’

Here’s one of my favorite concert videos. It features pianist Alexis Weissenberg playing Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka. The director is Ake Falck, and while he didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, the lighting and the camerawork here are superb. Notice how they actually focus your listening rather than distract, as visuals often do. Weissenberg reportedly recorded the piano part in the studio and synced to the recording for the film. –TM

André Watts, 16, debuts with New York Philharmonic

The 16-year-old André Watts debuts with the New York Philharmonic in a Young People’s Concert, nationally broadcast in prime time on CBS, Jan. 15, 1963. Leonard Bernstein introduces him with distinct references to Watts’ race. (His parents were Hungarian and African-American.) This was the Civil Rights Era, after all.

“Look, he was a very smart man, he thought this through,” Watts, referring to Bernstein’s speech, told me in 2016. “I’m sure he discussed it, ‘Can I say this? Can I not say this? How far can I go?’”

With this same piece (Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1) a couple weeks later, Watts substituted for an ailing Glenn Gould on New York Philharmonic subscription concerts, Bernstein conducting. Watts had to ask his mother if it was OK first. A commercial recording on Columbia was also made at the time and is still in print.

Watts performs Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto tonight and tomorrow with Pacific Symphony.

Here are two interviews I did with Watts, nearly 26 years apart.

André Watts Sounds Off. Los Angeles Times, Nov. 30, 1990.

André Watts Looks Back on a Storied Career. Orange County Register, May 27, 2016.

Ticket deal for ‘Watts Plays Beethoven’

Dmitri Shostakovich

Readers of this blog will receive 20 percent off of their ticket purchase for ‘Watts Plays Beethoven’ by going here and entering the promo code “blog”.

The concert features the venerable André Watts as soloist in Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto and Shostakovich’s epic Tenth Symphony, one of the greatest of the 20th century. Carl St.Clair conducts. The orchestra is just back from its triumph at Carnegie Hall.

The concerts takes place at 8 p.m. on May 3-5 at Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

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.

Pacific Symphony’s 2018-2019 chamber music series announced

Pacific Symphony announced today programming and dates for the 2018-2019 Café Ludwig chamber music series. Pianist Orli Shaham will again serve as curator and host of the concerts and teams with members of the Symphony. Performances are held in Samueli Theater on Sunday afternoons. Coffee, tea and pastries are offered to listeners, seated at tables.

The season’s programming is off the beaten path. The Oct. 14 opener delves into French music and features the Bassoon Sonata, Op. 168, by Saint-Saëns, the Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp by Debussy and the Violin Sonata by Franck.

The Feb. 24 (2019) concert focuses on transcriptions of Bach and includes Mozart’s arrangements for string quartet of fugues from Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier”; Liszt’s arrangement of the Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543; and David Robertson’s new arrangement of the “Goldberg Variations” for piano quintet. George Perle’s rarely performed “Classic Suite” for piano, which draws on Baroque dance forms, begins the program.

On May 19 (2019), the series’ finale explores storytelling in music with pieces by Ridout, Brahms and Janacek on the slate, and climaxing with Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale.”

The Symphony’s new concertmaster, yet to be named, is scheduled to perform on all three concerts.

Current subscribers may renew their subscriptions online here. New subscribers may sign up here. Renewing and new subscribers may also call the box office at (714) 755-5799 to purchase subscriptions.

Just a few tickets remain for the last Café Ludwig concert of this season, featuring music by Poulenc, Fauré and Rebecca Clarke, held at 3 p.m. on April 29.