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Soulful, lyrical music becomes focus of Pacific Symphony’s “Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique”—concert of special significance to Music Director Carl St.Clair during his 25th anniversary season

Orange County, Calif. — February 25, 2015

Canadian virtuoso James Ehnes joins the Symphony for the world premiere of Academy Award nominee James Newton Howard’s Violin Concerto

Frank Ticheli’s “Rest,” featuring Pacific Chorale, opens the concert

An evening of profound emotion and beautiful introspection takes place when Pacific Symphony performs “Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique,” a concert of deep personal meaning to Music Director Carl St.Clair during his 25th anniversary season. In January 1990, St.Clair auditioned to become the Symphony’s maestro, and it was Tchaikovsky’s eloquent and impassioned Symphony No. 6, “Pathétique,” that forged a connection between him and the orchestra—making this piece a must for his 25th season. Centering the program is the Symphony-commissioned violin concerto written by eight-time Academy Award-nominated composer James Newton Howard and performed by Grammy Award-winning violinist James Ehnes. Howard structured the second movement around a child’s melody and dedicated it to the memory of St.Clair’s first son, Cole Carsan St.Clair. The performance is being recorded live for CD release along with Howard’s first Symphony-commissioned work, “I Would Plant a Tree” (2009), furthering St.Clair’s and the Symphony’s endeavor to support the works of living composers.

Taking place Thursday-Saturday, March 12-14, at 8 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, the concert includes a pre-concert talk with composer Frank Ticheli at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25-$99. St.Clair also leads a performance of Tchaikovsky’s final symphony during the Sunday Casual Connections concert, “Pathétique,” on March 15, at 3 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

In 1999, Pacific Chorale commissioned a work by the Symphony’s first composer-in-residence, Frank Ticheli, titled “There Will Be Rest,” with the dedication, “In Loving Memory of Cole Carsan St.Clair.” Ticheli, a long-time friend of St.Clair, set the meditative piece to the text of American poet Sarah Teasdale. A new arrangement, “Rest,” scored for strings and chorus, provides a quiet opening to Howard’s Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s final musical expression.

Chosen specifically by St.Clair to premiere Howard’s Violin Concerto, Canadian violinist Ehnes has established himself as one of the foremost violinists of his generation. Gifted with a rare combination of stunning virtuosity, serene lyricism and an unfaltering musicality, Ehnes is a favorite guest of many of the world’s most respected conductors and orchestras. He has an extensive discography and has received many awards for his recordings including six JUNO awards, a Grammy and a Gramophone Award.

“James is a virtuoso violinist who plays with incredible technical flair, yet has a soulful, probing touch to his interpretations,” says St.Clair. “When talking to James Newton Howard about the type of concerto he was going to compose, I knew right then that James Ehnes would be just the perfect fit for his music.”

“I am beyond excited by this concerto,” comments Ehnes. “I’ve had the music for quite a few months now, and I feel like I’ve really had the chance to digest and internalize the music. It has everything; beautiful melodies, virtuosic pyrotechnics, colorful and exciting orchestration, and really tremendous pacing and proportion. I think it’s going to be a hit!”

Although Howard’s Violin Concerto is only his second piece for the concert hall, the film composer is no stranger to working with virtuosic violinists. Among his Oscar nominations for Best Original Score are the films “Defiance” featuring Joshua Bell and “The Village” featuring Hilary Hahn. He has written scores for 120 motion pictures and television shows, including all three installments of “The Hunger Games,” “Nightcrawler,” “Maleficent,” “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “ER” and “The Dark Knight,” for which he won the 2009 Grammy Award along with Hans Zimmer.

“James Newton Howard is a uniquely fascinating composer with a musical voice filled with a splendid array of orchestral color and sound,” says St.Clair. “He also has the uncanny ability to capture human emotion in sound. He has proven this time and time again in the world of film music, and with “I Would Plant a Tree,” he demonstrated that his musical sound pallet is equally successful on the stage. James is also an honest musician, one who composes music from his heart.”

“I’m honored to be involved with the 25th anniversary celebrations of Carl’s tenure with Pacific Symphony,” says Ehnes. “I think it’s one of the great success stories of the American orchestral world. Carl is a great musician and a great guy, and I’m really looking forward to working with him again.”

After intermission, St.Clair leads the orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, of which the composer famously said, “Without exaggeration, I have put my whole soul into this work.” Tchaikovsky passed away just nine days after conducting its premiere. His ongoing struggle with homosexuality and society’s expectations at the time played a significant role in his writing of “Pathétique.” Many believe that his drinking cholera-contaminated water may have been a suicide attempt to escape society’s judgment.

“Pathétique” is a highly programmatic and intricate symphony, yet Tchaikovsky conceals the details of the subject. The music projects an undeniably somber sound; it is difficult to feel anything but longing when listening to this piece. And, although the symphony includes a waltz and a march, an atmosphere of judgment is present throughout and its soft passages resemble contemplation, rather than boastfulness. The piece as a whole seems to be criticizing the composer’s life, his decisions and his worth. Although it did not end well for Tchaikovsky, this piece is thought-provoking and leaves listeners in a state of quandary.

“Tchaikovsky’s Sixth had to be on this 25th anniversary season,” says St.Clair. “It was my first engagement with Pacific Symphony, and it was the deep emotional connection and absolute raw energy and passion of the work that melded our emotional and spiritual relationship from the get-go.”

The Symphony’s Classical series performances are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, with additional support from Mercedes-Benz, the Avenue of the Arts Wyndham Hotel, KUSC and PBS SoCal. Sunday Casual Connections receives support from KPCC. The appearance by James Ehnes is sponsored by Sam B. Ersan. The Thursday, March 12, concert is sponsored by David and Tara Troob.