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Pacific Symphony’s American Composers Festival 2016, curated by preeminent organist Paul Jacobs, delves into the intricacies and beauty of the majestic concert organ

Orange County, Calif. — January 18, 2016

Festival includes two performances led by Music Director Carl St.Clair and featuring Pacific Chorale and top organists Christoph Bull, Fred Swann and Craig Williams

Ever wonder—musically speaking—who we are as a culture? Where we have been and where we are going? Or how certain kinds of music fit into this diverse universe of sound? These are some of the important questions that music raises, and each year, Pacific Symphony, led by Music Director Carl St.Clair, attempts to shed light on the answers by exploring a different facet of American music through the American Composers Festival (ACF). This year’s ACF spotlights organ music through four highly acclaimed organists and the splendor of the king of instruments—in this case, the one-of-a-kind William J. Gillespie Concert Organ, located in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Built from steel, tin, oak, poplar, maple, lead and carbon fiber, the astounding instrument found in the Symphony’s concert hall required three years and 42,000 hours of labor by a team of organ builders at C.B Fisk in Gloucester, Mass., before making its debut with Pacific Symphony in 2008.

By examining our diverse musical heritage through ACF, the Symphony points a microscope at individual composers, artists and instruments. At the heart of this year’s critically acclaimed festival’s journey is music written for the magnificent organ, creating new and intriguing questions just waiting to be explored. For the first of two performances that are part of this year’s ACF, “Organ Splendor,” the audience is treated to the artistry of Orange County’s own Pacific Chorale and two of the world’s finest organists—Paul Jacobs and Christoph Bull. Jacobs, who also serves as festival curator, has been praised by Anne Midgette in The Washington Post as “one of the great living virtuosos,” while Bull is considered to be one of the most versatile and unique organists of our time. Together they deliver music filled with sublime beauty, luminous textures and sacred spirit.

“Organ Splendor” takes place Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 4-6, at 8 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. All are invited to attend a Preview Talk with host Alan Chapman beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $25-$110. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

“All too frequently, organists are found on the periphery of classical music,” says the festival’s curator, Jacobs, who The Economist calls “America’s leading organ performer.” “Given that the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall houses a first-class organ, and given Pacific Symphony’s own commitment to American music, it seemed sensible to feature all of the resources together. There’s considerably more repertoire for organ and orchestra than Saint-Saëns’ famous ‘Organ’ Symphony, and American composers have written effectively for this medium.”

The thunderous and deeply moving reverberations of the organ are heard in Stephen Paulus’ Concerto No. 4 for Organ and Orchestra; a world premiere of “Resilience” for Organ and Orchestra by composer Wayne Oquin; and the charming “Humoresk” for Organ and Orchestra by leading composer William Bolcom. Named 2007 “Composer of the Year” by Musical America, Bolcom has been honored with multiple Grammy Awards, as well as the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Like Paulus, Bolcom has written a substantial amount of solo organ music and writes equally well for organ and orchestra. The program also includes Paulus’ poignant anthem, “Pilgrims’ Hymn”—performed at funerals for Presidents Ford and Reagan—and the poetry of National Medal of Arts recipient Morten Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna.”

“There exists a rich trove of repertoire by contemporary American composers for organ and orchestra,” says Jacobs. “I wanted to present a handful of those composers who have successfully embraced the organ’s own expressive voice and successfully realized it within the context of an orchestral writing.”

Lauridsen composed the requiem “Lux Aeterna” in 1997, the year his mother died. She was his inspiration—the one who introduced him to music as a toddler. The consolation for grief offered by his “Lux Aeterna” is often compared to that of Fauré’s “Requiem” and Brahms’s “Ein Deutsches Requiem,” both works inspired by the deaths of the composers’ mothers. These works also have in common a deceptive simplicity, yet their capacity to touch the listener reveals mastery at expressing through music the depth of human emotion. The five movements of this piece are based on various references to light from sacred Latin texts and enhanced by the beauty of the human voice.

Described by The New Yorker as a “bright, lyrical inventor whose music pulsates with a driving, kinetic energy,” Paulus (1949-2014) was a prolific American composer of classical music whose style had been described by The New York Times as “lush and extravagant.” During his career, he wrote more than 600 works for chorus, opera, orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo voice, concert band, piano and organ, receiving premieres and performances throughout the world. In 2015, he received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. He has also been a recipient of both NEA and Guggenheim Fellowships.

“I’m looking forward to offering the world premiere of Wayne Oquin’s ‘Resilience’—a jubilant, celebratory work for organ and orchestra,” says Jacobs. “Wayne is one of the most gifted of young American composers and he has written a composition (which includes a brilliant organ-pedal cadenza) that will surely excite the audience.”

“While composing, I was always mindful that this music would be interpreted by a conductor whose commitment to new music is unlimited and by an organist whose breadth of expression, as with the king of instruments, knows no bounds,” says Oquin of his new piece, “Resilience,” which is meant to convey, “what is among the very best qualities of the human spirit.” He adds that it is “dedicated with admiration to Paul Jacobs and Carl St.Clair.”

Oquin began work on “Resilience” in June 2015. Although he had written for orchestra before and had collaborated with Jacobs on a previous piece for solo organ, he had never combined these two immense forces. He knew it would be a challenge. The work became a 12-minute exploration of two seemingly limitless spheres: organ and orchestra.

“From the first note, the organ asserts its place of strength,” says Oquin. “The orchestra answers immediately. This use of ‘call and response’ is the basis of the piece. With each subsequent statement, the organ elicits a new orchestral response. These replies—sometimes short, but frequently more extended, often exuberant, but at times reflective—are as wide-ranging as the organ itself.”

As a young musician, Oquin says he wrote, played, studied and listened to music day and night. “Among countless recordings, one that I wore out was a CD of Pacific Symphony with contemporary American composers John Corigliano and Frank Ticheli. Never had I heard new music interpreted with such passion and zeal. Little did I know that one day I would be asked by this very conductor, Carl St.Clair, to write a celebratory work for this splendid orchestra featuring such a preeminent organist as Paul Jacobs.”

This concert program also includes a performance of Paulus’ Fourth Organ Concerto, a work Jacobs premiered with the Phoenix Symphony several years ago. “Stephen’s music brims with wit, tenderness, and at times, biting virtuosity. The second movement reveals Paulus’ irresistible skill at writing inspired melodies,” says Jacobs. 

ACF continues on Sunday, Feb. 7, at 3 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall with “Superstar Organ Virtuosos,” led by Maestro St.Clair and offering a quartet of exceptional organists performing exciting works that explore the awe-inspiring beauty, luminous textures and thrilling possibilities of the instrument. Joining members of the Symphony are Jacobs and Bull, plus two outstanding organists: Frederick Swann, an American church and concert organist, recording artist, choral conductor, and former president of the American Guild of Organists, and Craig Williams, organist and choirmaster of the Cadet Chapel, United States Military Academy West Point, where he plays the world’s largest church all-pipe organ and directs the Cadet Chapel Choir.

The Washington Post wrote that, “Frederick Swann played the most impressive program ever heard on the Kennedy Center organ—one that demonstrated his brilliant technique and great musical sensitivity.” Williams is only the fourth organist to hold his position at West Point since the present Cadet Chapel building was erected in 1910.

This program includes a treasure trove of organ repertoire: Theofanidis’ “Rex Tremendae Majestatis” for Organ, Brass and Percussion; Sowande’s “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”; Price’s “Adoration”; Haywood’s Improvisation on “We Shall Overcome”; Bull’s “Vic 1” and his “Well-tempered Variations on a Bach Prelude in D Minor”; Biggs’ “Toccata on Deo Gratias”; Wright’s “Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue”; and Harrison’s Organ Concerto. Tickets range from $10-$50. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

“The second concert features primarily solo organ works,” elaborates Jacobs. “The pieces will unveil a different expressive capacity for the Segerstrom organ, including some highly personalized pieces by Christoph and other lesser-known but thoroughly attractive 20-century music performed by Fred and Craig. To begin and close the program, I’ll play the dramatic music by Theofanidis, written specifically for Pacific Symphony, and close with the wildly imaginative Concerto for Organ and Percussion Orchestra by Lou Harrison. This music requires unorthodox performance techniques. It’s as amazing to watch as it is to hear.”

“An obliterating performance by one of the major musicians of our time,” wrote The New Yorker’s Alex Ross about a recent concert by Jacobs. An eloquent champion of his instrument, Jacobs is known for his imaginative interpretations and charismatic stage presence. He has also been an important influence in the revival of symphonic music featuring the organ. The first and only organist ever to have won a Grammy Award (in 2011 for Messiaen’s towering “Livre du Saint Sacrement”), Jacobs combines a probing intellect and extraordinary technical skills with a repertoire that spans the gamut of music written for his instrument, both old and new.

Jacobs has transfixed audiences with landmark performances of the complete works for solo organ by J.S. Bach and Messiaen, as well as a vast array of other composers. A fierce advocate of new music, he has premiered works by Samuel Adler, Mason Bates, Michael Daugherty, Wayne Oquin, Stephen Paulus and Christopher Theofanidis, among others. As a teacher he has also been a vocal proponent of the redeeming nature of traditional and contemporary classical music, which he fears is being diluted in a popular culture.

Bull’s official biography says he “likes organ music, rock music and rocking organ music.” Equally versed in classical and popular music, Bull presents the multicolored sounds, styles and collaborative aspects of the organ in a new light and excites wide audiences.

Pacific Symphony’s Classical series performances are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, with additional support from the Avenue of the Arts Hotel; KUSC, KPCC and PBS SoCal. The 2016 American Composers Festival is generously sponsored by National Endowment of the Arts.

 

AMERICAN COMPOSERS FESTIVAL HISTORY

Each year, the Symphony explores a different facet of American music through the American Composers Festival (ACF). Since 2000, the festival has featured composers from Aaron Copland to Ana Lara to Michael Daugherty and artists from Yo-Yo Ma to Stephen Scott’s Bowed Piano Ensemble. Below is a compilation of past festivals.

ACF 2015 focused on one of America’s most versatile and prolific living composers, André Previn, then 86, who joined Pacific Symphony as the honored guest. Previn, who has been called one of America’s least easily categorized musicians, began his remarkable career as a Hollywood “wunderkind” and a best-selling jazz pianist. Previn had received four Academy Awards for his work in film, 10 Grammy Awards for his recordings (plus one more for his Lifetime Achievement), and he is also an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He’s held a series of major conducting posts, including the L.A. Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra, but now exclusively composes. The concert was led by Music Director Carl St.Clair, whose great admiration for the legend shaped last year’s ACF to reveal the scope of Previn’s prowess as a composer.

The 2014 ACF, “From Screen to Score,” presented concert works by four major film composers who at the time boasted (combined) 11 Oscars and countless billions of box office dollars. The Symphony’s concert spread light on the ironic fact that film composers simultaneously are the most-heard orchestral composers ever (the soundtrack for “Titanic” sold 30 million copies), yet their music is the least performed. Curated by Richard Guerin, the concert featured the world premiere of Elliot Goldenthal’s Symphony in G-Sharp Minor, John Williams’ “Tributes! For Seiji,” Howard Shore’s “Mythic Gardens for Cello and Orchestra” featuring cellist Sophie Shao, and the concert premiere of James Horner’s “Flight.”

In 2013, Pacific Symphony celebrated the music of two seemingly disparate figures, representing past and present: the iconic Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974) and living saxophonist-composer Daniel Schnyder, neither of whom fit neatly into a single musical category. Ellington’s works have inspired countless composers and musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries, including Schnyder. That year, the Symphony didn’t just refer to Ellington, but presented the ensemble that carries his name and has been playing together in one form or another for more than nine decades, The Duke Ellington Orchestra. The other half of the equation was Composer-in-Residence Schnyder, who also defied definition. The Festival included a screening of “Faust” with music composed and performed live by Schnyder.

The Symphony’s 2012 ACF celebrated the Iranian New Year festival of “Nowruz,” marking the arrival of spring and celebrated since ancient times. The festival explored the music of Persian-Americans through programs featuring authentic Persian music. Guest artists include the acclaimed Shams Ensemble, Grammy Award-winning soprano Hila Plitmann; Iran’s best-known conductor Farhad Mechkat and Pacific Chorale. Among the highlights was a world premiere by composer Richard Danielpour, whose own Persian ancestry served as inspiration for his oratorio, “Toward a Season of Peace,” commissioned by the Symphony.

In 2011, ACF focused on one of America’s most fascinating and preeminent living composers, Philip Glass, who went under the spotlight when Pacific Symphony partnered with Long Beach Opera (LBO) to present the first-ever Southern California Philip Glass Festival. ACF’s “The Passion of Philip Glass” and LBO’s production of the Glass opera “Akhnaten,” plus accompanying events (“Glass Plays Glass” piano recital, films, lectures, discussions) all probed deeply into the man and his music to gain new understanding and a deeper appreciation for one of today’s leading American composers.

Exploring “The Greatest Generation,” ACF 2010 provided a look back at a time largely defined by The Great Depression. The term “The Greatest Generation,” coined by former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, refers to those who grew up in the United States during a time of extreme deprivation but went on to fight in World War II or contribute to the effort on the home front, eventually rebuilding America. The festival delved into this turbulent period and the music that could not have been composed without the somber impetus of The Great Depression. Highlights included a world premiere by composer Michael Daugherty: “Mount Rushmore”; and West Coast premieres of Weill’s “Song of the Inventory” and Walt Whitman Songs (orchestrated version).

In 2009, “Hollywood’s Golden Age,” celebrated the art of film music, past and present by exploring the differences between composing for concerts and composing for film—and how the two styles have evolved into what we hear today. This festival revisited a unique period in our country when a number of refugee composers fled to the United States from a turbulent Europe and found Hollywood hungry for their work. The period was explored by focusing on a handful of composers, including Miklós Rozsa, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Bernard Herrmann, who were contrasted against modern-day masters James Newton Howard and Paul Chihara.

In 2008, “The West: Music Inspired by the American Frontier,” examined “the idea of the West” in American music, sketched by Dvorák and clinched by Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson and Roy Harris. In a later stage, the idea migrated to the West Coast in the music of such Californians as Lou Harrison, whose “Four Strict Songs” were a revelation—as was the Bowed Piano Ensemble of Stephen Scott. The festival’s commissioned composers were Scott and Curt Cacioppo; festival partners included Chapman University, which hosted a multimedia event.

"Los Sonidos de México," in 2007, journeyed south of the border to celebrate the remarkable range and variety of Mexico’s musical odyssey, much of which is rarely performed in Mexico or elsewhere. The festival included some two dozen compositions over the course of six concerts and included a commissioned new work by Daniel Catán—one of three participating Mexican composers (also Ana Lara and Enrique Diemecke). A three-hour multimedia Interplay tracked music and visual art from pre-Hispanic times to the present.

In 2006, “Uncharted Beauty: The Music of Lou Harrison” honored one of the great American composers of the 20th century, as well as a pioneer in the use of alternate tunings, world music influences and new instruments. It was the last in a three-year sequence exploring the influence of non-Western music on American composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. The festival included a variety of intimate chamber programs plus a large-scale concert celebrating the music of Harrison. It also featured film footage from Eva Soltes’ documentary “Lou Harrison: A World of Music,” courtesy of the Lou Harrison Documentary Project.

ACF 2005, “Illuminations in Sound,” featuring Colin McPhee, George Crumb and John Adams, was the second of the three-year festival sequence (ending with Lou Harrison) devoted to the influence of non-Western music on American composers. Richard Stoltzman played works by Adams and Steve Reich. Concentrating on the rapturous, the Symphony explored the influence of Indonesian gamelan, featuring little-known works by McPhee and Jose Evangelista. Two rarely heard transcriptions by Percy Grainger of piano works by Debussy and Ravel were performed alongside the original pieces.

“Tradewinds from China,” the first festival of the trilogy, premiered works in 2004 by Chen Yi, Zhou Long and Joan Huang in the course of sampling the historic contribution of present-day Chinese-American composers. Yo-Yo Ma performed a new cello concerto and Min Xiao-Fen played Thelonious on her pipa. A children’s chorus sang Chinese folk songs; the Orange County High School for the Arts Chorus performed Chinese revolutionary songs.

In 2003, prior to the trilogy, was “An American Odyssey” featuring the West Coast premiere of William Bolcom’s monumental setting of William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and of Experience” in the course of exploring the interface between concert and popular styles. Additional festival events included a recreation of Paul Whiteman’s 1924 “Experiment in Modern Music,” with its premiere of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” a newly scored set of Leonard Bernstein songs, and an evening of Blake settings by Virgil Thomson, Arthur Farwell, Henry Cowell, Alan Ginsberg and other Americans.

ACF’s “Dvorák in America,” in 2002, applied a visual presentation of the “New World” Symphony, a Hiawatha Melodrama, and costumed Native American dancers to an examination of Dvorák’s American style in relation to such diverse turn-of-the-century Americans as Scott Joplin, Harry Burleigh, Victor Herbert, George Chadwick and Arthur Farwell. Mstislav Rostopovich performed the Dvorák Cello Concerto.

The very first ACF took place in 2000 with Aaron Copland and the “Sound of the Americas,” featuring a unique screening of the classic 1939 documentary “The City” with live symphonic accompaniment—the first in a series of Copland film scores that supported his creation of a 20th-century American concert voice. Additional festival events included three films, chamber and keyboard music and special guest William Warfield.

 

 

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