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Jean Oelrich
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Pacific Symphony's 39th Season Launches with Beethoven's Mighty Fifth Symphony and Operatic Superstar, Greet Grimsley, in his Pacific Symphony Debut

Orange County, Calif. — August 30, 2017

Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony

Pacific Symphony’s 39th season is off and soaring like a heaven-bound rocket, beginning with a grand opening to remember! Featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, “Don Juan” by Strauss, and selections from Wagner’s “Die Walküre,” from the composer’s “Ring” cycle, performed by the orchestra for the first time since 1988. The concert is conducted by Music Director Carl St.Clair, who led Wagner’s “Ring Cycle" to critical acclaim as music director of the German National Theater and Staatskapelle in Weimar, Germany. And, featured in his first-ever appearance with the Symphony is international opera star, Greer Grimsley, whose stunning bass-baritone brings Wotan dramatically to life.

“Dominating the proceedings were the Wotan of Greer Grimsley and the Alberich of Richard Paul Fink; a well-matched, vicious pair. Grimsley projected iron power with a sumptuously beautiful voice, smooth as silk, precise of text.”—Opera News

The Symphony’s opening takes place Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 14-16, at 8 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Season ticket packages are $300-$1,160. Single tickets are $25-$126. A preview talk with Alan Chapman begins at 7 p.m. Also, the Symphony’s Sunday Casual Connections kicks off its season with “Beethoven’s Fifth Revealed,” on Sunday, Sept. 17, at 3 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. This matinee performance includes Wotan’s Farewell and the Magic Fire Music from Wagner’s “Die Walküre,” featuring the unforgettable voice of Grimsley. Season tickets packages are $88-$299. Single tickets are $25-$99. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

“Our musical welcome to everyone for Pacific Symphony’s 39th Season is not the traditional overture and concerto,” says St.Clair, “but rather a bold musical statement symbolizing the strength of our commitment to a lasting classical music presence in our lives and in the cultural life of our beloved community. No music signifies this better than Beethoven’s victorious Symphony No. 5. After intermission, we continue our opening night with the orchestral virtuosity of ‘Don Juan,’ followed by the unforgettable final moments of one of opera’s greatest characters, Wotan. It’s a night celebrating the lives of heroes—all memorable—as I hope this evening will be for everyone as we begin our 2017-18 season together.”

With a familiarity comparable to Mona Lisa’s smile or the first line of Hamlet’s soliloquy, Beethoven’s prodigious “Fifth Symphony,” with its four most famous opening notes in the history of classical music gets a fresh take when led by St.Clair for this spectacular evening of heroic music. Rumored to be fate knocking at the door, the illustrious four-note motif, repeated in variations throughout, gives way to a breathtaking struggle between darkness and light, escalating into a dramatic explosion of victory.

It was in 1801 when Beethoven, just 30, first revealed that he suffered from increasing hearing loss and stated in a letter that he would “seize Fate by the throat; it shall not bend or crush me completely.” It’s impossible not to connect this statement to his music, particularly at the beginning of his “Fifth.” Perhaps more than any of his other symphonies, including his “Eroica,” “Ninth Symphony” and “Pastoral,” the Fifth presents a large-scale, 40-minute emotional struggle with a “heroic” narrative—from the famous opening to the triumphant last movement.

It took Beethoven four years to write his “Fifth,” which was not an overnight success. At the time, “Eroica” was performed more often, and his Seventh Symphony’s second movement was considered “the crown of instrumental music.” But eventually the “Fifth” came to epitomize Beethoven’s life and music, as well as represent other “epic” struggles in the world, including the Allied victory during WWII. Today, it’s commonly heard in commercials and other popular culture. Hector Berlioz may have summed it up best when he said it “emanates directly and solely from the genius of Beethoven. It is his own intimate thought that is developed; and his secret sorrows, his pent-up rage, his dreams so full of melancholy oppression, his nocturnal visions and his bursts of enthusiasm furnish its entire subject, while the melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and orchestral forms are there delineated with essential novelty and individuality, endowing them also with considerable power and nobility.”

By the summer of 1888, at age 21, Richard Strauss needed a vacation. He was the third conductor of the Munich Hofoper, and the director didn’t like him much. Strauss traveled to Italy where, in the courtyard of the monastery of San Antonio in Padua, he conceived the first themes for what would become “Don Juan.” Strauss—who once wrote that it was impossible for him to compose without some kind of dramatic or literary inspiration—based his work on the play "Don Juans Ende," which took inspiration from an unfinished 1844 work by the poet Nikolaus Lenau. The play and poem told the tale of the tragic hero, Don Juan (whose story actually dates back to 17th-century Spain). Lenau’s depiction of Don Juan is more sympathetic than some; his character admits his weakness for women and searches for a feminine ideal that he can never find. He eventually goes willingly to his death, weary of living an unfulfilled life: “Steintot ist alles Wünschen, alles Hoffen” (literally: stone-dead is all wishing, all hoping). Strauss’s work is full of grand, swashbuckling themes, as Don Juan remains in a constant pursuit of his next conquest. The result is some of the most sumptuous romantic writing ever heard. “Don Juan” premiered in 1889 to great success, sealing Strauss’s reputation as one of the greats.

The finale of the opening weekend concerts features a poignant and stirring excerpt from "Die Walküre" that comes at the end of the opera. Wotan’s favorite daughter Brünnhilde, the Valkyrie of the title, has disobeyed him by assisting Siegmund in a fight (in which he is nevertheless killed). As punishment for this disobedience, Wotan turns Brünnhilde into a mortal and sentences her to sleep atop a mountain until she becomes the wife of the first man who finds her. Before she is put to sleep, though, Brünnhilde persuades Wotan to surround her with a ring of fire so that only a hero may rescue her (which happens in the next opera in the cycle, Siegfried). First, Wotan (Greer Grimsley) sings his moving farewell to Brünnhilde, beginning with the words, “Farewell you wonderful child! You, my heart’s holiest pride!” Then he calls upon Loge the god of fire to encircle her with flames, marvelously captured in Wagner’s flickering “Magic Fire Music,” one of the most famous orchestral highlights in the entire "Ring" cycle.

Pacific Symphony’s Classical Series is made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, with additional support from The Westin South Coast Plaza, KUSC and PBS SoCal. The Presenting Sponsor for the opening weekend concert is South Coast Plaza. Catherine and Cameron Emmi have generously provided sponsorship for the opening weekend concerts in honor of Maestro Carl St.Clair.