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Carl St.Clair - 25 years on a journey of illumination

Next ArticleThe Journey

By Peter Lefevre

Joshua BellFishing around for that last olive, polishing off that last sip of Chardonnay, settling in for some music under the stars—ahh, the Great Outdoors. While you’re watching the summer sky fade away, however, remember that the Great Indoors is just around the corner. On Sept. 25, Pacific Symphony launches its monumental 2014-15 concert season in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, kicking off with violin superstar Joshua Bell performing one of his signature pieces, the Glazunov Violin Concerto.

Bell is just one of several internationally celebrated musicians who will be joining the symphony during the upcoming “Season of Giants.” Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Dawn Upshaw, Deborah Voigt, Barry Douglas and André Previn are just a few of the classical music luminaries that will be taking center stage at Segerstrom Concert Hall. Even with the roster of virtuosos that have appeared with the Symphony over the decades, this season promises a wealth of musical riches. Why so many giants? Because they’re paying tribute to one of Orange County’s giants, Carl St.Clair, marking his 25th year as the Symphony’s music director.

“I don’t need to be celebrated,” St.Clair has said about the milestone. “I want to know that the values I possess and, in turn, the Symphony’s core values are being celebrated.” Then again, the region’s classical music landscape is radically different today than it was in 1989 and looking back on where we were then, and where we are now, it’s hard not to place St.Clair at the center of this musical renaissance. (Of course, nearly everything has changed since then. There wasn’t even a World Wide Web. What were we doing with our time?).

Those core values he holds dear—musical excellence, innovation, community engagement, education—are on full display throughout the season, as Pacific Symphony presents a wide range of masterworks and musicians that have played key roles in shaping St.Clair’s life.

Itzhak PerlmanFor starters, you might want to put Jan. 29-31, 2015 on your calendar. That’s when St.Clair, Upshaw, and pianist Benjamin Pasternack combine forces to pay homage to St.Clair’s friend and mentor, the legendary Leonard Bernstein in an all-Bernstein program.

St.Clair conducted the world premiere of Bernstein’s “Arias and Barcarolles,” a work that makes an appearance on the program along with the “Age of Anxiety” symphony, the Candide Overture, and Upshaw performing vocal selections from West Side Story and Wonderful Town.

And while we’re on the topic of beautiful voices, Pacific Symphony continues its wildly successful “Symphonic Voices” initiative, highlighted by mezzo Milena Kitić in the title role of a semi-staged production of Bizet’s Carmen (Feb. 19-24, 2015), and a visit by globetrotting diva (and CSU Fullerton alumna) Deborah Voigt singing Brunhilde’s immolation scene from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung June 11-15, 2015.

Three other long-running initiatives return in 2014-15: Music Unwound, the American Composers Festival and Sunday Casual Connections.

Music Unwound concerts play with traditional notions of concertgoing, adding non-traditional formats, thematic programming, multimedia and other extra-musical elements in an effort to place great works in context. The concerts honor the masterworks of the past, while ushering the concert experience into the 21st century. For these events (“For the Love of Bernstein,” “Cathedrals of Sound” and “Fire and Water”), expect the unexpected, as always.

Yo-Yo MaThe American Composers Festival (AC F) has been a fixture on the Symphony’s calendar since 2000, expertly walking audiences across the vast, complex landscape of American music. Featuring in-depth explorations of composers and themes, the AC F continues to broaden our awareness of America’s treasured musical heritage. In 2015, the AC F spotlights the inimitable André Previn, composer, conductor, four-time Oscar winner and 10-time Grammy winner. Previn himself joins the Symphony.

Sunday Casual Connections, hosted by St.Clair, offers listeners the opportunity to get to know composers and their works in greater depth. Conversation and illumination guide these Sunday afternoon performances, when audiences can take an intimate, detailed look at what makes great music.

Other concerts of note include Itzhak Perlman performing the Beethoven Violin Concerto on Jan. 11, 2015, Yo-Yo Ma in performance on May 5, 2015, and pianist Barry Douglas performing Beethoven’s mighty “Emperor” Concerto May 7-9, 2015.

Finally, no season would be complete without the contemporary catalog brought to life by the Symphony’s long-time Pops conductor Richard Kaufman. The 2014-15 Pops series brings together some of music’s best-known and best-loved artists, including Herb Alpert and Lani Hall (June 4-6, 2015), a Christmas concert with Sandi Patty (Dec. 18-20) and The Chieftains (March 19-21, 2015).

All, of course, within the context of St.Clair’s quarter-century as Pacific Symphony’s music director. Summer may wind down, but a musical feast still waits for you after the picnic basket is put away.