Sgt. Pepper’s got nothing on Carl St.Clair, that other noteworthy bandleader with a dot in his name.
Frozen in song by the Beatles, the sarge will forever be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the day he took up the baton with the Lonely Hearts Club Band. St.Clair, the conductor from a tiny farming town in Texas, is closing in on the 25th anniversary of his debut fronting the Pacific Symphony.
The Costa Mesa orchestra has announced a 2014-15 season in which it plans to do things up especially royally for its silver-haired music director's silver anniversary. The season will feature three of the world’s most eminent wielders of bows -- cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinists Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell -- and two of its leading sopranos, Deborah Voigt and Dawn Upshaw.
St.Clair‘s debut in January, 1990 was actually a tryout, part of a 1989-90 season in which guest conductors auditioned to succeed Keith Clark, the Pacific Symphony founder who’d been messily ousted by the orchestra’s board.
Then a 37-year-old Boston Symphony assistant conductor who’d been mentored by Leonard Bernstein, St.Clair led the Pacific through a program of Mahler, Mozart and Tchaikovsky, displaying “a compelling presence,” according to the Los Angeles Times’ review, which went on to praise him for “utmost attentiveness,” “malleable phrasing and clear textures,” “ever-expressive phrasing and bold tempo changes” and “moment-by-moment emotionalism.”
The orchestra members were observed to have taken to him right away -- as “highly responsive partners, playing with apparent energy and feeling.”
St.Clair was handed the permanent gig less than a month after his debut, and the Pacific aims to celebrate the milestone anniversary in a 2014-15 season at Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall that it's billing as its “biggest season ever.”
“I don’t need to be celebrated,” St.Clair said in a written announcement, but apparently he’s been overruled.
Bell will be the soloist for the opening program (Sept. 25-27), performing Alexander Glazunov’s violin concerto. John Williams’ “Sound the Bells!” will be the first piece played -- a nod to Williams' having been the one who alerted the young St.Clair to (a) the Pacific Symphony’s existence and (b) its search for a music director.
Perlman will play Berlioz, Beethoven and Stravinsky (Jan. 11, 2015); the program with Ma (May 5, 2015) is to be determined.
Upshaw will sing in an all-Bernstein program (Jan. 29-31, 2015) that will be St.Clair’s salute to his mentor. It will include selections from the musicals “Wonderful Town” and “West Side Story,” along with Symphony No. 2 (“Age of Anxiety”) and other works. Jamie Bernstein, the composer’s daughter, will host the program, which also features pianist Benjamin Pasternack.
Voigt will bring the flames in a program dubbed “Fire & Water” (June 11-13, 2015), singing Brunnhilde’s immolation scene from Richard Wagner’s “Gotterdammerung.” The water part will be up to flutist Benjamin Smolen, soloist for Vivaldi’s concerto “La Tempesta di Mare” (“Storm at Sea”). The program also includes the world premiere of a work by Laura Karpman, to be performed against a video backdrop created by Greg MacGillivray, the Laguna Beach filmmaker and cinematographer known for “The Living Sea” and other Imax nature and adventure films.
The orchestra's annual American Composers Festival will focus on compositions by Andre Previn (May 28-30, 2015), with soprano Elizabeth Futral, violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson as featured performers. The Pacific will again present a semi-staged opera, with three performances of Bizet’s “Carmen,” starring mezzo-soprano Milena Kitic (Feb. 19-24).
The bond between St.Clair and his Orange County audience was cemented in 1999, when the conductor epitomized public grace amid sorrow following the drowning of his 18-month-old son. "There Will Be Rest," composed by St.Clair's friend Frank Ticheli earlier that year and subsequently dedicated in memory of Cole St.Clair, will open a program that also features Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" symphony and the world premiere of James Newton Howard’s violin concerto, featuring soloist James Ehnes (March 12-14, 2015).
Other programs to be conducted by St.Clair include "Cathedrals of Sound," with sacred organ music by Ottorini Respighi and Maurice Durufle, along with Gregorian chant by the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey (Oct. 23-25), an evening of Beethoven and Rachmaninoff featuring another close friend of St.Clair, pianist Alain Lefevre (Dec. 11-13), and a lineup of Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev (April 16-18, 2015).
The Prokofiev is selections from the ballet “Romeo and Juliet,” with dancers enlisted for the long-lost finale the composer initially had intended when he created it in the 1930s. Instead of committing suicide, the star-crossed lovers escape their Shakespearean fate and dance a joyful duet. But that stickler, Josef Stalin, said “nyet” and ordered faithfulness to the original. Prokofiev’s music and notes for staging the last scene disappeared until a Princeton music historian, Simon Morrison, discovered them in the 2000s.
St.Clair also will preside over a series called “Sunday Casuals,” music-and-talk matinees that will feature Bell (Sept. 28), Bernstein's music illuminated with personal reminiscences from St.Clair and the composer's daughter (Feb. 1, 2015 ), the “Pathetique” symphony (March 15, 2015) and the Prokofiev “Romeo and Juliet” (April 19, 2015).