Artscapes: Maestro Carl St.Clair Leads the Pacific Symphony into its 35th Season

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Carl st. Clair Generalmusikdirektor Komische Oper Berlin Photo: Marco BorggreveHow old is old?

In the symphonic music world, many orchestras have long, colorful histories dating back decades, even centuries. So by symphony standards, 35 is relatively young age, yet it’s a marvelously mature and musically adept Pacific Symphony that launches its 35th anniversary season this week in the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

It’s a significant milestone, made all the more impressive knowing that Pacific Symphony is the largest orchestra formed in the United States in the last 40 years.

The Pacific Symphony has grown up with Orange County. So too has iconic Music Director Carl St.Clair, who came to OC in 1990 and helped bring Pacific Symphony to the forefront of the music world. In doing so, be brought audiences – and OC – along for the ride.

“I remember my conducting teacher, Walter Decloux, standing with me and saying ‘my dear young man, you have one of the greatest opportunities afforded to a music director anywhere in America.’ He realized Orange County was the type of county that had a strong financial base, and a county that had yet to experience what a symphony orchestra could do for the life of that community,” said Maestro St.Clair during a recent interview. “I know he was correct. It has certainly given me 24 years worth of fulfillment helping this dream become realized.”

“Being the music director for over two decades have given me a real sense of belonging,” continued St.Clair, who lives with his wife and two children in Laguna Beach. “It hasDSC_2896 helped me in decision making in regards to the types of programs and outreach we do. The symphony and community have grown up together, like childhood friends, continually in step hand in hand. That’s a unique situation, when a community and orchestra have the chance of maturing at the same time. It’s a relationship the symphony and musicians have never taken for granted. As we have grown and developed, it has been out of fulfilling a need for cultural development in the community.”

As the symphony has grown, so too has the caliber of musicianship within the orchestra, noted St.Clair.

“We have so many wonderful musicians in Southern California, and this has really helped create the character of the Pacific Symphony. It’s versatility and virtuosity. On any given night, they could be playing Pink Floyd, or Duke Ellington, or Mahler, or an opera. They have incredible virtuosity, and the willingness to be versatile.”

With St.Clair at the helm and joined by a talented team that includes Pacific Symphony President John Forsyte, the symphony has launched numerous initiatives aimed at expanding the symphonic repertoire while offering countless educational opportunities for audiences. The annual American Composers Festival, started in 2000, has garnered national acclaim, while the Symphony in the Cities program brings Pacific Symphony out into the community every summer. Add to that a rich array of classics, pops and family concerts, and you have an orchestra that’s immersed in music, and in the community.

www.atempletonphoto.comThe diversity that St.Clair mentioned is apparent in the symphony’s season-opening concerts September 26-28. They begin with the short and jubilant “Festivities” by California-based composer Peter Boyer, and conclude with Brahms’ monumental Symphony No. 4. In between, acclaimed 19-year-old piano phenomenon Conrad Tao returns for his third appearance to perform Rachmaninoff’s powerful Piano Concerto No. 3.

“The Boyer piece welcomes people with a real festive mood, while Brahms is the meat and potatoes of orchestral life,” said St.Clair. “And Conrad has been a friend of the orchestra, and for him to be playing Rach 3 is the perfect combination of old and virtuosity. There’s no better way to open the season.”

“When asked about the season’s highlights, St.Clair began naming piece after piece, but then paused and said, “It’s a season we are really proud of. Every program will offer the audience a new experience, a collective experience, a shared experience.”

To share the season with St.Clair and the Pacific Symphony, call (949) 755-5799 or visit   

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