The Pacific Symphony is a symphony orchestra located in Orange County, California. The orchestra performs at the Renée and Henry Segerstom Concert Hall, part of the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, California. Since 1987, it has been playing its summer concerts at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater (previously known as "Irvine Meadows Amphitheater") in Irvine, California.
Carl St.Clair has been the orchestra's Music Director since 1990.
The Pacific Symphony is the largest orchestra formed in the United States in the last 40 years.
Keith Clark, music director: 1979-1988:
The orchestra was founded in 1979 by Keith Clark (a former student and assistant conductor of Roger Wagner at the Los Angeles Master Chorale and principal guest conductor of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra) in his Fullerton, California home's kitchen with a grant of $2,000 and some phone calls to local musicians. The musicians whom Clark called were mainly from Southern California's deep base of professional freelance musicians who performed in the area's movie studios, universities, and other regional performing arts organizations; many of these musicians were former concertmasters, associate concertmasters, and principal players with prominent orchestras including the Cleveland Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, and Los Angeles Philharmonic. Clark became the orchestra's first Music Director and the first orchestra personnel manager was Robert F Peterson known professionally as "Peeps".
The orchestra had its first performance in December 1979 at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, with Clark on the podium. By 1981, the orchestra played its concerts at the "Good Time Theater" at Knott's Berry Farm with a subscription base of 3,000. By 1983, the orchestra had moved its concerts to the Santa Ana High School auditorium, made its first recording, and had a big enough budget to hire a full-time manager. In that same year, they performed for the first time at the Music Center of Los Angeles County as part of the City of Los Angeles' bicentennial celebrations. James Chute, in a commentary for The Orange County Register, wrote:
"The orchestra's growth continued, as Clark's programs at Santa Ana High School offered an engaging mixture of old and new works, especially American works. The ensemble's recordings of music by Copland, Barber, Ives and Harris were enthusiastically received, while its American music programs attracted large audiences by offering apple pie at intermission and world premieres by respected American composers such as Donald Erb."
Financial problems and Clark's ouster:
In 1986, the orchestra became one of the resident companies at the new Orange County Performing Arts Center, giving its first concerts in its new home in October of that year. The Center had originally refused to give the orchestra residency, citing its strong desire to limit performers to those of "world-class" stature; however, the Center eventually relented and the Pacific Symphony as well as other regional arts organizations were given residency, largely due to Clark's continued lobbying efforts. This move led to a substantial increase in its subscriber base, but also a doubling of the orchestra's budget; unfortunately, the orchestra soon experienced financial difficulties, among them losing its funding grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
In June 1987, the orchestra hired Louis Spisto, marketing director of the Pittsburgh Symphony as its new Executive Director. Within months, Clark and Spisto began to clash. Prior to Spisto's arrival, Clark had already developed a difficult reputation with some of the orchestra's Board of Directors and the orchestra's four prior Executive Directors, all of whom had resigned after relatively short tenures (one as short as six weeks).
James Chute, writing in the Orange County Register, described it this way:
"The standard of a respectable Clark performance seemed to be that he was prepared and that he didn't get lost. Occasionally he went further, as he did most recently in a Jan. 21, 1988 program of Prokofiev's "Ivan the Terrible" and Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov." But too often, Clark's
performances sounded more like readings than interpretations, and sometimes bad readings, such as his Oct. 2, 1986 opening concert in the center, which was drubbed by critics.
The opposition to Clark, within the orchestra, according to musicians, has been vociferous but only talked about privately. Most musicians, essentially employed at Clark's pleasure, have no job security in the Pacific Symphony and those who invoked his displeasure have, according to musicians, been pulled arbitrarily from concerts."
In October 1987, Clark signed a one-year contract, giving him a substantial pay raise while also establishing an artistic review process the board would use to determine if the contract should be renewed. By February 1988, Spisto helped to engineer a vote by the orchestra's board on whether or not to renew Clark as Music Director through the end of his existing contract. In a vote of 12-11, the board voted against retaining Clark; three days later, Clark resigned.
Clark's last year and the orchestra's subsequent abandonment of his legacy:
Keith Clark continued to conduct the orchestra through its 1988-89 season. As part of the terms of his resignation, he was given nine months of severance pay and he still maintained the power to hire and fire musicians at his sole discretion. "I will continue as music director in every sense of that word," he declared.
By the end of 1989, the orchestra had removed all mention of Clark from its official literature. As of the beginning of their 2012-2013 season, there is no recognition on the Pacific Symphony's webpage of Clark's tenure as the orchestra's founder and Music Director.
New musician's contract:
In the meantime, the orchestra and Spisto began to evolve the Pacific Symphony into what it hoped would eventually be a "world-class" orchestra. Its first move was to sign the orchestra musicians to a traditional orchestra contract, complete with tenure rights in line with typical American Federations of Musicians agreements. While critics frequently assailed Clark's podium leadership, the musicians themselves were given much credit. Establishing tenure helped to give the orchestra a more stable reputation. "Tenure will put to rest the notion that this is a pick-up orchestra," Spisto said. "It will also give the players a sense of security and a better understanding that they are a major part of our future."
Search for a new music director:
In May 1988, Kazimierz Kord, then Music Director of the Warsaw Philharmonic, was named Principal Guest Conductor and Music Advisor for the 1989-1990 season.
The orchestra also began its search for a new Music Director. Some established conductors, including Lawrence Foster, Sergiu Comissiona, Zdeněk Mácal, and Stuart Challender, were considered along with lesser known names, such as Christopher Seaman, Richard Buckley, Vakhtang Jordania, Toshiyuki Shimada, and Carl St.Clair. Kord repeatedly said that despite his new titled position, he was not a candidate.
The board had wanted a strong musician that would also be willing to spend significant time with the greater Orange County community. Since Zdeněk Mácal was a resident of nearby Laguna Niguel, California in addition to being a conductor with a strong resume, many considered him the early front-runner; however, he had a number of other positions already to his name, and his busy schedule was thought to be a likely deterrent. He pulled himself out of the running before the 1989-90 season began.
By late 1989, Lawrence Foster was the odds-on favorite to be named Music Director. In December 1989, the orchestra offered Foster the position, and he accepted in principle. Contract negotiations began, and Foster began planning his schedule and the orchestra's programs for the coming years. However, in February 1990, Foster revealed that the offer had been rescinded, largely due to concerns about his salary and level of commitment:
"I gave them a total package," Foster said. "I was given to understand that the board regarded it as too exorbitant." . . . "I am brokenhearted," he added. "From the very beginning I became extremely excited about the project. . . . But that is their right. It is their organization. I can't do anything about it." . . . "Besides the salary issue, Foster said, "There was some distrust about my commitment to building the orchestra, that I am regarded as a European person and would not be sufficiently committed here."
"I think they wanted more time, but it was impossible with my family commitments and my other activities," Foster said. "And I told them I wasn't able to move to Orange County. With my work in Europe, that would have been impossible. But my wife and I had gotten so excited about the possibility that we were considering moving back to the United States in a couple of years, to New York, so we could be midway between Southern California and Europe."
The news of the orchestra's decision to pull Foster's offer came on the heels of Carl St.Clair's debut with the orchestra on January 31 and February 1. By all accounts, the concerts went well; despite changes in programs, concert soloists, and concertmasters, his conducting was well received by musicians, board, and audience alike. Moreover, he had indicated a willingness to move to Orange County and seemed enthusiastic about being a part of the county's burgeoning arts and cultural scene.
On February 26, 1990, the orchestra named Carl St.Clair as its second Music Director, effective October 1 of that year.
Carl St.Clair, music director: 1990-present:
The Wall Street Journal remarked, "Carl St. Clair, the Pacific Symphony's dynamic music director, has devoted 17 years to building not only the orchestra's skills but also the audience's trust and musical sophistication--so successfully that the Pacific Symphony can now present some of the most innovative programming in American classical music to its fast-growing, rapidly diversifying community."
In 2005-06, under St.Clair, the Symphony made its debut appearance in Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, by special invitation from the American Symphony Orchestra League's 2006 National Conference. The symphony also embarked on its first European tour. Performing in nine cities in three countries, the Symphony received rave reviews--22 in all--expanding its reach to an international level. Timothy Mangan, classical music critic for The Orange County Register, who accompanied the orchestra on tour, said at the conclusion, "The tour has ended in something very close, or maybe even right on the nose, to triumph... All that happened on tour...showed that this band can really impress."
At the start of the 2006-07 season, the orchestra moved into the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, designed by architect Cesar Pelli with the late acoustician Russell Johnson.
The Symphony offers repertoire ranging from the great orchestral masterworks to music from today's most prominent composers, highlighted by the annual American Composers Festival. The Christian Science Monitor has commented, "With the American Composers Festival, the Pacific Symphony has lifted the baton on an unprecedented ... initiative to explore the impact of non-European sounds on Western music. This marks the Symphony as a leader in contemporary classical music." In addition to the Symphony's main stage concerts, the organization also features one of the best-attended Pops series performed by an orchestra in the United States (led by Principal Pops Conductor Richard Kaufman), as well as chamber music, and family concerts series, led by Associate Conductor Michael Hall, who also conducts the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra.
Pacific Symphony has played a central role in the growth of the performing arts in Orange County, considered to be one of the 10 fastest growing communities and centers for business and technology in the world. Presenting more than 100 concerts a year and a rich array of education and community programs, the Symphony touches more than 250,000 Orange County residents--from school children to senior citizens.
Pacific Symphony is dedicated to developing and promoting today's young and established composers and expanding the orchestral repertoire. This commitment to new works is illustrated through the Symphony's commissions and recordings, in-depth explorations of American artists and themes at the American Composer Festival, and the Young American Composers Competition. The Symphony's approaches to introducing new works to audiences received the prestigious ASCAP Award for Adventuresome Programming in 2005.
The orchestra has commissioned works by William Bolcom, William Kraft, Tobias Picker, Frank Ticheli, and Chen Yi, who composed a cello concerto in 2004 for Yo-Yo Ma. The inaugural season in the new hall included commissions for works by Philip Glass, William Bolcom, and Daniel Catán.
Music in the community:
Pacific Symphony's education programs are designed to integrate the symphony and its music into the Orange County community in ways that stimulate all ages and form strong, meaningful connections between students and the organization. Music Director and educator Carl St.Clair actively participates in the development and execution of these programs. The orchestra's Class Act residency program has been honored as one of nine exemplary orchestra education programs in the nation by the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Symphony Orchestra League. In addition to the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra, in 2007-08, St.Clair added to the list of programs the Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble and Pacific Symphony Santiago Strings.
The Symphony has also commissioned and recorded An American Requiem, by Pacific Symphony's most recent Composer-in- Residence, Richard Danielpour, on the Reference Recordings label in 2002, and Elliot Goldenthal's Fire Water Paper: A Vietnam Oratorio with Yo-Yo Ma for SONY Classical.
Additional recordings include two piano concerti of Lukas Foss recorded by Carl St.Clair, Pacific Symphony, and pianists Jon Nakamatsu and Yakov Kasman, released on the harmonia mundi label in 2001, and a 1997 recording featuring the works of Japan's leading composer, Toru Takemitsu, with the percussion ensemble, Nexus, on the Sony Classical label.
1979-1988: Keith Clark,
1990-present: Carl St.Clair,
Principal pops conductors:
1989-1990: Doc Severinson,
1991-present: Richard Kaufman,
Principal guest conductors:
1989-1990: Kazimierz Kord,
2002-2008: Michael Hall,
2009-present: Maxim Eshkenazy