Carl St. Clair is the People's Conductor

Carl St.Clair giving conducting lesson at Symphony in the Cities
Carl St.Clair giving conducting lesson at Symphony in the Cities
Pacific Symphony

We all know what a typical night at the symphony is supposed to look like. A dark house full of fancy people dressed to the nines staring at an illuminated stage that's filled with virtuosic musicians clamoring and soloing away. You might even imagine the conductor looking something like Carl St. Clair, an older white man with longish silver hair tussling around as his hand, holding a thin baton, darts feverishly. It's an age-old slice of musical culture and class that many people can identify, but few people below the upper crust of society are actually privy to.

With the exception of student performances, orchestral concerts are usually more within the domain of people with fat wallets. However, on the occasion of St. Clair's 25th anniversary as the music director of the Pacific Symphony, the organization is celebrating with a series of free and low-cost concerts throughout Orange County. Called "Freshly Squeezed Music: Pacific Symphony In Your Orange County Neighborhood," the program is fueled by the conductor's goal "to really instill into the mindset of Orange County that Pacific Symphony is a treasured ensemble that should be protected and nurtured, as well as enjoyed and respected."

St. Clair is currently the longest active tenured music director of any orchestra in America, and in addition to his impressive résumé of commissions, recordings, and musical directing and conducting of numerous other orchestras, he has always been active in bringing classical music to the community. He has been instrumental in creating several musical outreach and educational programs, including Pacific Symphony Youth Ensembles, Sunday Casual Connections, OC Can You Play With Us?, arts-X-press and Class Act. For Freshly Squeezed Music, St. Clair and various musicians of the Pacific Symphony are venturing into the community to provide the public with chamber and full-orchestra concerts.

The performances commenced in February (with the Bowers Museum's Asian Lunar New Year Family Festival) and will continue until June in various cities and at such diverse venues as museums, synagogues, churches, libraries, schools, and, of course, at the Pacific Symphony's home, the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Of the eclectic venues, St. Clair says, "We're trying to attract audiences of different age groups, multigenerational audiences, simultaneously, [so that] the people that it's being sort of curated for will be different, so that we have as broad a stroke into the community as possible."

There are also several tributes to St. Clair's mentor, Leonard Bernstein, featuring invitations for the children in attendance to meet-and-greet the orchestral performers. The series includes the premiere of an original composition, both brass and wind concerts, and guest performers, among them featured soloists, students of the Pacific Symphony's education and community-engagement programs, and members of the community who wish to perform with the orchestra. The whole operation would not have been possible without the participation of numerous sponsors and partners who share St. Clair's passion.

While bringing the symphony to the community is one of the highlights of this season, St. Clair's vision for the symphony extends beyond that. "One of my big mantras since becoming music director is that we have to be locally acclaimed and respected before we can be nationally recognized," he says, "so at the same time we're creating these incredibly important and, I think, vital local projects and programs, it doesn't mean that we're taking the eye off the ball of becoming a nationally and internationally recognized orchestra for our programs.

"In fact," St. Clair proudly reveals, "some of the programs that we're talking about have been nationally and internationally lauded, so that shouldn't go unnoticed."

For a complete listing of the concerts included in this series, as well as links to other Pacific Symphony education and community-outreach programs, visit www.pacificsymphony.org/education/community_concerts.

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See also: The 50 Best Things About the OC Music Scene The 50 Worst Things About the OC Music Scene The 25 Greatest OC Bands of All Time: The Complete List

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