This September, the Orange County Performing Arts Center's Segerstrom Hall will be moving a few hundred yards south to its new home at the near-complete Rene and Henry Segerstrom Hall, which will make three venues named after one Segerstrom or another within about a quarter-mile radius (and four if you include the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, still in the planning stages). That's a lot of Segerstroms, not to mention great piles of Segerstrom money, so before the show a very grateful Carl St. Clair—Pacific's musical director from so far back that he can remember conducting performances at Fullerton's Plummer Auditorium and Santa Ana High School—trotted out the entire Segerstrom clan to a great, big standing O from the crowd. The family looked thoroughly uncomfortable in the heat of St. Clair's rather fulsome praises (as genuine philanthropists should), and none too happy to oblige St. Clair by sitting onstage through the first half of the night's performance.
As farewell evenings—and massive mountings of Beethoven—go, the Pacific, with able assistance from John Alexander's Pacific Chorale and a quartet of veteran opera soloists, did all right. A fairly flat opening featuring renditions of some Schubert Lieder, expertly if tentatively sung by mezzo-soprano Jennifer Dudley, gave way to an overly somber and frankly enervated atmosphere, as if St. Clair and company were saving themselves for Beethoven's explosiveness later on. The audience, politely restless, attended to the Schubert stoically enough, but everyone knew what we were all there for.
The Ninth, when it finally came upon us—with the hundred-plus chorale members looming behind the orchestra and the four soloists flanking St. Clair at the front of the stage—was at first restrained, and then broke out during the 4th movement's Ode to Joy, into appropriate delirium. The tympani rumbled, the chorus soared from climax to climax, and the bows of the string players flashed and cut through the air like some bow-and-arrow attack in an ancient Roman war. Spectacular as the ending was, though, what moved me most was the face of tenor soloist Jason Collins, who sang his part modestly and beautifully, but couldn't contain the spread of the smile on his face as the symphony's passion mounted. Collins' face was itself an ode to joy and a great image by which to remember the Pacific's history as it moves on to bigger things.
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