COSTA MESA — Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 is a memorable one for Carl St.Clair. He first saw it played on a 1948 black-and-white Westinghouse television.
The orchestra: the Boston Symphony. The conductor: Leonard Bernstein.
Some years later, things came musically full circle. Again, the piece was Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5.
The orchestra: the Boston Symphony. The conductor: Carl St.Clair.
St.Clair, who's approaching his 22nd season as music director of the Pacific Symphony, recalled the anecdote at a conference Monday morning before about 175 attendees in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. He and other symphony officials previewed the Costa Mesa-based orchestra's 2011-12 classical season.
But of the many notes to be played, St.Clair said that Tchaikovsky symphony scheduled for Jan. 12-14, 2012, will be among his most personal. It was the piece he — a young musician from a farm in small-town Hochheim, Texas — ended his four-year tenure with as Boston's assistant conductor.
"This piece has such a deep place in my heart," he said. "Because that TV show basically showed me the next 20 years of my life … to bring this to you, with all of this history that the musicians and I have with the work, is going to be very, very special."
Also special is the Pacific Symphony's "Symphonic Voices" — an effort to fill the gap of performing local opera after the county's only major company, Opera Pacific, closed in 2008 due to financial difficulties.
"You deserve to hear [opera]," St.Clair said. "This is a rich repertoire. This is incredibly emotionally packed music that talks about life and everyday situations — the same ones you deal with … we're going to do what we can to reignite, rejuvenate opera as part of our life."
The three-year initiative begins with a "semi-staged," three-night production led by A. Scott Parry of Puccini's "La Bohéme" on April 19-21, 2012. Also scheduled are kid-friendly performances of Englebert Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel" opera, high-definition broadcasts of New York City's Metropolitan Opera and outings to major opera houses.
With the ongoing 2010-11 season dubbed the "Year of the Piano," the symphony is calling the 2011-12 season the "Year of the Violin," with the Sept. 22-24 gala opening-night performances featuring Mendelssohn's iconic "Violin Concerto in E Minor." The guest soloist will be Sarah Chang, the Korean American virtuoso, for the shows that herald in the Pacific Symphony's 33rd anniversary.
Also notable is the Feb. 23-25 performances of Tchaikovsky's "Violin Concerto in D Major" by Israeli violin soloist Vadim Gluzman — on the same violin used in the concerto's 1881 premiere.
"That's the violin that Tchaikovsky actually heard," said Pacific Symphony President John Forsyte.
St.Clair even provided what may be a sneak peak as to how the symphony may take part of the concerto quite swiftly.
"When Vadim and I played together this concerto in Europe two seasons ago, I never had to accompany the last movement so fast," St.Clair said. "I said, 'Wow.' And he goes, 'Oh, I'm sorry. The instrument only knows one way to play this concerto!'"
The Pacific Symphony will also be performing the ninth — and final — symphonies of Mahler, Schubert and Beethoven. St.Clair said the orchestra will examine how the symphonies, composed during their respective composer's last years, could have been inspired by the "shadow of death."
St. Clair and the orchestra will highlight how Schubert finished his ninth before his death, how Beethoven could not even hear his ninth because he was completely deaf by that point, and how Mahler died of fatal heart disease before his ninth's premiere.
The Pacific Symphony will perform the works of living composers as well, and continue its tradition of premiering new pieces. St.Clair will lead the symphony in a new piece by Michael Daugherty on Feb. 23-25, 2012 — the same nights as the Tchaikovsky violin concerto performances. St.Clair he wanted the Daugherty piece to feature only organ, winds, brass and percussion so it could be widely played after the premiere.
"Because then, I know every … high school, collegiate or conservatory wind ensemble that has an organ in the neighborhood can perform this piece," St.Clair said.
Other works by USC music professor Frank Ticheli, film composer James Newton Howard and Thai composer Narong Prangcharoen are scheduled for the upcoming season.
The season's guest conductors include Giancarlo Guerrero, of the Nashville Symphony, and Michael Stern, of the Kansas City Symphony.
In addition, the Pacific Symphony's annual American Composers Festival — founded in 2000 — will recognize "Nowruz," the traditional Persian New Year. A highlight of the event from March 22-24, 2012, will be the world premiere of "Peace Oratorio," by Richard Danielpour, a New Yorker of Jewish and Persian ancestry.