Music review: Leila Josefowicz with the Pacific Symphony at Segerstrom Concert Hall

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In a world of jet-setting maestros, it’s a rare music director who can stay with an orchestra for two decades. Most marriages, of course, don’t last that long. But conductor Carl St.Clair, who this season is celebrating his 20th anniversary at the Pacific Symphony, has created something uniquely enduring with this ensemble located in the heart of Orange County. Although just 31 years old, the Pacific Symphony has resided since 2006 in a glittery, acoustically resplendent concert hall, which would be the envy of most veteran orchestras. The structure and the Pacific Symphony’s sizable budget ($17 million) are proof of St.Clair’s wide community appeal.

He can attract big-name soloists too. Thursday evening at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, St.Clair led the Pacific Symphony in a dizzyingly eclectic program that starred Leila Josefowicz in John Adams’ Violin Concerto. The 32-year-old virtuoso made her debut with this orchestra at age 10 and has become an impassioned advocate for contemporary music, particularly Adams’ works. (Local fans will undoubtedly recall her performance of Adams’ “Dharma on Big Sur” earlier this season with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.) From the nebulous opening measures of Adams’ Violin Concerto to its playful finale, Josefowicz exuded utter commitment and confidence. In short, this concerto is a dynamic showcase for her musical athleticism and gift for subtle inflections.

Orchestral gestures weaving in and out of the solo line, St.Clair and the players were behind Josefowicz’s every note, at ease with the music’s polyglot vocabulary and mercurial moods. (In a few spots, however, the two electric synthesizers were too exposed.) At performance’s end, amid the ovations, it seemed a pity that the hall had so many empty seats.

For the rest of the program, St.Clair proved himself a conductor of grand gestures that sounded sometimes hollow. Mozart’s abbreviated Symphony No. 32 (K. 318), heard after intermission, came across as bold and lush but not historically informed or sufficiently interesting.

The evening’s bookends, Ravel’s “Mother Goose” Suite and Stravinsky’s Suite from “The Firebird” (the 1919 version), was fairy-tale music, sadly missing some magic. The sensual-sounding winds impressed throughout the Ravel, yet the music, overall, lacked enough sweep and momentum to connect the five movements.

True to form, Stravinsky’s “Firebird” packed a mighty wallop and the orchestral playing was uniformly first-rate. But greater attention to color, texture and pacing would have likely made an even bigger impact.
-- Matthew Erikson

Pacific Symphony, Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (with guest violinist Leila Josefowicz) and 8 p.m. June 10-12 and 3 p.m. June 13 (with guest pianist André Watts). Tickets: $25 to $185. or (714) 755-5799.

[For the record: an earlier version of this review said that Leila Josefowicz is an L.A. native. Though she lived in Los Angeles as a child, she was born in Ontario, Canada.]



Carl St.Clair celebrates two decades with Pacific Symphony

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