‘First Light’: New Dawn for Danielpour


Composed in 1988, “First Light” by Pacific Symphony composer-in-residence Richard Danielpour is not exactly a new work. But it was the turning point for the 44-year-old New York composer.

“That piece doesn’t sound like anything I wrote previously,” Danielpour said in a recent interview from his New York home. “It sounds a lot like what followed.”

The work will be performed by the Pacific Symphony, led by Carl St.Clair, on Wednesday and Thursday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. The program will also include Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Leonard Bernstein’s “Benediction.”

“As it was happening, I knew something was occurring which was completely different from anything I had done,” Danielpour said.

Originally for 17 instruments, “First Light"--in four continuous but contrasting sections--was commissioned by Gerard Schwarz for the “Music Today” series in New York and the Seattle Symphony.


A year later, Danielpour created a version for full orchestra, which was first heard at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival in Germany in 1989 as part of a summer tour supervised by Leonard Bernstein.

Bernstein was taking six young American composers and conductors--three of each--to Europe. The list included Danielpour and St.Clair, the Pacific’s music director.

“I remember at a rehearsal, Bernstein turned to me and said, ‘This piece is about a search for a certain kind of harmony,’ ” the composer said. “That’s not just the harmony of D major that comes at the end, but about a search for a certain kind of harmony, as in peacefully.”

The work is Danielpour’s most frequently performed piece, passing its 100th performance several years ago.

“Every year since its inception, it has been played somewhere,” Danielpour said.

“When I look back on it, it’s pretty good writing, especially for a 32-year-old. But the thing I find very often is I think my earlier work is harder to play than my recent work. If I knew then what I know now about writing for orchestra instruments, it wouldn’t be quite so difficult.”

* Carl St.Clair will conduct the Pacific Symphony in Richard Danielpour’s “First Light” on a program that also includes Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Leonard Bernstein’s “Benediction” on Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $18 to $50. ($10 student/senior rush tickets.) (714) 556-2787.


Chris Pasles can be reached at (714) 966-5602 or by e-mail at