Classically Trained: Behind the scenes of a Pacific Symphony performance

Eileen Jeanette's workday began at 7 in the morning and by 6 p.m., it wasn't over yet.

On Sunday, the goal for her was clear: to make the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre suitable for a Pacific Symphony performance.

Getting the venue on Irvine Center Drive ready for its classical summertime resident is no easy task for the team of about 30 who accomplishes it. Jeanette would know. She's done it 33 times.

"Everything you see here, this is a rock 'n' roll venue," said Jeanette, the symphony's vice president of artistic and orchestra operations. "It's an empty slate. We have to basically build everything about the infrastructure for a classical music concert in a day's time."

This includes building the white shell within and white "clouds" above the black stage, setting up the mics for the instruments and readying other sound, video and lighting equipment.

"It's quite the rush to get it all done," she said.

Sunday's heat didn't make things any easier this time around for Jeanette and her team — or the orchestra itself, for that matter.

During the symphony's afternoon rehearsal, eyes were on the mercury as it rose to almost 90 degrees — the point at which, per the musicians' labor contract, they can no longer rehearse or perform.

Meteorological fate kept the rehearsal going, however. The temperature topped at 89.4.

Things were "dangerously high," though, Jeanette said. The heat is uncomfortable and not safe for the instruments.

As she spoke, her enthusiasm unwavering, as evident from her smiles, she said she's been with the orchestra for more than seven years.

"I like to help artists reach their full potential," Jeanette said. "If they don't worry about the creature comforts because everything is thought of and taken care of for them, they can perform at their best."


'Ease into the oboe'

Jeffery Sells sat in a small trailer behind the stage. In front of him was his work space: a technological sea teeming with buttons and topped off with a few monitors. As the symphony's director of multimedia operations, his job Sunday was to take care of what the audience sees on the screens around the amphitheater.

Those screens generally show live video of moments within the music: a pianist's fast hands scurrying about the ivories, the conductor swaying with emotion, the horns in a regal duet.

It's like live TV, he said. And there's no rehearsal.

"It's really all about amplifying the energy that the orchestra is already putting out there," Sells said. "We're not trying to create TV and something separate so that people forget they're at a concert. We want to actually enhance the concert experience."

What Sells wants for any of his cameras — of which there were five Sunday: three manned, the fourth accessible by remote control and the fifth fixed on the conductor — seems to be partially squared away before the first downbeat.

Sells, in addition to being tech-savvy, is a musician with a bachelor's in trumpet performance. Before the show starts, he's already gone through the score and marked important instrument melody lines, solos and the like. He has an idea of where he wants his cameras to be focused and when.

Then he gives the score to Maxim Eshkenazy. Using the score as a guide, Eshkenazy, who sits next to Sells, reads back to him the score's markings. He might even add a few of his own as the music progresses.

"I'll say, 'Ease into the oboe,' or, 'Camera 2, slowly pan right,'" Sells said. "And, as we're doing all of this, I'm composing what's going on the screens."

But easing into oboes or anything else has to be timed precisely. Thus, the cue from Eshkenazy will come early enough for the shot to be established, then executed.

It better come loudly enough too. At any given time, Sells is hearing the live music, talking to his camera crew, listening to their responses and listening to Eshkenazy.

To top it all off, Eshkenazy — who joked that his delivery of the camera cues makes him a "forward air tactical target assistant" — has another job as well: backup conductor. Just in case something happens to the main one.


Music in dactylic hexameter

Carl St.Clair was introspective in the hours before the 7:30 p.m. concert Sunday.

The two pieces on the night's program — Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 and the Fifth Piano Concerto with soloist Gabriela Martinez — are certainly no mystery to the veteran Pacific Symphony conductor or his veteran musicians. Both works are standards of the repertoire — provocative, poignant opuses by the great German maestro.

Yet St.Clair remarked that the endeavor to better understand the music is a relentless one.

"I continually revisit these scores that I know, just to make sure I haven't missed something," he said.

He mentioned how one of Beethoven's favorite books was "The Odyssey."

"It was a book that we know was by his bed and he wrote things inside of it," St.Clair said.

Homer's work may have inspired Beethoven in writing the distinctive rhythm of the Seventh Symphony's second movement, he said.

"The whole metric thing with the second movement ... ." He paused to sing the intro. "It's what's called dactylic hexameter, which is what Homer wrote a lot of that book in."

Knowing such background helps him decide how he will lead the approach to the music.

"All these little things give you insight," he added.

Furthermore, St.Clair said he remains inspired by drawing upon those who taught him, among them, Leonard Bernstein. It's part of his pre-concert routine.

"I think a lot about what he would say before a concert ... very often he would say just one little sentence that would make everything OK, then you would go onstage," he said. "I think about him a lot. I think about what he would tell me or what he would encourage me to do."

Sometimes St.Clair will bring the score with him to the podium but keep it closed. That's his homage to Seiji Ozawa, who led the Boston Symphony for 29 seasons.

"Every little thing that I do has some sort of indication of my respect for those who have taught me."

BRADLEY ZINT is a classically trained musician and a copy editor for the Daily Pilot. Email him story ideas at or follow him on Twitter @BradleyZint.

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