Classically Trained: 'Sundays at Soka' a real jam

ALISO VIEJO — There was likely only one big traffic jam in this town Sunday, and it happened to be for a rush to hear the music.

Cars were backed up along Wood Canyon Drive in the minutes before the Pacific Symphony's first-ever "Sundays at Soka" series concert that featured an all-Mozart program at Soka University's acoustically divine Performing Arts Center. I heard only one temper flare up at the inconvenience. Hopefully others were more patient.

I was informally told that it's a known problem, but I hope it's one that gets solved before future concerts at this wonderful South County venue that opened a little more than a year ago. Sunday's attendance was fairly strong — likely thanks to the Pacific Symphony's marketing gurus — and the nearly 1,000-seat hall was about two-thirds full.

I mention the traffic jam because it's probably why more folks came late to this 90-minute concert than normal. It got to a point that not long after starting the second movement of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5, the first of two works on the program, conductor Carl St.Clair stopped the show and turned around.

A group of five or so attendees were looking for their seats in the stage-level section, just mere feet from a smiling St.Clair on his podium, who remarked that he didn't want them to miss hearing the Adagio.

"Oh, just pick a seat," he said. "They're all good."


He then turned to the rest of the audience, looking for more late-comers.

"Any more?" he asked. Clapping ensued.

I've been to a lot of concerts, but that was the first time I've seen a conductor stop so that people could take their seats. I liked the gesture, and it added to what was already an informal afternoon setting.

The soloist, Nigel Armstrong — whom St.Clair mistakenly introduced as Neil Armstrong before quickly correcting himself with a laugh — gave a stellar performance of the concerto on his 1767 Guadagnini, especially at the Rondo conclusion. Even more remarkable is the fact he's still a student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

Soka has a perfect hall for soloists, though sometimes his accompaniment was a bit too loud to clearly hear him.

Otherwise, the Pacific Symphony contingent sounded light, balanced and energetic in both the concerto and Symphony No. 40 in G minor — the "key of lamentation," St.Clair said. His remarks about the music and its history were also welcomed.

All in all, "Sundays at Soka" promises to be a great series to the Pacific Symphony's packed lineup. Hopefully, those car and parking logistics are improved by the next concert Feb. 24 that features more Mozart and pianist Orli Shaham.


'Music & Stories' still happening throughout town

I recently got a chance to catch up with Mike McCaffrey the Emerald Bay resident who I wrote about in this column last year. He was doing one of his shows at the Balboa Bay Club and Resort in Newport Beach, where he once was a regular performer.

"The Music & Stories of George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin" was exactly what it sounds like, and a lot of fun. McCaffrey played piano, with Gil Orr on guitar and Frank Schatz on bass.

The informal setting has McCaffrey telling stories and showing how the three great songwriters put their mark on the American popular music soundscape.

Be sure to see one of his shows when it comes to a town near you. We post them when we can on the Daily Pilot's calendar section.

BRADLEY ZINT is a classically trained musician. Email him story ideas at

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