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

June 4, 2010 | 12:53 pm

 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.
3511-277He 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. www.pacificsymphony.org 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

Music Review: John Adams goes for ecstasy in the Los Angeles Philharmonic's West Coast, Left Coast festival

Photo: Leila Josefowicz. Credit: J. Henry Fair

Comments () | Archives (1)

From my Saturday concert experience, I am in disagreement with most of the reviewer's comments here ...

Found the performance of Ravel's 'Ma Mere L'Oye" to be quite full of instrumental character and panache. Some great contributions with some very inspired playing by the Pacific SO 's woodwinds and brass. Quite ethereal rendering of one of Ravel's most magical works.

Similar quality to the Mozart symphony, which had a lightly-sprung overture-like character to the performance and served as a nice contrast to the mostly 20th Century music programmed. Good choice of works by Carl St. Clair for the diverse program.

The Adam's concerto was definitely the highlight of the evening; no personal observation of overexposure by the synthesizers. In fact I would have thought the opposite from my listening point near the back of the orchestra section.

Ms. Josefowica's performance was quite dynamic and virtuosic; the orchestra's contributions were in balance with her performance of this great Contemporary concerto.

Was disappointed in the Firebird Suite (very likely because I heard Lionel Bringuier's/LAPO's weightier and more characterful interpretation at Disney Hall last weekend).

In agreement with the reviewer's comments regarding the Firebird Suite...
the orchestral playing in the Firebird was clean and detailed, but I felt the interpretation was a bit dry with rather uniform pacing, dynamics and accents. Segerstrom Hall is a drier acoustic than Disney, which probably influences my assessment of this PSO performance of the Stravinsky. Always interesting to hear the artistic contrasts and similarities of performances of the same performed work.

Compared to Mr. Erikson's review, I feel that I attended a much better concert performance than he witnessed. One of the reasons why I never attend the first concert in a series of performances.


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