St. Clair conducts the orchestra, his
wife handles the checkbook
In a field well-known by the public to be occupied
by dynamos -- think of the old Bugs-Bunny-as-conductor cartoon --
American conductor Carl St. Clair is especially charismatic. He
has earned an international following and affected the course of
classical music for generations to come. In his position as music
director of Orange County's Pacific Symphony, St. Clair has guided
the symphony to prominence through award-winning recordings, commissions
of new works, world premieres, live broadcasts and an array of music
In addition to his orchestral work, St. Clair is also
sought after as an opera conductor. St. Clair has led the Austin
Lyric Opera. He made his Opera Pacific debut conducting Mozart's
"The Magic Flute." He has also been guest conductor of
the opera house in Bonn, Germany and the Staatstheater in Hanover.
Bankrate: You have
spotlighted in your career the works of living composers. Do you
think it's part of your makeup to want to forge your own way in
the field of music?
Carl St. Clair: I think
that what happened in the mid-20th century is that classical music
was redefined. In the previous century, the conductors had been
of European descent, with only some speaking English, and they were
more autocratic. Leonard Bernstein is the one who redefined the
role of the conductor. He redefined what a community could expect
out of its conductor. One of the ways he did this was through education.
He had his Young People's Concerts on prime-time television, which
is really incredible when you think about it. I mean, we're on at
2 a.m. on some arts cable channel that you have to pay extra to
see! Also, Bernstein, along with George Szell of Cleveland, opened
the way to living composers. I never wanted to work in a museum,
playing just the old master works. I wanted to forge forward and
increase the works played in the concert halls. I am lucky, I have
longtime friends who are composers; they are just now becoming infamous!
Bankrate: The Pacific
Symphony operates on a per-service model, paying for each rehearsal
and concert. While there are many pros to this: flexible budget,
new creative talent and presumably no deadweights, you have cons
in the lack of continuity and extra training and audition time.
Would you speak to these issues?
Carl St. Clair: Our
players are non-tenured. Our fair trade agreement gives them the
same rights, though. It's incorrect to think of Pacific Symphony
Orchestra as a freelance orchestra. The contract gives us financial
freedom. If we're doing a piece that calls for a chamber orchestra,
we don't have to pay for the full orchestra. The musicians supplement
their income with teaching, chamber music, Hollywood studio work.
Bankrate: PSO is also
hired as an ensemble for other work, such as being the pit orchestra
for your local dance and opera reps. This creates almost a full-time
position for the benefit of those players who may need it. How did
this come about?
Carl St. Clair: In
2000, our board of directors adopted a very interesting model. They
decided it was not in our best interest to be like the Chicago Symphony.
We decided to blend three factions: one, the great 18th and 19th
century orchestral traditions. You know, the Vienna Philharmonic
tours and records, but they are really the resident orchestra for
the opera house! Second, the Birmingham Symphony. It's in an industrial
town in England that had this cultural surge. They did a lot of
interesting programming, really putting itself on the map. Third,
virtuosity versatility. Our players can go from playing Hollywood
studio music to Mahler, to accompanying the Oak Ridge Boys, to a
family concert, to the Three Jewish Tenors, to accompanying the
Bolshoi Ballet, to a Ray Charles concert. In the future, other orchestras
will probably follow our model.