That sense of "we" never stood conductor and orchestra in better stead, Becker says, than in August 1999, when he returned to the rehearsal room a month after his 18-month-old son, Cole, had drowned in a neighbor's swimming pool while Susan St.Clair suffered a diabetic seizure that kept her from coming to the boy's rescue. St.Clair shared his emotions with his musicians. "Our job was to be supportive and let him show us how," Becker said. "He did, and that, to me, was incredible leadership."
Under St.Clair, the Pacific has had a consistent commitment to performing and commissioning new music, especially from American composers. Working with living composers, he said, "is the closest thing I'm going to get to knowing Beethoven."
In 2000, he launched the American Composers Festival, an annual highlight. Next year's festival features works by Philip Glass. Mexican composers and the Asian influence on contemporary music have been past focuses.
Playing new music hasn't stunted the Pacific's growth. Even amid the economic downturn it has managed a steady paid attendance of about 150,000 a year.