Since its premiere in 1824, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony has been used to celebrate major historical events such as the opening of the United Nations and the fall of the Berlin Wall. But it works just as well for personal ones, including birthdays and anniversaries.
Pacific Symphony conductor Carl St.Clair celebrates his 60th birthday this week, and John Alexander marks his 40th anniversary as artistic director of the Pacific Chorale. On Thursday, those organizations gave a stirring account of the Ninth at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.
The program also included two pieces by the orchestra's first composer-in-residence, Frank Ticheli. His music conveys a sunny temperament, even when it's in a kind of Barber Adagio mode. St.Clair opened with the premiere of the string orchestra version of "Rest," which Ticheli composed in 1999 for the Pacific Chorale in memory of Cole St.Clair, the conductor's young son. It was lovingly shaped by St.Clair, with enough tension to maintain the slow tempo. And the conductor unapologetically evoked the spirit of Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story" in Ticheli's shimmering, bustling city piece, "Radiant Voices."
After intermission, St.Clair gave a fleet and effective reading of Beethoven's opening two movements. Then he brought out the score's more intimate character, taking the 20-minute third movement Adagio almost into Bruckner territory. The strings sounded a bit reticent in the movement's big statement, and some details were lost, but throughout St.Clair emphasized a natural pulse and flow.