Music Preview: BRUCKNER’S EIGHTH WITH CARL ST. CLAIR (Pacific Symphony at Segerstrom Concert Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on November 6, 2017

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


On a website which attempts to list every Anton Bruckner orchestral recording offered to the public (, the discography collector and annotator John F. Berky states that the Austrian composer “expanded the concept of the symphonic form in ways that have never been witnessed before or since. When Anton Bruckner. Portrait by Josef Büche.listening to a Bruckner symphony, one encounters some of the most complex symphonic writing ever created. As scholars study Bruckner’s scores they continue to revel in the complexity of Bruckner’s creative logic.”

Yet most of us are not scholars, and we listen to music because it moves, touches and inspires us as little else on the planet does. So when you attend the concert of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8, presented by conductor Carl St. Clair and the Pacific Symphony at Segerstrom this week, you may go ahead and analyze this inimitable work just like any other great classical work; you may point out harmonic and melodic motifs; you may admire the orchestrations; and you may notice phrases that are regular and irregular. But when all is said and done, none of that will explain either Bruckner’s absolute virtuosity or the emotional impact of this towering work. Free your brain, open your senses and prepare for an experience so awe-inspiring and transporting that analysis will only result in keeping you earthbound.

For the performances November 9-11, 2017, Maestro St. Clair is going to prepare you in an amazing way. “I’ve wanted to conduct this piece for many years,” he said in an interview. “But it’s like Mahler 9, it’s like all the pinnacle works, you have to build up to them.” To get the audience, musicians, and himself ready to take on Bruckner’s Eighth, one of the most towering works in the repertoire, he has created a prelude that will have a cathedral-like atmosphere: Patrons will enter the dimly lit Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall as Gregorian chant is sung from the stage by the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael Abbey; organist Christoph Bull will play music by Bach and Bruckner; and video artists Nick and Clemens Prokop will project visuals on three screens that evoke the interiors of the majestic St. Florian Monastery in Linz, where Bruckner served as organist and is buried.

The Eighth is Bruckner’s largest symphonic creation. It took three years to complete, 1884-1887, after which it was rejected by conductor Hermann Levi, whom Bruckner believed would back up his new work. Levi’s bafflement spurred Bruckner to spend years rewriting not just the Eighth but his first five numbered symphonies as well. The result: three different versions of the Eighth. St. Clair is conducting the extensively revised version, completed in 1890, which runs about 85 minutes.

“Romantic” is not the word that springs to mind when I hear this colossal work. Certainly it is mesmerizing, but many refer to this symphony as a religious experience (Bruckner was a devout Catholic and never married). Some may find themselves hearing one giant Biblical journey, while others (myself included) sense it as a spiritual explosion, especially in the way it ebbs and flows, pulling you in and out ever closer to another dimension. (If you think I’m being dramatic, wait until you hear it live.)

Rosenfeld goes on to say that Bruckner’s works “bring us into contact with an elemental strength. The lung capacity of the man, the vast span of his themes and thematic groups make the majority of composers seem asthmatic. Once the slow, ox-like power is gotten into motion, once the Bruckner orchestra begins squaring its great monoliths of tone, then mountainous things begin to happen. The great battering rams are slowly gotten into action. But, once heaved forward, they crash walls down.”

You have been duly prepared.

Pacific Symphony
Carl St.Clair, conductor
Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey; Christoph Bull, organ
Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa
November 9-11 at 8pm
preview talk at 7 with host Alan Chapman
for tickets ($35-$206), call 714-755-5799 or visit Pacific Symphony

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