Carl St.Clair Enters Fourth Decade as Director of Pacific Symphony

Photograph by Emily J. Davis

As Carl St.Clair enters his fourth decade as music director of Pacific Symphony, he reflects on the group’s accomplishments and meaning to O.C.

The close of Pacific Symphony’s 2019-2020 season marked Carl St.Clair’s 30th anniversary as music director. Through the years, St.Clair has proven to be a passionate leader and an ambassador for music education. “Our endeavor is to become an artistic beacon of achievement and integrity in Orange County, and to allow people to realize that we are an orchestra that has committed to our community—and we reflect our community’s love through the classical music art form.”

Pacific Symphony received the prestigious Tier 1 status by the League of American Orchestras under St.Clair’s leadership. He also led Pacific Symphony in its sellout debut at Carnegie Hall, its first tours to Europe and China, as well as a national debut on PBS’ “Great Performances.” “When I began here in 1990, we were really a $2 million organization with a deficit. Now we’re the largest orchestra formed in America in the last 60 years, and we’re the newest member of Group 1 orchestras, which means we’re sitting at the discussion tables (with) the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia orchestra, or the LA Philharmonic. That’s a story that can’t be told by many organizations.”

St.Clair’s musical studies began as a young boy after his mother surprised him with piano lessons as a birthday gift. She noticed his fussiness would go away when his aunt played piano, which made her think he had an interest. “It took a while for me to realize it, but in fact, it was the greatest gift she could have ever given me.”

It wasn’t until he was a junior in high school that St.Clair decided to make music his main focus; he became a member of the Texas All-State Band in 1969. “A musician’s life isn’t like a switch that you turn on and the lights come on. It’s something that kind of grows and develops with you. It starts with a very quiet little voice that leads you toward music and toward its beauties. And then you keep listening to this inner voice and follow where it takes you.”

He doesn’t think of his accomplishments as a list of things. Instead, he thinks of all the musicians, supporters, audience members, and staff who have worked with him. “It’s not the fact that we sat on the stage of Carnegie Hall or that we played our final concert of a European tour to a sold-out house in Vienna, or that we played in Beijing or Shanghai. Those are moments, those are isolated moments, but the people that created these moments is really the lasting legacy of Pacific Symphony.”

St.Clair has watched the organization navigate through difficult times and grow. Pacific Symphony brings music to the community through its concert series and its numerous educational programs—including Class Act, a 25-year-old outreach program with Orange County elementary schools, and Arts-X-Press, a five-day immersive art program for sixth and seventh graders. “We are attempting to be Orange County’s musical brother and an organization that is looked upon as being highly needed, highly respected, and vital to everyday life of everyone in Orange County.”

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