Classically Trained: A symphony to bring the dog to

August 16, 2010|By Bradley Zint
  • Pacific Symphony conductor Carl St. Clair teaches a group of youngsters some basic conducting using colored straws as batons at Sunday night's "Symphony in the Cities" concert.
Pacific Symphony conductor Carl St. Clair teaches a group… (Bradley Zint, Daily…)

LAKE FOREST — Children were playing catch, rolling down hillsides and jumping to pop bubbles. Adults nearby watched and chatted quietly.

It was just another normal summer evening in the park, except for that live symphony orchestra in the corner playing show tunes and waltzes.

Such was the scene for some 3,000 attendees at Sunday's third and final presentation of "Symphony in the Cities," the outdoor concert series by the Costa Mesa-based Pacific Symphony and its music director of 20 years, Carl St. Clair.

The show at Pittsford Park in Lake Forest was the kind of symphony you could bring your dog to — and many did.

With its program of easy listening — including show tunes from "My Fair Lady," "Annie Get Your Gun" and Strauss standards like "On the Beautiful Blue Danube" — the setting was relaxed as any program I've ever been to, inside or outside.


I've heard many an outdoor orchestra concert — from the Boston Pops within earshot of the Martha's Vineyard ferries to the San Diego Symphony within a long baseball throw of Petco Park — and yet that night was the most easygoing and age-friendly show of them all.

Hollywood's musical mark surely had more than a few concertgoers thinking which movie used which tunes. Conductor St. Clair's explanations before their performances were most welcome.

Although I don't think St. Clair mentioned it, I had to wonder what Strauss would think of his music, written then for the Viennese rich of the mid-1800s, that is so richly performed today for swans in "Looney Tunes" or astronauts in "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Sunday was the series' fifth year in Lake Forest.

Furthermore, the concert came at an amazing price: It was free. The orchestra has been offering free outdoor concerts since 1999 with the help of various sponsors. But this year, Sunday's show came thanks to grants and partnerships of the Pacific Symphony with Target and the city of Lake Forest.

"Without one of the three, it really wouldn't work," Susan Miller told me before the concert. "It's really a three-legged stool."

Miller works for the symphony in its education and community programs. As we talked before the orchestra took the stage, those programs were happening around us in the makeshift zone dubbed the "Musical Playground."

This little midway of music had kids making tambourines, drumming together in circles, hearing symphony musicians play up close and trying out instruments in the "Instrument Petting Zoo."

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