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City Lights: Debut performance needs to be preserved

June 20, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • The Pacific Chorale and Pacific Symphony perform “The Shore” on June 1 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
The Pacific Chorale and Pacific Symphony perform “The… (Courtesy Ryan McSweeney )

If I had my indulgence — if I could direct the Pacific Chorale's leaders on how to preserve "The Shore" for posterity — I would have them keep the inappropriate applause.

Not that I'm any authority on how to record a piece like Frank Ticheli and David St. John's opus that debuted June 1 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. A work so painstakingly crafted deserves a pristine recorded version, and that's what it will get — according to Ticheli, the chorale and Pacific Symphony held a studio session two days after the premiere, and the version on the upcoming CD from Delos will blend those studio takes with portions of the live one.

Still, I hope someone will hold onto the opening-night recording, if only to include as a bonus track on some future compilation. It would be a slice of history, but also, in its own way, a tribute to just how remarkable an achievement like "The Shore" really is.

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To cap its latest season, the chorale performed the piece at the end of "The Moon, the Sea and the Stars," a program of nature-themed works by Ralph Vaughan Williams and others. "The Shore," clearly, was the featured attraction: Before the concert, Ticheli and St. John joined in a question-and-answer session, and St. John, a prolific poet who wrote the lyrics to Ticheli's music, gave a brief reading of his text.

When the piece finally began, it sounded great to these ears — a half-hour trek through the phases of life, all of them reflected in the speaker's perception of bodies of water. The first movement featured scales that surged up and down like waves, reflecting the innocence of a wide-eyed child on the beach; the second part, about young adulthood, turned dreamy and celestial before building to a crescendo.

After that movement crashed to a close, some members of the audience began to clap tentatively — either thinking the entire piece was over or just stirred to applause by the music. There was a cough or two, and then the room fell silent again for the third and fourth movements, the former a dream sequence about a gondola of death and the latter a reflective return to the beach.

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