The following are letters I’ve received (e-mails, actually) in response to my review of a performance of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony by Carl St.Clair and the Pacific Symphony on Thursday. Names and cities are withheld to protect the innocent. One wishes this kind of lively conversation could go on in the comments section of my newspaper’s website, but most of these respondents are print readers, so it doesn’t. (The last letter comes from a reader who was listening to Saturday night’s radio broadcast). Here they are:

(UPDATED with more letters.)

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I hope this finds you well and happy.  I just finished reading your review of the PSO’s performance of Bruckner’s Ninth.  I have 5 of his symphonies, 3rd-5th, 7th and 9th, with the 9th being my favorite (I can’t describe to you why I like this one the most, at least not as you might describe it in one of you reviews, but I’m always disappointed that he Bruckner wasn’t able to finish it).  It’s disappointing that Carl and the PSO didn’t do this composition justice (yes, I know they’re officially the Pacific Symphony and not the PSO, but that’s how I remember them).  If you’re ever in my neighborhood (near Columbus, Ohio), you can stop by my house where we can have a glass of wine while we listen to this piece; Reference Recordings RR-81CD (in HDCD) by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and the Minnesota Orchestra.

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Hello:  Liked you article re the Pacific Symphony.  Well written.

Loved your closing line.  A little wine and some incense always does the job,  I am so old that I forget everything.  This one I will remember.

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Thanks for a great review if the PSO Bruckner concert –or rather event. OCR Feb 26, 2011.

You are right-on!  It may have been a spiritual experience for Carl St Clair but for the rest of us, the evening was more of a show-circus event. We had choral seats (behind the orchestra) and could clearly watch the emotions on the conductor’s face.  By chance, the event designer Joseph Horowitz sat next to us during the performance.  It is evident that neither understand the OC/WC audiences.  The PSO is attempting anything to build (and retain) audience and St. Clair is still attempting to “educate” us.  Neither appears to be working but they are alienating us more traditional (old-fart) concert-goers.

I am an old romantic (past 70) and really enjoyed the Nobertine chant.  After 50-plus years of concert going this is my first and last Bruckner  concert.  I gave up my PSO season tickets years ago!

Please keep up your politically-incorrect reviews!

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Did we attend the same concert?  Regardless of your personal bias against Bruckner, the evening’s performance was outstanding.  Yes, there were a few rude people talking in the lobby, but the chant was mesmerizing for those of us listening (and there were many).  While Joseph Horowitz was not a very emotional speaker, the preconcert lecture was very well attended (contrary to your wonderment).  Singing behind the scenes was a finale so welcome, further proof that Maestro St. Clair is a creative genius.  Yes, he and the PSO could have simply played the piece, but his creativity was well received and well deserved.  It’s sad you had so little to say about this.  My friend and I felt as though we had been on a mini retreat.

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So you were less than enthralled by Bruckner? Personally, I feel much the same about Anton Bruckner as I do about Gustav Mahler. They both exhibit a lot of flash and thunder but thematically they don’t seem to go anywhere. I suspect the real satisfaction for conductors is that they have a chance to show all their moves and athleticism. (case in point -St. Clair, Leonard Bernstein?)

Oh my!  We’re  going to have Mahler the end of next month.

The pre-concert lecture (complete with some Hollywood help) presented much of what was printed in the program. Carl St Clair’s introduction reiterated said info. A few minutes into the post-concert discussion, I took my leave as it was a re-hash of Anton Bruckner whom Carl evidently admires passionately.

The Norbertine Fathers singing behind the scenes at the end was eliminated at the Friday night performance but Carl did hold the audience silent for almost 15 seconds before the first “Bravo” rang out to break the mood.

You spoke of the “semi-magisterially” brasses and the impressive work of the strings. Yes, those string players, (some are petite women) were impressive in holding their own with 9 horns with plenty of power, four of which doubled on Wagner tubas.

My comments might seem a bit harsh but I really did enjoy the concert. I view it as another musical experience, although an hour of Bruckner from the Choral Terrace was a challenge. It is still my favorite spot although not the most comfortable seat for such a long piece.

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I’m not sure whether I am hearing a recording of what you heard last night, or another performance. In what I heard, someone evidently fell ill (or worse) in the audience and some lady screamed. A man then asked “Is there a doctor in the house?” The music, nearly half way into the third movement, stopped for at least five minutes. The conductor thereafter made the grave error of not playing the movement again from the beginning. Certainly that broke the tension.

I tuned in a bit late, in the middle of the first movement (knowing what was to be on) and was really shocked by the quality of the performance, both from the orchestra and the conductor. My general view is that firing Keith Clark and hiring St. Claire was a grave error, and setback, so I wasn’t expecting much. But both seemed to have improved greatly since that time (1988 or so). So if you want to criticize St. Clair, criticize him for not playing the 3rd movement complete from start to finish, and not playing the final movement at all. While the completed version(s) may not be exactly what Bruckner wanted, it is clear from his letters that a 3 movement symphony is what he wanted least. Nor is it what as a listener, I want either. At one time this may have been justifiable. but no longer.

I’m sorry to read that you had the misfortune of sitting near some musically unsophisticated and uneducated people who were probably there more to be seen than to hear great music. But that’s Orange County for you. Even worse, perhaps that’s modern America is a very dumbed down age. Yes, the Bruckner 9th is great music, despite what the philistine so-called musicians you reference in your review might think. If you don’t quite see it, find yourself the old Kurt Eichorn (on Canyon, a Japanese label) recording with the reconstructed finale. That adds about 34 minutes to the entire work. You know that dramatic opening of Haydn 104? Curiously, Bruckner quotes it in the coda of the finale. When he does, you suddenly realize the connection has been there all along– since the opening of the first movement, which is actually a variation of the Haydn 104 opening (Beethoven does something similar in the 9th. They didn’t call him “Papa Haydn” for nothing).  In other words, this is the finale of not only the Bruckner 9th Symphony, but the entire First Viennese School Symphonic tradition, dating back at least to Haydn 104.

If you get a chance, look at Theodore W Adorno’s book on Alban Berg (Adorno having been a student of Berg’s for 2 years, the two having been introduced by Hermann Scherchen).  In it, Adorno tells how he often complained to Berg about Bruckner’s music, with Berg saying little or nothing in response. Then, Adorno tells us, he heard Anton Webern conduct the Bruckner 7th. That changed everything for Adorno. There aren’t many good Bruckner conductors left, so the odds may not be in your favor, but perhaps some day you will hear a Bruckner performance that does for you what Webern’s did for Adorno. For me it was the analog recording of the 8th from the early 70s with Bernard Haitink. Even his later digital recording of it is no match. If you can find a live Josef Krips tape, so much the better.

UPDATED here

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I always enjoy your excellent reviews. I do not doubt your review of the thursday’s concert of Pac. Symphony, as usually you are correct. However, I attended the saturday performance, and decided not to read your review before the concert to avoid having any bias. Normally I attend on fridays. Saturday’s performance was magnificent! Carl was in complete control; the orchesstra was passionate; the strings sounded beautifully; the winds and the brass equally so. It was enthralling all together. At the end, the theater was completely mute till Carl put his hands down on the podium and not untill he raised his head a few moments later the ovation began!!! I have never seen the public in such a reverent mood in my 30 years of attending concerts here! It was really an experience worth having. It seems totally different from thursday night.

I just wanted to share it with you. By the way, mid way thru the 3rd movement a lady apparently had a syncopal attack and the concert was interrupted to give time to the paramendics to take care of her who fortunately was able to walk out of the theatre in a few minutes , so the concert resumed where it left, as nothing happened!

Best wishes and keep up the good work.

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I was at the concert featuring Bruckner’s 9th on Thursday. Don’t understand how someone who has no real experience with Bruckner-other than thru a glass or bottle of wine- can engage in a pejorative as referring that night’s performance as being flat. A lot of fizz. With a lack of understanding Bruckner as a whole, how do you know this? How do you know when it is flat or when it is rotund? The audience- if you will remember- presented the orchestra with a standing ovation, but this was not mentioned in your article. The audience  being vertical as they applauded belies the one-dimensional flatness of your claim. A confidential informant has revealed to me that drinking short dogs of white tokay can be hallucinogenic and that it is much preferred to listen to Bruckner while sober.

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HERE’S ANOTHER:

I read, in disbelief, your editorial on Carl St. Clair’s performance of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony.  “How?” I asked myself, could someone walk away from this performance with such negativity?  My husband and I walked away in awe………….

Carl St. Claire’s performance spoke to the very depths of my heart and soul last week.  It was an incredible, spellbinding experience for me that I will treasure always.  His explanation of Bruckner’s journey, his insight into the meaning of the symphony (especially for me, who am not well versed in the history of classical music), and the personal level with which he touched each member of the audience made me feel as though he were speaking directly to me.  Bruckner’s personal struggle with death and what lay beyond gave me much pause for thought…………You see, Carl St. Clair and I have experienced such a personal loss,….he in his precious son…., me in my older brother.

My younger brother, who is more educated in the fine art of music, attended the same performance as I did, and, afterwards, shared how by listening to the music he could relate and better understand the recent passing of our older brother, who died of brain cancer just over a year ago.  The heroic struggle of his final days were filled with anxiety, courage and great grace……….and had he been sitting in the concert with us that night, he would have given Carl St. Clair a standing ovation that would have lasted beyond the dimming of the last light in the concert hall.

I would not want to be a critic of the fine arts, because the time spent “picking apart” all the details is precious time wasted, when there is so much good and beauty that can be derived if only we allow our mind and eyes to be open to it.  If you look for the good in things, you will find it.

As St. Clair so eloquently has stated in the past, “I don’t live my life as if I’m planning a career. My basic philosophy is, wherever I am, I’m giving 100% of my energy at that moment. Hopefully, what I create around me is positive energy that people take notice of.”

The energy in the concert hall on Friday night was positive energy indeed, and many did take notice…………I believe, Carl St. Clair, in his humility and grace-filled talent, is right where God wants him to be.  He is The Master Musician’s finely-tuned instrument,  bringing the beauty and message of music to many by speaking to their souls.

I hope you can find such peace in your journey.

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