Michael Francis.
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I had never been to Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, but now it calls to me:

“Come this way, honored Odysseus, great glory of the Achaeans, and stay your ship, so that you can listen here to our singing; for no one else has ever sailed past this place in his black ship until he has listened to the honey-sweet voice that issues from our lips; then goes on, well-pleased, knowing more than ever he did...“ — The Sirens

Allow me to paraphrase.

“Come this way, honored writer, great glory of the San Diegans, and stay your Prius, so that you can listen here to our acoustic; for no one else has ever driven to this place in his black Prius until he has listened to the honey-sweet sound that issues from our hall; then goes on, well pleased, knowing more than ever he did...” — Segerstrom Hall.

Great glory of the San Diegans? Perhaps not, but I did go on, well pleased, knowing more than I did before.

What was I doing in Orange County listening to a concert by The Pacific Symphony? The music director of San Diego’s Mainly Mozart Festival, Michael Francis, was the guest conductor for a trio of concerts on January 11, 12, and 13 so I made the short trip up to bear witness.

The program comprised only two pieces, but it was a full night of music. The first was Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Ray Chen as soloist. As the woodwinds started to play the opening bar the Segerstrom Siren began to call to me.

The acoustics of the hall are magnificent.

When Ray Chen played his first solo line, I thought, “Hmm. This must be what it sounds like to live inside a violin.” That is hardly an exaggeration.

My general experience of violin concertos is that there is a violin playing way off over there somewhere and I can hear it. In this space it felt as though the solo line were coming from within me. I hesitate to get too wrapped up in Segerstrom and neglect the performance.


Elgar - Symphony No. 1

The performance was masterful and the hall allowed it to come through with all its nuances and subtleties. Ray Chen’s playing in the violin concerto invited the audience to come in close. He welcomed us in with the disarming charm of his artistry thereby giving us access to Beethoven in a way which confirmed the great humanity of the great composer.

Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 was the other piece on the program. Before the symphony started Maestro Francis gave us a beautiful nail upon which to hang Elgar’s masterpiece. That nail was hope as represented in the very first phrase of the music.

This was the first time I’d heard an Elgar symphony in a live performance. There can be no debate that this symphony is the epitome of Elgar’s artistic integrity. If there is one word which best describes Elgar — for me — that word would be honest.

The performance by Francis and the orchestra was emotive and precise without being melodramatic or deliberate. There was nothing which felt premeditated. When hope returned near the conclusion of the final movement not even the Santa Ana conditions could keep my eyes for dampening.

I now have two things to look forward to. One is Michael Francis conducting at Mainly Mozart this June. The other would be strapping myself to the wheel of the Prius and venturing back to the Segerstrom Siren as soon as possible.

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