PBS Great Performances cover

PBS Great Performances


The 2017-18 season of Great Performances will be extra special for arts lovers from Southern California. Our own Pacific Symphony, conducted by Carl St. Clair, will be one of only two orchestras featured on the Great Performances season.
To learn more about Music Director Carl St.Clair, click here.

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PBS Great Performances


Even the most casual arts viewer has certainly enjoyed an evening of fine arts through broadcasts of Great Performances, a television series developed to showcase the performing arts. Great Performances has been the cultural cornerstone of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) network since 1972.

The series is the longest-running performing arts anthology on television, presenting full concerts, opera, ballet and plays. The program has spun-off other widely admired series, including Dance in America and in 2007 began adding Metropolitan Opera Live in HD, a series designed for movie theaters, to its schedule. Over the past 44 years, Great Performances has been widely honored, including 67 Emmy awards and six Peabody awards.

Eclectic in nature, Great Performances seeks out performances that are rarefied examples of great cultural experiences. These may range from documentaries (such as Toscanini: The Maestro) to major anniversaries (Shakespeare Live: The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Celebration of Shakespeare’s 400th Birthday) to historic musical theater productions (Hamilton’s America).

The 2017-18 season of Great Performances will be extra special for arts lovers from Southern California. Our own Pacific Symphony, conducted by Carl St. Clair, will be one of only two orchestras featured on the Great Performances season.

The television show will feature the Symphony performing Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America, which is being taped here in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall on April 7 and 8. PBS SoCal, our local PBS station, has been a longtime partner of the Symphony and together we saw an opportunity to bring Ellis Island to a national PBS audience.

Pacific Symphony, no stranger to video reproduction of its concerts (for both real time and delayed viewing), is excited about its first national broadcast and the opportunity to work with production personnel and stage directors who are recognized internationally for the creation of fine arts television. Artistic and Orchestra Operations Vice President Eileen Jeanette conveys the excitement of the entire Pacific Symphony organization.

“We are totally engaged by our interaction with the production team from WNET PBS,” she says. “It is an indescribable experience to work with a group of individuals who routinely produce shows that we have admired for years. We will be most proud of our performance, of course, but we will also grow institutionally through this experience.”

The Great Performances broadcast was originally the brainchild of Pacific Symphony board members Jo Ellen Chatham and Charles Zhang. Jo Ellen and Charlie are both recipients of the esteemed Ellis Island Medal of Honor, a prestigious award conveyed annually by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations –NECO, whose mission is to honor and preserve the diversity of America and to foster tolerance, respect and understanding among religious and ethnic groups.

Following the performance of Ellis Island by Pacific Symphony in 2005, Chatham began an effort to bring the work to the attention of PBS, and was joined by Zhang in helping convince their producers that Ellis Island was a work that would be of special significance to a national audience.

Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, 1902, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

“Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island provides an uplifting, inspirational message about the important role that immigration has played in the development of America,” said Chatham. “Music and the arts in general provide us with a universal language to join in celebration of our most important and essential beliefs and ideals. It was a perfect project to call to the attention of PBS, and we are thrilled that they have chosen this project for Great Performances.”

Producing a national television broadcast from a live performance is a complicated and stressful endeavor. WNET-TV (the producer of Great Performances for PBS), has a dedicated team that will be in Orange County for the tapings in April. They have spent many hours in preparation, scoping out camera positions, selecting cast members and exploring the unique characteristics of the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

As the concert hall is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its opening, it is fitting that this production will be the first national broadcast from the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

The production also provides Pacific Symphony with the opportunity to work with new partners. “We have enjoyed a strong and beneficial partnership with PBS SoCal for many years,” commented Symphony President John Forsyte.

“They have been most helpful in assisting us in preparation for this event. We are also delighted that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, along with PBS itself, have made significant investment in the substantial costs of this program.”

Music Director Carl St. Clair expressed enthusiasm about the performances of Ellis Island. “When we first performed this piece outdoors at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in 2005, I felt that it represented a most important dimension of America and its values. The actual words of Ellis Island immigrants-many of whom were our direct ancestors-are incredibly moving. When set to Peter Boyer’s iconic music, the piece provides an opportunity for reflection and for great hope for our country and its future. I always knew I wanted to bring the piece to our Segerstrom Concert Hall audience, but never dreamed that it would ultimately be presented to a national and international audience.”

He added, “Pacific Symphony aspires to be Orange County’s cultural ambassador, and we take this responsibility seriously. How wonderful it will be for the entire country to have this performance as their reference to Orange County and our great quality of life. This is a very proud moment for us.”

To learn more about Music Director Carl St.Clair, click here.