By Scott MacClelland
CALIFORNIA-BORN Monterey County resident Jung-Ho Pak has some great news for any symphony orchestra. And he should know because he’s made that great news work, as a former music director of the San Diego Symphony and as current Artistic Director/conductor of the Cape Symphony on Cape Cod.
“Most orchestras depend a lot on donations, around 60 to 70 percent, with only about 30 percent earned [ticket sales] income,” he says. “We’re just the opposite, at 75 percent earned income.” Does he rest on his laurels? “Our goal to get as close to 100 percent as we can.”
The Cape Symphony calls Hyannis home, but performs numerous run-outs to such Cape towns as Falmouth, Sandwich and Orleans. “Ours is the second largest orchestra in Massachusetts after the Boston Symphony.” Their 1500 seat Barnstable Performing Arts Center in Hyannis attracts sell-out audiences to full-on classical fare, pops programs and “crossover” concerts that mix in a variety of, on paper, strange bedfellows. “This week’s ‘classical crossover’ will feature the Annie Moses band, a family affair of six siblings, with multi-meter arrangements by their composer patriarch. They’re big in Country, based in Nashville,” Pak says with unflagging enthusiasm. Cape’s 2014-15 season is called “Shake it Up.” The current concert is titled “Rhapsody in Bluegrass.” (Severe weather forced some schedule changes.)
That ‘unflagging enthusiasm’ is a big part of Pak’s success. He splashes it all over the Cape Cod cultural scene. “We’ve learned that we have to address the first-time American attendee,” he says, acknowledging “There’s enough in our tradition that can make a first-timer uncomfortable.” That means, “Doing things that completely break the barrier between classical and the rest of the world.” And he goes on, “We’re lucky here, very cosmopolitan with retirees who have generously embraced our broad approach.” A perusal of their current season brochure spells it out. Five “Masterpiece” programs and three “Pops” with multiple performances are complemented by a New Years Day party and “The Titans,” a new series of chamber music by, well, the titans of classical music. The Masterpiece 3 program in January focused on England, from Elgar to Gilbert & Sullivan to the Beatles, all to prepare subscribers who will be joining a “Crown Imperial” Passport Tour “for music lovers” in April, their third annual such outing.
Born in Burlingame, Pak began studying piano at age 6, then three years later won a scholarship from the San Francisco Conservatory and took college-level music theory. He took up the clarinet and played in bands and orchestras through high school and into college. He attended UC Santa Cruz in the early ‘80s and soon was conducting and teaching at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara, Idyllwild Arts Academy (which had a long affiliation with USC) and Lehigh University.
From 1997 to 2002 he brought the San Diego Symphony from the brink of bankruptcy to robust health, artistically and financially. He was music director of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and is now its Conductor Emeritus. He served in similar artistic capacities with the Diablo Ballet, the NEXT Generation Chamber Orchestra and Orchestra Nova San Diego. He is Director of Orchestras at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. Pak has guest-conducted in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Pak’s “raison d’etre” is to get back to the joy of making music. “Somehow we’ve disconnected ourselves from that basic mission.” Alluring the first-time attendee is part of an all-encompassing activity; he demands of himself the task of getting everyone involved turned on, and brings an extraordinary level of energy to the task. That includes the musicians of his orchestra who, like other constituents, often come with their own habits and prejudices. “I treat musicians as investors and colleagues.” He adds, “The Cape Symphony is one of the few orchestras in the world who has continued to give raises to musicians.”
“If we’ve learned anything from Yo-Yo Ma, Josh Bell and Cecelia Bartoli, it’s that the average person will come if they see something of themselves in the performer. Otherwise, the language isn’t ubiquitous any more. My goal has been, whether with students or pros, to make them feel happy and share that from the stage. Most important, I want them to play with a sense of humanity. Every conductor hungers for that. I ask them to change their habits and to play joyously.”
Pak has never conducted in Monterey. “That’s by design. It’s like taking your work home with you.” With respect to his Cape Symphony responsibilities, he’s home with his family, off Laureles Grade Road, for three weeks, then gone for one week. “Next month I’m going to conduct the Hong Kong Philharmonic in a new series that links music and technology.” That program will include Arthur Honneger’s Pacific 231, a tone poem about a train, and a new piece for a special five-string violin. In South Korea he jumped at the opportunity to work with all-state youth orchestras. “I love to teach,” he says, musing on his many activities with students. Indeed, at USC in 1997 he succeeded the esteemed Daniel Lewis as conductor of the orchestra, and in whose conducting curriculum Pak himself had been a student. Simultaneously Pak took the same post at the San Francisco Conservatory.
At 52, Pak’s achievements to date would leave most fully employed classical musicians breathless. But he’s as determined as a hurricane to restore that blow.