If you only looked at his résumé, Carl St. Clair would seem to have lived many lifetimes: Born in 1952, the Texas native has served as music director of orchestras in Michigan, New York, California and even Germany. He has recorded albums. He has headed music festivals. He has collaborated with famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Now, St. Clair prepares for a new incarnation – as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica. Last Friday, it was announced at a press conference in San José that St. Clair would sign on for a one-year contract. He is expected to arrive in Costa Rica in March 2014.
“The National Symphony Orchestra has gone for three years without a leader,” St. Clair told The Tico Times this week. “That’s a long span of time. I have been very impressed that they have maintained their discipline and performance level, but obviously there needs to be a cohesiveness, a homogeneity of sound and tone. For me, it’s more about gathering people and unifying their aims and goals.”
For 25 years, St. Clair has served as music director of the Pacific Symphony, based in Orange County, California. Three years ago, St. Clair was invited to guest-conduct for the National Symphony in Costa Rica, and the collaboration clicked. He returned for a second stint the following year, then a third in 2013.
“I really enjoyed working with the orchestra,” St. Clair recalled. “The relationship with the musicians and my professional relationship with [Director of National Music Center] Guillermo Madriz was wonderful. Sometime between my first and second visit, we began talking about a position.”
The orchestra has lacked a full-time music director since the Culture Ministry’s dismissal of Daniel Nazareth in 2011. For Costa Rica, the orchestra has gained a conductor with a wealth of background and experience. For St. Clair, the appointment is an opportunity to refine the orchestra, cultivate new talents and schedule a season of performances.
But St. Clair is also married and the father of two children, ages 11 and 12, and the decision to relocate to Costa Rica required some exposure.
“I brought my family down this past July for two weeks,” St. Clair said. “We had a wonderful family vacation. We were scheduled to go somewhere else, but we decided we should all know about [Costa Rica], as a family.” They toured the Pacific coast and spent some time in the highlands and around Arenal Volcano. “We just had a great time. The whole family just fell in love with the country. It was important that this be a family decision.”
Having worked extensively with the Staatskappelle Weimar and Radio-Sinfonieorchester – both preeminent orchestras in Germany – St. Clair describes his family as “bi-continental.” At the same time, “this came very late in my life,” St. Clair said, and there are copious preparations to make before his arrival. Among his many tasks: studying what the National Symphony Orchestra has accomplished in the past 10 years and deciding where to steer them next.
“I’m going to try to compliment what’s been going on by bringing some new composers into the fold,” St. Clair said. He commended their repertoire so far – a diverse spectrum of symphonies and choral works – but St. Clair may introduce less-played artists, such as Shostakovich, Strauss, Wagner and Haydn. “There are a lot of details for next season. We have a lot of planning to do.”