Orange County was a different place in 1990. The population was 2.4 million, the county’s various arts organizations were still considered in their infancy, and a young conductor named Carl St.Clair was hired by the Pacific Symphony to be its new conductor and music director.
Flash forward 25 years. The county’s population has topped 3 million, the arts are thriving (thanks in no small part to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts), and Carl St.Clair has successfully turned a small regional orchestra into a formidable player on the international classical music scene.
“Carl is now the longest tenured director of a major American orchestra,” Pacific Symphony Board Chairman Michael Kerr told more than 400 guests at the Pacific Symphony’s annual gala held last month at Hotel Irvine.
The gala, “Celebrating Carl St.Clair’s 25 Years in Orange County,” was indeed a celebration of St.Clair and what he has meant to the
symphony, and the county, over the past quarter of a century.
Co-chaired by Lynn Freeman and Ellie Gordon, the gala reception took on the form of a beach party. As guests checked in dressed in black tie and gowns, they were given sunglasses and – if desired – flip flops to add to the spirit of the event.
The outdoor reception included a mechanical shark and a mobile surfboard, plus photo ops with a “Baywatch” background and models.
Some guests lounged in beach cabanas to watch Frisbee-catching dogs as they sipped signature cocktails, dined on sushi hand rolls and peach pastries, and listened to a Beach Boys-style band.
“It’s hard to say what was the most fun—watching one of our distinguished patrons dressed in a beautiful black tuxedo play our beach games on the lawn before dinner (including being thrown off the bucking mechanical shark) or the guests who stayed to dance to John Tu’s incredible 40-piece orchestra and 12 vocalists until they turned the lights out,” said co-chair Freeman.
“The highlights of the evening are hard to enumerate because there were so many,” said co-chair Gordon. “The enthusiasm and energy levels were high all night—from the moment everyone arrived until the moment the ballroom opened and everyone saw how we’d turned the room into an orange orchard, complete with real orange trees they could smell and see.”
“Best of all, this was our most successful Gala in terms of money raised,” added Gordon. We surpassed our goal, raising more than $1.6 million. The most important part of the evening was gaining the ability to carry on our education and community outreach programs, which are so central to the mission of the orchestra.”
During the dinner, which featured an entrée of filet mignon with jumbo prawns, mashed yams and squash shallots, and beuree blanc
sprinkled with chive oil, a video was shown with prominent musicians and composers (André Watts, Yo-Yo Ma, Philip Glass, etc.) offered their congratulations to St.Clair. Symphony President John Forsyte and longtime board member John Evans offered their own personal tributes to St.Clair.
But perhaps the most personal and heartfelt moment of the evening came from St.Clair. Known for his passionate extemporaneous
speeches, St.Clair held the guests’ attention with a 10 minute speech during which he admitted that “there was no way I could have imagined the depth, the sincerity, the humbleness, the thankfulness, that I feel in your presence. Twenty-five years of life has gone by very quickly, but for me it hasn’t been about the 25 years of life, it’s the life that has been in those 25 years that has captured me and taken me on a journey that had allowed me the moments that I have been afforded to share music with you…The life in these 25 years has created a whirlwind for all of us, and Pacific Symphony has grown to be an incredible success story in the tapestry of American orchestras. It’s now the largest orchestra formed in America in the last half century.”
This has not been a journey of one person,” he continued. “This has been a journey of a county, of every board member, of every staff member, of every musicians, of every audience member who has been touched, it’s been a journey for every child that has a different life and a different future ahead of them because of something we’ve done in our education and outreach program. This is a journey we have all taken together. It’s a journey that will not be repeated in the life of the Pacific Symphony. It’s a journey that will shape our future. This is going to be the orchestra of the 21st century that was born in the 20th century, but is going to live most of its life in the time ahead of us all. We have created the foundation and the basis for true life, for the true meaning of music in our county.”
“I have been the luckiest person I know, because for the last 25 years I have been surrounded by the greatest people I have ever met,” said St.Clair. “There’s someone who I have to thank in a very special way, because she has shared me with you for 20 of those 25 years. She has done so willingly, without jealousy, she has done so wholeheartedly, and with support, and that’s my wife, Susan. If I stand in this room in front of you tonight stronger, more confident, more mature, a deepened human spirit, a wiser person, a more humble person, a more thankful person, it’s because of her.”
“My motto always has been and will forever be—be honest, work hard, be thankful, and remain humble,” concluded St.Clair. “This was my promise when I came, and it’s my promise tonight. Thank you very much.”