Pacific Symphony delivered a memorable evening of epic elegance on Thursday, Sept. 27 as 350 guests were welcomed to the 2018-19 Classical Opening Night Celebration & Concert, a black-tie affair honoring 40 extraordinary seasons as Orange County’s premier orchestra.
Hosted by the Symphony’s board of directors and co-chaired by Symphony supporters Carol and Eugene Choi, this extravagant evening raised $220,000 to benefit the Symphony’s award-winning artistic and education programs.
Festivities for the celebration took place at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall and the Samueli Theater. The evening featured an elegant cocktail reception, delectable pre-concert dinner and post-concert entertainment, along with prime seating for an exceptional performance by the orchestra, led by Music Director Carl St.Clair. The evening’s presenting sponsor was South Coast Plaza. Longtime supporters of Pacific Symphony’s Classical series, the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, returns as the presenting sponsor of the 2018-19 Classics series.
The opening night party décor shimmered with rich jewel tones, accented with opulent malachite. The party got underway at 5 p.m. with a convivial pre-concert cocktail reception in the first-floor lobby of the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Guests mingled over cocktails and a varied array of appetizers that included bruschetta with lemon chive house-made ricotta, roasted squash and a sweet-and-sour agrodolce sauce, and spiked shortribs with Chinese barbecue sauce.
Guests were escorted to the Samueli Theater for the celebration dinner that opened with a first course of heirloom tomato salad with burrata, olive soil, basil and saba adorned with a parmesan crisp.
Pacific Symphony’s board Chairman Joann Leatherby welcomed the guests and briefly recalled last season’s triumphs, which included the Symphony’s sold-out Carnegie Hall debut, the whirlwind trip to China and the national broadcast of Peter Boyer’s “Ellis Island” on PBS Great Performances.
During the main entrée, which featured Chilean sea bass with ricotta chive gnocchi, grilled corn and mushroom brodo, Symphony President John Forsyte commented on highlights of the 40th anniversary season and introduced Principal Flutist Ben Smolen, who performed Paul Taffanel’s “Fantaisie on Themes from Der Freischutz,” with piano accompaniment provided by Hue-Young Kim.
St.Clair took the podium to pay tribute to the musicians of Pacific Symphony and presented medals to the three musicians who played in the original concerts 40 years ago and still perform with the orchestra today: Linda Owen (violin), Todd Miller (timpani) and Sandra Matthews (piano).
Maestro St.Clair then introduced the Symphony’s new concertmaster, Dennis Kim, who performed a hauntingly evocative piece called “Prayer” by the contemporary composer Amanda Harberg. Once again Hye-Young Kim accompanied at the piano.
During a dessert of delicate toasted passion fruit meringue, event co-chairs Carol and Eugene Choi thanked the audience in attendance.
“Through your generous philanthropy tonight, we bring the joy of symphonic music to greater numbers of residents in our community by continuing to engage with vulnerable populations in our county. Through your gift tonight, the musicians of Pacific Symphony are able to reach children and youth in their classrooms through the Frieda Belinfante Class Act Program, which supplied music education to over 15,000 students every year. Musicians also coach and mentor Title I elementary students through our Santa Ana Strings afterschool violin instruction program.”
Following dinner, herald trumpets saluted the procession of guests that made its way to the concert hall for the Symphony’s grand opening performance, which began at 8 p.m. Carl St.Clair led a night of stellar programming that began with the musical fireworks of “Shooting Stars” by the Symphony’s first composer-in-residence Frank Ticheli, which was originally commissioned for Pacific Symphony’s 25th anniversary, and was recently revised in celebration of the orchestra’s 40th anniversary.
Celebrated Russian-American pianist and Van Cliburn gold medalist Olga Kern performed the “Mount Everest” of piano concertos, Rachmaninoff’s Third.
The spotlight then turned to the newly-appointed Concertmaster Dennis Kim and Principal Violist Meredith Crawford, who joined forces to perform Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante. The evening’s finale, a specially commissioned 40th anniversary film showcased four decades of Pacific Symphony highlights while the orchestra performed Ravel’s vibrant “Boléro.”
During the concert’s intermission, guests were treated to an exclusive reception offering champagne and amuse-bouches in the Box Circle Club lobby, one level up from the concert hall’s main lobby.
Immediately following the concert, the revelry continued as all were welcomed back to the Samueli Theater, which was transformed into an elegant lounge atmosphere. Guests enjoyed the sounds of a jazz combo along with a tempting array of desserts that included hazelnut chocolate feuilletine, New York cheesecake, lemon meringue tart and orange ricotta cannoli.
The evening finished with champagne toasts to Carl St.Clair and all the musicians who make the 40th anniversary season possible.