Pacific Symphony Gala Raises $2 Million for Artistic, Education and Community Engagement Programs

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Symphony Music Director Carl St.Clair with his wife Susan, Gala Co-Chair Jane Fujishige Yada, Pacific Symphony President and CEO John Forsyte and Michele Forsyte, flanked by Blues Brothers lookalikes / photo by Doug Gifford

In March 2020, the Pacific Symphony held its annual gala a week before the pandemic shut everything down, and Segerstrom Center went dark for more than 18 months.

In 2021, the Pacific Symphony held an outdoor summer gala featuring the first public performance of the orchestra in more than a year, and celebrated Pops conductor Richard Kaufman’s 30th anniversary with the symphony. The event raised more than $2 Million.

The 2022 Symphony gala was equally successful, raising more than $2 Million.

This year’s gala, held April 29 at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach, honored John Forsyte and his 25th anniversary as the orchestra’s President and CEO.

Gala attendees celebrated by spending “A Night in Chicago” which raised $2,127,000 in support of the Symphony’s artistic, education, and community engagement programs.

Gala Co-Chairs Carol Choi, Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, Eleanor Gordon, Diana Martin, and Jane Fujishige Yada along with the Gala Committee presented an entertaining soirée celebrating the rich history and culture of Forsyte’s hometown, the Windy City. Décor and entertainment transported Gala-goers through eras of Chicago innovation from the 1893 Colombian Exposition, the Jazz Age, the tumultuous 60s, 70s, 80s, and through today.

Gala Co-Chairs Eleanor Gordon (Laguna Beach), Diana Martin (Newport Beach), Jane Fujishige Yada (Irvine), Sandy Segerstrom Daniels (Newport Beach), and Carol Choi (Irvine) / photo by Doug Gifford

Musical performers included members of Pacific Symphony; the Jake Brown Jazz Band; and Brass Transit, a cover band paying tribute to the decades-long, multi-platinum songbook of supergroup CHICAGO. Guests were encouraged to dress in the elegant styles of their era of choice, adding to the evening’s festive atmosphere.

The evening began with a cocktail reception in a setting reminiscent of an upscale Chicago speakeasy. Gala-goers enjoyed photo ops in front of a stylized Chicago skyline, posing with Blues Brothers lookalikes and “SNL Superfans” attired in jerseys promoting “Da Bears” and “Da Bulls.”

Guests sipped wine, champagne, and such signature cocktails as “The Edison” (scotch and soda with a twist of lemon) and “Ferris Mueller” (scotch, lime juice, and ginger beer garnished with a lime wedge).

Heavy hors d’oeuvres served during the reception included Mini-Beef Wellingtons, Cherry Tomato Croustade with Pesto Goat Cheese, and a seafood buffet offering Ahi Tuna Poke, Lump Crabmeat Salad with Tarragon, and a Chicago ceviche of Grilled Shrimp and Scallops.

After the reception, guests made their way to the sit-down dinner in the blue-lit ballroom, dominated by an imposing film projection of the majestic Chicago skyline.

Former Board Chair Joann Leatherby presents Pacific Symphony President and CEO John Forsyte with a framed proclamations from California Assembly Member Cottie Petrie-Norris / photo by Doug Gifford

Pacific Symphony’s Chairman of the Board Arthur Ong took the podium to welcome the guests, then introduced Gala Co-Chair Ellie Gordon, who commented: “I have been a Symphony Gala chair five previous times. After my last one, I vowed to retire from the role and said my goodbyes to the Gala leadership, emphatically. My plan was thwarted when I learned tonight’s event would be honoring John Forsyte and his 25 years at the Symphony helm. He truly is the only person for whom I would come back as a Gala co-chair. I have known John since he started at the Symphony. He is the same age as our son, and in many respects has become a member of my family. I’m so happy we are able to celebrate how far the Symphony has come, and also the future we are building for music in Orange County.”

Doug Freeman, who was John Forsyte’s first board chair and is now a life director of Pacific Symphony, took the stage.

“I have known John a long time,” said Freeman. “I’m not the only person who John has deeply affected here in Orange County. I’d now like to introduce some of the others.”

With that, he cued a video of Symphony supporters and friends offering their thoughts and testimonials honoring Forsyte.

After the video, guests enjoyed the main course: “My Kind of Town” seared walleye pike (garnished with citrus sauce, zucchini, heirloom carrots, blistered tomatoes, and served with mashed potatoes).

Sandy Segerstrom Daniels of Newport Beach, Pacific Symphony President and CEO John Forsyte with his wife Michele, and Sally Segerstrom of Newport Beach / photo by Doug Gifford

Gala Co-Chairs Diana Martin and Jane Fujishige Yada took the stage along with past Board Chair and longtime supporter Joann Leatherby, who said “Congratulations, John for your 25th anniversary. We do have some more surprises, including the fact that we are not the only ones celebrating you today. We have received a number of proclamations honoring this day from other important members of our community, including Congresswomen Katie Porter and Michelle Steele, California State Senator Dave Min, California Assembly Member Cottie Petrie-Norris, and Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley.”

Gala Co-Chair Diana Martin gifted Forsyte with a present on behalf of the Symphony family. “This especially commissioned bowl was hand-engraved by the artist using words that amplify qualities only you embody: leader, integrity, visionary, and most importantly, friend. Thank you for your service.”

Gala Co-Chair Jane Fujishige Yada then bestowed another special gift on Forsyte, commenting, “We are so pleased to present you with this World Series Chicago Cubs autographed ball in honor of your 25th Anniversary with Pacific Symphony.”

Forsyte took the microphone and blended humor and heartfelt gratitude for the “deeply moving tributes.” He expressed his gratitude to the chairs and leadership donors who have provided catalytic funding to a wide range of initiatives including free concerts, youth ensembles, school partnerships, health and wellness programs, tours to Europe, China, and the construction of one of the world greatest symphonic venues, the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

Pacific Symphony President and CEO John Forsyte John Forsyte with his wife Michele and daughters Sarina (left) and Sydney (right) / photo by Doug Gifford

Forsyte shared his belief that an orchestra’s success is rooted in the collaboration between outstanding musicians, conductors, staff, and a philanthropic community that believes in building an orchestra that is relevant and accessible.

Acknowledging Forsyte’s generous contribution to Pacific Symphony, Music Director Carl St.Clair shared his thoughts on working with him throughout the years. He then introduced Pacific Symphony musicians Violinist Christine Frank, Principal Cellist Warren Hagerty, Clarinetist Josh Ranz, Oboist Lelie Resnik, and Violist Phillip Triggs, who were joined by Percussionist Ted Atkatz who together performed a beautiful arrangement of The Beatles “Blackbird” and a Klezmer celebration dance as the audience dined on a citrus tart dessert of yuzu curd, white chocolate Chantilly, and blueberry compote.

A string quartet composed of Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra musicians performed Astor Piazzolla’s “Adios Nonino” as the guests finished their dessert.

Auctioneer Jim Nye in Cubs jersey begins the auction / photo by Doug Gifford

Auctioneer Jim Nye, attired in a Cubs jersey, led a lively auction as guests vied to out-bid each other on extravagant items, extraordinary travel packages, and one-of-a-kind experiences.

To complete this “Night in Chicago,” guests danced the night away to the dance band sounds of the group Brass Transit. At the end of the evening, each attendee left with a save-the-date card for the opening night of the 2023-24 season on Sept. 21, 2023, attached to a goodie bag filled with Cracker Jacks, Juicy Fruit, and Brownies, all items associated with the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

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