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Joining me at the Pacific Symphony's opening night celebration honoring Maestro Carl St. Clair's 25th Anniversary year as Music Director

Joining me at Pacific Symphony’s opening night celebration honoring Maestro Carl St. Clair’s 25th Anniversary as Music Director is the Maestro himself

I remember when Carl St. Clair had dark hair. That was 25 years ago when the youthful maestro began his journey with the Pacific Symphony. He still looks youthful, but that thatch of dark hair has turned white along the way. I mention this because I attended the opening night of the symphony’s 25th anniversary with Carl at its helm. And, what a 25 years it has been!

The Pacific Symphony, now in its 36th year, has a rich history in that it is the largest orchestra formed in the U.S. in the last 50 years and is recognized as an outstanding ensemble, both on the national and international scene, as well as in Orange County. That is thanks to Carl, his amazing talent and his passion to make sure the orchestra’s future is preserved. As Carl said at the opening night pre-concert party at The Westin South Coast Plaza, “It has been an incredible honor to be the artistic conscience of the Pacific Symphony.”

The gala festivities, held at the Westin’s poolside Terrace Pavilion, drew 360 black-tie attired guests to celebrate the maestro’s 25-year tenure, or as the tag line read: “Carl St. Clair: 25 Years on a Journey of Illumination.” Queuing up early on were Ellie and Michael Gordon, who elected to underwrite acclaimed violist Joshua Bell’s four Orange County appearances, including his performance for the gala evening. South Coast Plaza, represented by its Director of Community Relations Kathryn Cenci, was the Presenting Sponsor, and Jaguar Land Rover Aston Martin Newport Beach was the gala’s Platinum Sponsor.

Along with the silver, black and white decor, the dining area featured an exhibition of historical photos commemorating Carl’s career and the individuals who made an impact on him (see the photo of the youthful maestro with dark hair). Pacific Symphony President John Forsyte welcomed everyone and thanked, in particular, the Gordons, Ron Hanson, Chair of the 25th Anniversary Steering Committee, Catherine and Jim Emmi for their $2 million commitment to the symphony, Pacific Chorale’s John Alexander, who has partnered with Carl and the symphony for years, the symphony’s Assistant Conductor Alejandro Gutierrez and its Principal Pops Conductor Richard Kaufman, and the symphony musicians, many of whom were attending the dinner.

Kudos were also extended to Board Chair Mike Kerr, the symphony’s Board of Directors and Board of Counselors, and the many arts partners attending – USC’s Thornton School of Music and Glorya Kaufman School of Dance Dean Rob Cutieta, Segerstrom Center for the Arts President Terry Dwyer, Philharmonic Society of Orange County’s new President and Artistic Director John Mangum, Pacific Chorale President/CEO Elizabeth Pearson, National Symphony of Costa Rica Executive Director Guillermo Madriz (Carl is Music Director of the symphony), Chapman University President Jim Doti, Cal State Fullerton’s President Mildred Garcia, and UC Irvine’s new Chancellor Howard Gilman. And, not to be overlooked, Forsyte introduced and thanked the gala co-chairs, Susan Anderson, Suzanne Chonette, Janice Johnson, and Janice Smith. Unfortunately, due to recent surgeries, only Chonette and Smith attended. Everyone was delighted to hear later that the effort had netted more than $150,000 for the symphony’s artistic and education programs.

Forsyte saved the best for last. He thanked who he called the “First Family of Pacific Symphony,” the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom family, who have been major underwriters of the symphony’s classical series for 14 seasons. The children of Hal and Jeanette attending included Ted and Rae Segerstrom and Susie and Steve Perry. Sally Segerstrom and Sandy Segerstrom Daniels were unable to attend.

Forsyte shared that Carl has invited dear colleagues with whom he has partnered over the years to be a part of his 25th year with the symphony. He introduced two of them, who were a part of the symphony’s season opener – violin virtuoso Joshua Bell and Christopher Rouse, one of America’s pre-eminent composers. The program notes said that Rouse was a mentor to Carl at the University of Michigan.

Guests walked to the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall for the concert, which featured a wonderful opener, John Williams’ Sound the Bells! It was Williams who introduced Carl to the Pacific Symphony all those years ago. Rouse’s beautifully composed Supplica followed, which was a West Coast Premiere for the orchestra. Bell’s virtuosity was evident in his performance of Alexander Glazunov’s Concerto in A Minor for Violin and Orchestra. Following intermission, the symphony shone in Richard Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome and Maurice Ravel’s Suite No. 2 from Daphnis and Chloe (absolutely sumptuous!).

Following the performance, gala guests were invited back to the Westin for champagne and dessert. It was a delightful time spent with St. Clair, Rouse and Bell, with all of them joyfully mingling with the crowd. I always enjoy speaking with Susan St. Clair, Carl’s beautiful wife, who he lauded, saying, “These 25 years are an incredible chapter in my life and for 20 or those years my wife Susan has been there.” Their bond is wonderful to witness.

I think it’s appropriate to close with Forsyte’s comments about the season. “We enter this milestone year with joy and anticipation of an incredible season,” he said, “which includes artists of the greatest stature, an orchestra setting the stage on fire with its commitment and virtuosity…and a conductor whose passion and intensity are only outshone by his tenderness and warmth.” I couldn’t have said it better myself! Here’s to a fabulous year for this great symphony, Orange County’s own! Here, Here!PacificSymphony1-01PacificSymphony2-01PacificSymphony3-01PacificSymphony4-01PacificSymphony5-01PacificSymphony6-01