AXP@Home Session #1 Recap

“The AXP magic truly prospered despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic,” AXP@Home Session 1 Director Edward Johnson said as he reflected on the first session. The beautiful thing about artists, Johnson said, is “their imagination can find a space to create anywhere.” These words were never more true than when arts-X-press had to reimagine summer camp a few weeks ago. With the COVID-19 pandemic still haunting daily life, the staff of the immersive summer arts program announced the transition online. “With AXP@Home,” said AXP@Home director Alison Levinson, “students can look forward to an escape from their day-to-day, a creative outlet, opportunities to meet new friends, inspiration from professional artists and the special type of fun and magic that AXP brings out in people.”

Music Director Carl St.Clair address the virtual camp-goers

The online structure included activities like singing, dancing, writing music, sculpting, creating a theater presentation, and more. The class contents were all the same, minus the in-person instruction. Instead of instructors moving easel to easel, or watching the dance floor for improvements, they would lean in closer to their screens, trying to beautify form and improve technique over Zoom. Or instead of taking a field trip to the Pageant of Masters festival in Long Beach, students watched the previous year’s performance with a Pageant of Masters artist, all the while asking her questions, trying to understand how and why she created a piece, and the path she took to be an artist in the first place. Another similar activity took place while watching Cirque du Soleil with the head coach and stage director. Students wondered how these athelete-performers brainstorm ideas on the tightrope or how they increase risk in acrobatic feats. The students were able to grasp how much creativity goes into staging an event; not just in the execution, but in the planning, the lighting, the stage direction, and how it all comes together to present a polished show.

The online-only element seemed to not disadvantage the camp-goers, and instead boosted a sense of togetherness, camaraderie and artistic excellence. Kids who felt hesitant during activities, became bolder as the classes went on. They saw their peers sing or act for the first time, and they saw that their first attempts maybe weren’t so bad. They began to explore avenues of art that they felt an inclination to and ones they were less inspired by. Students learned to dance with the “whole body in rather than just certain parts,” and about “different songs from around the world” that became “stuck in their [minds].” Pacific Symphony musicians visited a couple of times, allowing the conversation to get personal, with the musicians talking about future goals and personal ambitions. On multiple occasions, Music Director Carl St.Clair joined the students, encouraging them to set goals and to go after their dreams. And over the course of the program, the students began to understand how it’s possible.

At the end of the session, the recurring theme in the student responses was that they became emboldened. All of the “AXP magic” would not have been possible without all of the people involved. The overextension of effort by AXP staff and guests was palpable. Hopefully, next year arts-X-press will return to its original format, but this year’s AXP@Home certainly does not lack energy, enthusiasm and passion. It continues to artistically inspire in the hearts of the next generation.

Onto Session 2!

A Virtual July 4 Spectacular!

Celebrating this great nation is a little different this year. Though we’re not able to enjoy the Fourth in the great outdoors, Pacific Symphony invites the worldwide web to join together online for patriotic favorites, fireworks and musical festivities. Music Director Carl St.Clair has re-imagined the Fourth, creating a streaming 50-minute program that captures the sense of a free-wheeling summer celebration that is a star-spangled 244th birthday party for America. Pacific Symphony’s first-ever virtual Independence Day concert will be available online on July 4 at 6 p.m. Beginning at that time, the concert can be viewed by signing in with an email address at our concert webpage here and will be available on demand for 45 days after that.

This July 4th Celebration is dedicated to the frontline healthcare workers, who inspire us with their strength and bravery in caring for their fellow Americans. The program also recognizes two great Americans, Charlie and Ling Zhang, for the countless ways they have supported Pacific Symphony and the advancement of music education. 

The program, hosted by Music Director Carl St.Clair and Principal Pops Conductor Richard Kaufman, opens with video footage of a rousing rendition of St.Clair conducting Pacific Symphony musicians in “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Angels Stadium last summer. Richard Kaufman conducts John Williams’ “Midway March” from the soundtrack to the classic World War II motion picture “Midway.” The program continues with “76 Trombones” from Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” and Kaufman will read the results from this year’s Nathan’s Famous Hot-Dog Eating Contest, the traditional annual competition that takes place on Coney Island every Fourth of July. Selections from Peter Boyer’s “Ellis Island: A Dream of America” follow as well as a musical salute to the armed forces. Renowned country music star, Lee Greenwood, who was the headliner for last season’s popular “Hail to the Heroes” concert, makes a guest appearance with a special message and song selection specifically for Pacific Symphony audiences.

The concert concludes with a moving mosaic video featuring members of Pacific Chorale and American Feel Young Chorus singing “America the Beautiful,” accompanied by Pacific Symphony, followed by the grand finale: a spectacular fireworks extravaganza orchestrated to “The Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa.

Tune Into “Ellis Island: The Dream Of America” This Friday!

Program Made Possible by Generous Support from The Ellis Island Honors Society

PBS’s Great Performances and Pacific Symphony, led by Music Director Carl St.Clair, pay tribute to America’s history and celebrate the historic American immigrant experience with a special Independence Day weekend program of composer Peter Boyer’s Grammy-nominated contemporary classical work “Ellis Island: The Dream of America,” broadcast nationally on PBS on Friday, July 3 at 9 p.m. (PDT).

Using texts from the Ellis Island Oral History Project and historic Ellis Island images in combination with an original orchestral score, “Ellis Island” features seven, first-hand stories of immigrants dramatically interpreted by guest stars Barry Bostwick, Camryn Manheim, Michael Nouri, Lesley Fera, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Samantha Sloyan and Kira Sternbach. Over 40 percent of the U.S. population can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island and immigration remains at the forefront of global news. “Ellis Island” captures the emotions, elation and uncertainties of America’s epic immigrant experience.

Pacific Symphony’s President and CEO, John Forsyte said, “Great music has often been the medium for sharing important stories. There is, perhaps, no more timely or emotional reminder of our country’s immigrant roots than Peter Boyer’s “Ellis Island: The Dream of America.” Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the Ellis Island Honors Society and its Chairman, Nasser Kazeminy, Pacific Symphony has been able to share this important message with a national audience on PBS’s Great Performances. We are deeply grateful for their support in making this program possible.”

Nasser Kazeminy, chairman of The Ellis Island Honors Society commented, “Since 1986, the Ellis Island Honors Society has recognized outstanding Americans through bestowing the cherished Ellis Island Medals of Honor. The Medal commemorates the indefatigable spirit of those who immigrated to the United States during the Ellis Island era. It is presented annually to those who have shown an outstanding commitment to serving our nation either professionally, culturally or civically, among other criteria.” He continued, “We are honored that the historic place Ellis Island played in our country’s history has been re-told in Peter Boyer’s thrilling orchestral masterpiece, and we are delighted to support both the creation and national broadcast of this moving tribute on the national PBS Network.”

The special was recorded by Great Performances at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in 2017 during Pacific Symphony’s 17th American Composers Festival, before capacity audiences, including nearly 40 recipients of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. Peter Boyer’s “Ellis Island: The Dream of America” premiered in 2002 to great acclaim. It has since received nearly 200 performances by more than 80 orchestras and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Classical Contemporary Composition in 2005.

A co-production of Pacific Symphony and THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET in association with PBS SoCal, Great Performances, “Ellis Island: The Dream of America with Pacific Symphony” was directed for stage and television by Matthew Diamond and produced by John Walker; with Shawn Murphy as audio producer, production design by Matt Steinbrenner, lighting design by Bob Barnhart and projection design by Perry Freeze. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer and David Horn is executive producer.

Pacific Symphony Announces AXP@Home


Breaking news! Pacific Symphony announced the temporary restructuring of its youth arts summer program, arts-X-press. Because of concerns due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, arts-X-press (now AXP@Home) is moving from an in-person week-long camp to a virtual two-week camp. This will be the first time since arts-X-press was founded in 2001 that it will not take place in its normal format.

“We have made the difficult decision to cancel arts-X-press 2020 due to continued uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic,” says Alison Levinson, director of arts engagement and arts-X-press. “With AXP@Home, however, students can still look forward to an escape from their day-to-day, a creative outlet, opportunities to meet new friends, inspiration from professional artists and the special type of fun and magic that AXP brings out in people. We believe that both camp and the arts provide a place to heal, to rejuvenate and to find community —and that this is more important now than ever.”

The new format, rebranded AXP@Home, follows the same goals of arts-X-press—for students to explore the arts, find their voice and learn to take creative risks—in an expanded two-week format. Additionally, students will be given the opportunity to take two focused arts workshops each session, as opposed to just one, in order to give students a more immersive and interactive creative journey. During the camp, students will take classes from experienced teachers and professional artists, as well as meet and hear from Pacific Symphony musicians and Music Director Carl St.Clair.


AXP@Home Details

  • Session 1: June 22 – July 3 (Monday – Friday, 9:30 am – 5:00 pm)̣
  • Session 2: July 6 – July 17 (Monday – Friday, 9:30 am – 5:00 pm)

Tuition: $200 for two weeks (financial aid is available)

Applications and other details can be found online here! For assistance, questions or concerns, please contact AXP@Home staff via email at

CONCERTMASTERS Coast-to-Coast Team Up in Solidarity

Pacific Symphony and Concertmaster Dennis Kim initiated this collaborative video project involving concertmasters from 8 American orchestra perform the healing slow movement of Bach’s Double Concerto in D Minor, socially distanced, and in solidarity. You’ll hear more Strads, Guadagninis and Gaglianos per square second than on any other video on the web.

Participating orchestras include the Minnesota Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in addition to Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Hawai’i Symphony, LA Opera Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Pacific Symphony and Utah Symphony.

The 8 orchestras synchronized the video’s premier on social media on Monday, June 15 at Noon Eastern time. In less than a day, there were more than 75,000 views across all symphony social media platforms.

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Grant Awarded to Pacific Symphony

EDI grant copy

Below, please read our latest press release discussing our recent Equity, Diversity and Inclusion grant from the Catalyst Fund. Our President & CEO, John Fosyte, comments below.

The League of American Orchestras has awarded a grant of $18,760 to Pacific Symphony to strengthen their understanding of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and to help transform organizational culture. Given to just 28 orchestras nationwide, the one-year grants comprise the second round of The Catalyst Fund, the League’s three-year, $2.1 million grant-making program, made possible by a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with additional support from the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation.

John Forsyte, President and CEO of Pacific Symphony commented,

“We are excited to be selected—as one of 28 orchestras—to receive the Catalyst Fund Grant from the League of American Orchestras. Pacific Symphony’s Board of Directors, staff and musicians recognize the importance and challenge of this work. The grant will help to fund the launching of a long-term effort by allowing us to engage an expert consultant in equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) to facilitate a planning process that advances our strategic goals. In light of this critical moment for addressing racial inequities, long-standing barriers and greater inclusion, this is extremely important work for the Symphony to undertake.”

“Recent events have underscored the deep racial disparities existing in our country, already amplified by the pandemic’s unequal impact on communities of color,” said Jesse Rosen, president and CEO of the League of American Orchestras. “The work orchestras are undertaking with support from the League’s Catalyst Fund highlights the urgency of addressing EDI as orchestras attempt to confront decades of inequity within our field. We must understand and address our personal and organizational roles in systems of inequity.”

Pacific Symphony’s overall goal is to establish EDI as a central element of the orchestra’s strategic plan. By engaging in an internal learning process, the Symphony will develop specific strategies and action plans to diversify its board, staff, musicians and audience, and to ensure greater impact and access for everyone in our region. Throughout this process, stakeholders will better understand key issues related to EDI, question long-held assumptions and better understand why it matters to Pacific Symphony. Action steps will then address EDI within the Symphony, and an organization-wide plan will be developed.

Preliminary analysis of the inaugural 2019 Catalyst Fund cohort demonstrates support and progress among orchestras, including an increased commitment and dedication to individual orchestras’ EDI work and an increased awareness that systemic change requires a sustained effort over time.

Catalyst Fund grants support orchestras’ use of EDI practitioners who help implement a range of organizational development activities involving musicians, staff, board and, in some cases, volunteers and community leaders. These include anti-bias trainings, institutional audits, the creation of formal EDI plans and work to build consensus and integrate EDI into mission statements and culture. Community building is a key component of the program; The Catalyst Fund Learning Cohort, made possible by the generous support of the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, enables past and present grantees to interact with colleagues through remote and (post-pandemic) in-person convenings as well a dedicated online forum.

The Catalyst Fund is informed by earlier dialogue and research. A major national convening co-hosted by the League and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in December 2015 was catalytic in launching national task forces and annual convenings to engage orchestras in EDI efforts. Two important League studies, “Racial/Ethnic and Gender Diversity in the Orchestra Field,” and “Forty Years of Fellowships: A Study of Orchestras’ Efforts to Include African American and Latino Musicians,” further served to inform and stimulate action. In April 2018 the League launched, in partnership with The Sphinx Organization and the New World Symphony, the National Alliance for Audition Support, a national initiative that offers Black and Latinx musicians a customized combination of mentoring, audition preparation and audition travel stipends. Additional information on these programs and other EDI activity, including information about the League’s EDI Strategic Framework, is available from the League’s online EDI Resource Center.

League member orchestras were eligible to apply for Catalyst Fund grants; applications were reviewed by an independent panel of experts.


2020 Catalyst Fund Grant Recipients:
Arkansas Symphony Orchestra; Charlotte Symphony Orchestra; Chicago Sinfonietta; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; DC Youth Orchestra Program; East Texas Symphony Orchestral Empire State Youth Orchestra; Grand Rapids Symphony; Handel and Haydn Society; Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra; Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra; Los Angeles Philharmonic; Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; Minnesota Orchestra; Nashville Symphony; New Jersey Symphony Orchestra; New Jersey Youth Symphony; New World Symphony; North Carolina Symphony; Oakland Symphony; Pacific Symphony; Princeton Symphony Orchestra; Richmond Symphony; St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; San Francisco Symphony; Seattle Symphony; South Dakota Symphony Orchestra; Virginia Symphony Orchestra

Today, Blackout Tuesday

Dear Pacific Symphony Family,

_DSC0601-originalI write these words with a heavy heart, but with a strong commitment to change. I want you to know that Pacific Symphony stands in solidarity with members of the Black community, who continue to experience systemic racism. What we have witnessed this week – and so many times before – is heart-rending and tragic.

We grieve. We mourn. We pledge to support greater equity. We commit to inspiring deeper understanding through the transformative and universal language of music.

Today we observe Black-Out Tuesday, reflecting on our role as a leading cultural organization to help shine a light on and help address the inequities and racism that impact communities of color.

—Pacific Symphony President John Forsyte

BLM Blackout Tuesday

You Are The Hero

audience 2

You are the hero of Pacific Symphony’s story. Day after day, you continue to make a difference. Your impact on us has never been clearer.

For example, your donations of unused tickets to the organization and additional annual fund gifts have been nothing short of critical. Usually, when we talk about transforming lives through the power of music, we are talking about the wider impact on the community, and it is your generosity that makes this possible. Now, in these financially troubling times, your support has kept Pacific Symphony resilient.

Your trust in us and your generosity in support of our musicians, staff and programs has been remarkable. It has made it possible for us to pivot to virtual offerings to keep connected.

Like so many arts organizations that are unable sell tickets to live performances, your Pacific Symphony is weathering rough seas. Your sustained support will be vital to seeing us through this difficult period. If you are in a position to, please help us to protect the core assets of the organization, especially our 130-plus musicians and staff, by donating as generously as you are able.

Thanks to the Larry and Helen Hoag Foundation for helping that support go a little bit further during our Sound Future Campaign. Through June 30th, your gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar to the tune of $150,000.

Please make a gift now, and with your help, Pacific Symphony’s future, and yours, will continue to be sound.


How Classical Composers Deal with Pandemics

COVID-19 is not the first pandemic the world has ever seen. Throughout history, people have dealt with pandemics, but still, composers carried on.

In 1720, Marseille, France endured the last major outbreak of the bubonic plaque in Western Europe. The year after the plague ended, Bach wrote Cantata No. 25—”There is Nothing Healthy in My Body”—in response to that terrible event. Although outwardly a spiritual and uplifting work, the text of the Cantata is rife with imagery of fevers, illness and “the world as a hospital.” The poignant bass aria, “Ah, where in my wretchedness may I find counsel,” pleads to the Lord for healing. Listen to this stirring piece below:

Stravinsky was in Switzerland when World War I began. There was no way for him to return home to Russia. He knew he needed to make money while he was stranded so he composed “L’histoire du soldat”—”The Soldier’s Tale.” (Check out this chamber version, linked below.) The composition, which included a theatrical production, showed much promise during its premiere in Lausanne on September 28, 1918, but quickly ground to a halt when the Spanish Influenza reached Switzerland. First, it affected the production crew, then it got Stravinsky, who already had health problems. After a long bout with influenza, he recovered. Nevertheless, he was running out of funds in Switzerland, and performing for large audiences was almost entirely out of the question. So, over the next year, he altered old music and wrote other pieces for a smaller orchestra and audience. During this time he composed “Ragtime,” a divergent take on ragtime jazz, and the “Firebird Suite,” a rework of the “Firebird” ballet in suite form.

Another famous Russian composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff fled the Bolshevik revolution and arrived in New Jersey on November 10, 1918. Just a few days later, the composer fell ill with the Spanish influenza. Rachmaninoff quickly recovered, and, even though he’d been advised to rest for a little longer, he embarked on an American tour. He wrote his own arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a show of gratitude toward his new country. And it became a showpiece for his inaugural American tour.

Hear Rachmaninoff performing his version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” below:

Other more recent compositions include John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 often referred to as the “AIDS Symphony” (also linked below). In interviews, Corigliano talks about the responsibility he felt to tell the stories of his many friends who died from the disease, and also the anger and frustration he felt in being powerless to help. The moving symphony premiered in 1990 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and won the Grawemeyer Award the next year.

This isn’t the first pandemic and it won’t be the last. What is known, however, is that we will always have music to help up make sense of it all. That is why it has been so universal throughout human history. Art and music find their power in speaking to the circumstances that occur in our lives, especially the ones that don’t make sense. Because everyone in the world has in some way been impacted by COVID-19, it is safe to be optimistic that composers will continue to find a way to express in music, those emotions that words cannot convey.