Paul Musco—A Tribute

Paul Musco receiving the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2018. Left to right: Chairman of Ellis Island Honors Society Nasser J. Kazeminy, Marybelle Musco and S. Paul Musco and Jo Ellen Chatham. 

Orange County has lost a beloved man, breathtaking entrepreneur, volunteer leader and meteoric philanthropic figure who transformed many institutions while inspiring people with his joyous sense of humor, his amazing life stories and wisdom. His love for his beautiful wife, Marybelle, and family was clearly boundless. 

For Pacific Symphony, he was a catalytic investor in the relaunch of professional opera productions in Orange County.

“Opera is what results when an astounding number of things fail to go wrong.” This somewhat whimsical statement, oft quoted in the worldwide opera community, might be modified in Orange County to say “Opera is what happens when Paul Musco gets involved.” When viewed more metaphorically, “opera,” for Paul, signified a broader meaning. For him, it was a vehicle to better understand the human condition, to nurture talents and change lives.

Throughout Paul’s lifetime, and more especially in the latter half of his long and impactful life, Paul was the consummate definition of a philanthropist—a “person who seeks to promote the welfare of others, especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.” The list of worthy not-for-profits who have benefitted from Paul and Marybelle Muscos’ investments is long and varied. In some cases, they would make a modest gift to encourage a smaller organization or jump-start a fledgling project. Other times, they made a public and major commitment, which would vault a building campaign, endowment or major project that would challenge other donors to join him in reaching the fundraising goal, be it modest or seemingly beyond wildest imagination.

While Paul’s and Marybelle’s generosity was felt in many areas, they had a special interest in education and the arts. He sought ways to increase the impact of his gifts, and sometimes in less-than-obvious ways. Carl St.Clair, Music Director of Pacific Symphony, recalls a gift Musco told him about several years ago. “Paul was a strong champion of the Opera Program at Chapman University for many years,” St.Clair said.

“He felt it was illogical for the University to have an opera program without a strong program in the study of Italian. The result: the Musco Endowed Chair in Italian Studies and the Musco Endowment for Travel Courses in Italian Studies. For Paul, it was simply unimaginable not to have Italian as a focus. Great opera meant Italian operas. He loved them all, but Italian opera touched him deeply. His most favorite was Rigoletto. It was an opera he loved his whole life. He was generous, but extremely practical. Those two characteristics, combined with a real ‘hands-on’ approach allowed his many gifts to have maximum impact on the institutions and programs he supported.”

The strong commitment to giving by Paul and Marybelle addressed short-term needs as well as ambitious vision for future generations in Orange County. Whether it be a gift to fund a specific project, an endowment to help future generations of worthy students or a building that would showcase talented performers from around the world at Chapman University, Paul took great joy in giving, and shared that enthusiasm with others. He once said “I want to give away as much as I can while I am alive, so that I can enjoy the impact of those gifts.” That attitude allowed the Orange County community to acknowledge his kindness in the latter part of his life through the awarding of numerous awards and citations to both Paul and Marybelle.

The Muscos’ commitment to the performing arts is evidenced by their generosity to a number of major Southern California institutions. In the last decade of his life, major gifts to Chapman University, Los Angeles Opera and the Orange County High School for the Arts enabled those organizations to initiate major programs and shape new facilities that influence the lives of thousands, and will continue to do so for future generations. 

Pacific Symphony was among many to benefit from Paul’s giving and leadership. Carl St.Clair commented, “The orchestra began a new program of ‘semi-staged’ opera in 2012. I recalled being nervous about the scale of financial investment required, and, of course, everyone suggested we ‘go see Paul.’ I recall that meeting very well. We were allowed to dream about possibilities, but required to commit that our business model for presenting opera was strong, and that other donors were prepared to join us. That meeting resulted in an initial three-year pledge from Paul, and Pacific Symphony’s opera program was off and running. As a result, it is now an integral part of the Pacific Symphony season, and our annual operas are among the most eagerly anticipated weeks of the entire concert season.”

Carl St.Clair added “Without a doubt, Paul’s commitment to our Opera Initiative filled a huge void in Orange County’s cultural infrastructure. Through the Muscos’ support, we are able to introduce the most famous works from this body of repertoire to an eager public. In fact, the performance of even standard repertoire from the opera canon is new for some of our musicians. The addition of opera to our seasons has been a huge factor in the development of Pacific Symphony—a real game-changer.”

In the history of every institution, certain events and individuals stand-out as pivotal catalysts of change. Paul Musco is, uniquely, one of those individuals. His influence will be ongoing, whether it be to the entire Orange County community or to a single student. Pacific Symphony has been truly blessed to call Paul Musco a valued member of our Board of Directors, a generous supporter of our programs, a sage counsel, and—most of all—a valued friend.

Paul will be missed greatly.

An opera begins long begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I’ve left the opera house.” —Maria Callas

Dan Brown’s “Wild Symphony” Introduces Kids to Symphonic Music  

VIDEO: Dan Brown and team members in a recording session for “Wild Symphony” with Zagreb Festival Orchestra.

International best-selling author Dan Brown released his first children’s book, “Wild Symphony,” last fall. The story follows Maestro Mouse as he recruits his musical friends to play in his orchestra. In true Dan Brown fashion, there is also an anagram on each page. Don’t forget to look out for the hidden letters that come together to spell out an instrument as you flip through. 

Primarily known for his novels “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Lost Symbol,” Dan Brown’s interest in music began as a kid. His parents were trained musicians and they didn’t have a TV so he started playing the piano. His interest in and passion for the art form grew from there. Music was his sanctuary and he still plays today.  

“Wild Symphony” features 21-tracks composed by Brown and performed by Zagreb Festival Orchestra based in Croatia. In addition to the book, there’s a free app that lets readers scan over the page to play the right song for the right character. You can also listen to the music separately. The book is illustrated by Susan Batori.  

Have you read “Wild Symphony” before? What did you think? What does music mean to you? Let us know in the comments below! You can learn more about the project here.  

Season Ahead: Sunday Matinees

Image Description: Photos of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (top left), Gustav Mahler (top right), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (bottom left) and Ludwig van Beethoven (bottom right).  

Weekends are a big part of our schedule here at Pacific Symphony. We know how important they are to you too. If you’re looking for new Sunday activities, we have 4 Sunday Matinee concerts this season for your consideration:  

  • Oct. 3: Tchaikovsky’s Fifth  
  • Jan. 9: Mahler’s Symphony No. 4  
  • May 22: Mozart’s Requiem  
  • Jun. 12: Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto  

Join us for an intimate and lively behind-the-scenes exploration of the classics! Concerts are 90 minutes long and include insightful comments from Maestro St.Clair. Doors open at 2 p.m. and the concert starts at 3. There will be no intermission for each show.  

To learn more about the series and get tickets, please click here.  

Celebrating the 15th Anniversary of the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall 

 Pacific Symphony’s first rehearsal ahead of the inaugural concert in 2006. Photo by Jim Medvitz.  

Pacific Symphony has been fortunate enough to play in concert halls around the world, but there’s one special place we get to call home. For the past 15 years, we’ve been able to welcome millions of you to the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. From our first concert on this day 15 years ago to our comeback with Pink Martini earlier this month, what a journey it has been.  

Recently, L.A. Times readers voted to include the concert hall as a popular regional pick in the 2021 Best of the Southland list for “Places to See a Concert”.  In addition to the concert hall, two of our SummerFest partner venues, The Pacific Amphitheatre and FivePoint Amphitheatre, were also awarded popular regional votes.  

Segerstrom Center for the Arts was awarded “Best Place to See a Play” in Orange County. It’s currently in the “Best of the Best” voting phase now. The voting period will remain open until 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 10.    

Do you have a favorite memory at the concert hall? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear your story. We can’t wait to welcome you all back for the 2021-22 season soon.  

Arts & Culture Events To Enjoy In Orange County This Fall

Image Description: Pacific Symphony led by Maestro Carl St.Clair on the performance platform at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, CA.

Orange County’s arts and culture scene provides a lot to look forward to this fall and Voice of OC has a great run down of everything going on. There truly is something for everyone, and we hope you get a chance experience the best our community has to offer. You can take a look at the piece written by Richard Chang, Kristina Garcia, Timothy Mangan, Eric Marchcese, Anne Marie Panoringan and Kaitlin Wright here

Mentioned in the article is our classical season opener, “Emanuel Ax Plays Mozart,” from Sept. 30 – Oct. 2. The show starts at 8 p.m. each night and tickets are still available. To learn more about the event, please click here. 

What events are you looking forward to going to this season? Let us know in the comments below. Thank you for the shout out, Voice of OC!  

Celebrate Opening Night, Sept. 30

Can you feel the excitement and anticipation building? The fall concert season is about to begin. Pacific Symphony has planned an exceptional opening concert you won’t want to miss. Music Director Carl St.Clair leads the orchestra in a program featuring the internationally renowned pianist Emanuel Ax, who is known for his “thoughtful, lyrical, lustrous pianism” (The Washington Post). He will perform Mozart’s charming Piano Concerto No. 17. Maestro St.Clair concludes the concert with Tchaikovsky’s moving Fifth Symphony. For more information or to buy tickets, click here.

For an enhanced experience, reserve an Opening Night Celebration Table or Ticket for “A Notable Gathering.” Be part of this one-of-a-kind Orange County special event, featuring a pre-concert cocktail reception and sumptuous dinner on the plaza, an inspiring concert, intermission reception and festive after-party. All proceeds for this fundraising event benefit go towards Pacific Symphony’s artistic, community and education programs. All guests are asked to provide proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test result within 72 hours the event. For more information, please contact Pacific Symphony Special Events (714) 876-2364 or

Get ready for opening night by tuning in to Symphony Mixer on Weds., Sept. 22 at 5 p.m. to experience Emanual Ax in conversation with Jacob Sustaita, Pacific Symphony’s assistant conductor. Watch the Symphony’s Facebook page for more details.

September 11: A Remembrance

The final SummerFest concert falls on Sept. 11, this year the 20th anniversary of 9/11. In addition to presenting the traditional Tchaikovsky Spectacular program, the concert will open with musical homage to the bravery of so many Americans.

The Star-Spangled Banner, John Williams’ Liberty Fanfare, The Road Home by Stephen Paulus, Amazing Grace played on bagpipes and God Bless America will be followed by a moment of silence to remember the fallen. Pacific Symphony’s President John Forsyte provided the following note about the concert:

The first half of the Sept. 11 concert commemorates the 20th anniversary of 9/11 with works by American composers and a presentation by Brian Fennessy, Fire Chief of the Orange County Fire Authority. We honor and will never forget the 3,000 lives lost that terrible day. We honor the courage of those who put themselves in harm’s way to save people they never knew. We come together in gratitude for the strength that has fortified us across these 20 years and attempt to honor the legacy of those who were lost. 

We applaud the bravery of the region’s first responders, particularly as they grapple with the losses due to our fire season here and so many other challenges created by the pandemic.

We also salute the bravery of our women and men in uniform who, in the last few weeks, undertook the largest airlift in history under extremely dangerous conditions. We also offer condolences to the families of the service women and men and Afghan citizens who were lost during this valiant effort.

With the music of the Sept. 11 concert, we hope that you find joy, solace and a reminder of the power of gathering as a community to honor freedom, community and creativity.

John Forsyte

President, Pacific Symphony

For more information or to buy tickets for the Sept. 11 concert yet, go here.

Happy Classical Music Month!

“Classical music is a celebration of artistic excellence. Great art endures through the ages, and in the United States we have embraced that great music and incorporated it into the American experience.” –former President Bill Clinton

In Aug. 1994, former President Bill Clinton declared September Classical Music Month in the U.S. Since then, fans around the country have been trying to find different ways to celebrate it each year.  

Whether you’ve just started listening to classical music or are a seasoned pro, know that it’s never too late to get started or to deepen your knowledge of the art form.  

Here are some fun suggestions:  

  • Pick a composer you’ve never listened to and put together an introductory playlist. You can even keep track of what you think about it on a blog or social media. 
  • If you’re a musician, create a video series of some of your favorite compositions and classical artists.  
  • Don’t forget to thank your favorite music educators!  
  • Look for volunteer opportunities to support your local arts organizations. 
  • Attend a Pacific Symphony concert! 😉  
  • If you’re looking for a way to end the summer season, our Tchaikovsky Spectacular will take place on Saturday, Sept. 11th at the Pacific Amphitheatre.  

How would you celebrate Classical Music Month? How has music impacted your life? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear your story. Thank you for your continued support during this unprecedented time.  

ICYMI: Pacific Symphony and Other Major OC Arts Venues Announce New Vaccination & Masking Policies

In March 2020, after the worldwide outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, the entire performing arts industry experienced an unprecedented shutdown. After a year and a half of adjusting to conditions, Pacific Symphony and several major Orange County arts venues are getting ready to welcome patrons back to concert halls once more.  

While we’re excited to see you in-person again, the success in reopening live performing arts venues will rely on all of us to work together. In case you missed the initial announcement last week, here are some highlights:  

  • These updates are in effect for all indoor performances.  
  • Masks must be worn at all times.  
  • Fully vaccinated 14 days after the first or second dose of receiving a covid-19 vaccine. 
  • Anyone without proof of being fully vaccinated must provide proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to entering the theatre. 

As we continue to monitor industry and government guidelines, we will keep you updated as much as we can. Places where you’ll find reminders include (but are not limited to) our main website and social media and email communication channels.  

We know it has been a very challenging time but we want to take this moment to thank you for your cooperation and understanding as we move forward with upcoming 2021-22 concert season.   

Please save this link for future reference:  

Superstar Soprano Renée Fleming Launches “Healing Breath” Initiative with Google Arts & Culture 

A picture of soprano and arts/health advocate Renée Fleming.
Soprano and arts/health advocate Renée Fleming.

Have you ever tried to hold a note or go through a phrase without taking a breath during a song before giving in? Looking at you if you’ve sung along to anything from Pavarotti or “No One Mourns the Wicked” before, for example. Whether you’re a seasoned performer or someone who just loves singing around the house, healthy breathing is essential to anyone who wants to prolong their tenure as a singer.  

Last week, world-renowned soprano and arts/health advocate Renée Fleming launched a program in partnership with Google Arts & Culture, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and The Louis Armstrong Department of Music Therapy at Mount Sinai Union Square. Dubbed “Healing Breath”, these breathing exercises were designed with health and wellness in mind. Particularly during the era of COVID-19, where shortness of breath is also a symptom. 

“Healing Breath: Breathing Exercises for Better Breath” Trailer.

In addition to Fleming’s videos, there are also videos from stars like Christine Baranski, Jamie Barton, Angel Blue, Lawrence Brownlee, Kristin Chenoweth, Kurt Elling, Denyce Graves, Angelique Kidjo, Audra McDonald, Kelli O’Hara and Vanessa Williams.

As always with these kinds of sessions, please don’t forget to consult your health care team before proceeding.You can go through the entire The Kennedy Center YouTube playlist here or check out the full Google page here. Most of the videos you’ll go through vary in length but can go up to 10 – 11 minutes long. Oh! And you may need straw. That’s all we’ll say for now. 

With discussions about mental and physical health happening across the industry, it’s so important to know where you are and what you need to do to take care of yourself. Especially if your in-person performance schedule is picking up again after more than a year or so off due to the pandemic. It’s not selfish—it’s self-care!

What does your routine look like? Is there a video you’re looking forward to seeing? Let us know in the comments below!