Pacific Symphony presented “Fandango: An Evening in Early California” on Saturday, June 12 at Oso Viejo Park in Mission Viejo. One of the premier philanthropic events in the Southland, the Symphony’s Gala Benefit honored Richard Kaufman’s 30 seasons as principal pops conductor and celebrated Ling and Charlie Zhang for their unprecedented support and leadership of Pacific Symphony. The festive evening featured a reception set in a picturesque village square, gourmet dinner of cuisine associated with the ranchos of early California and a lively auction of luxury items and experiences. Pacific Symphony—performing live for the first time in 15 months—presented an entertaining program of classic and popular favorites under the direction of Music Director Carl St.Clair and Richard Kaufman. This was the first time that both conductors shared the podium for a historic evening. The event finished to the sounds of the Jump Start dance band with late-night dancing under the stars. The sold-out event, attended by 356 guests, raised a record $2,009,325 (net) to benefit Pacific Symphony’s education and community engagement programs and artistic programming.
Gala Benefit Co-Chairs Joann Leatherby and Leona Aronoff-Sadacca commented: “What makes a perfect evening? A beautiful park, a setting reminiscent of Old California, food offerings inspired by the indigenous people and the ranchers, beautiful music provided by the Pacific Symphony and people anxious to be together. This year’s Pacific Symphony’s Annual Gala, Fandango!”
Gala-goers arriving at Oso Viejo Park found themselves transported back in time to the days of Zorro and the California ranchos as they entered a colorful village square flanked by market booths, complete with an old Spanish mission, haciendas and a ranch corral, all artfully draped with bougainvillea and roses in pink, crimson and coral. Costumed as caballeros, señoritas and señoras, they enjoyed pre-dinner entertainment that included the nation’s premier Mexican folk dance company, Ballet Folklórico de Los Angeles accompanied by Mariachi Garibaldi de Jaime Cuellar. Vaqueros (Mexican cowboys) twirling their lassos thrilled the crowd with daring rodeo rope tricks. Pedro and Sweet Pea, two docile shaggy burros garlanded with multi-colored flowers, stood by patiently to participate in on-demand photo ops.
Co-chairs Joann Leatherby and Leona Aronoff-Sadacca welcomed guests to dinner. “This evening is incredibly special as it is not only the first Pacific Symphony live performance in 15 months, but also the first time the Symphony has performed at a Gala,” said Aronoff-Sadacca. “Tonight we have the distinct pleasure to honor Principal Pops Conductor Richard Kaufman’s 30th anniversary with our Pacific Symphony Pops—not to mention his 17th season with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—what a terrific achievement! And we are so grateful to celebrate and honor our dear friends, Charlie and Ling Zhang, who have continued to transform and enrich Pacific Symphony with astounding philanthropy and leadership.”
Joann Leatherby added, “I want to take a moment to thank the amazing leadership of the City of Mission Viejo for their generosity in hosting us this evening at this beautiful park, which provides a romantic backdrop for our ‘Fandango.’ Pacific Symphony has performed in this park for tens of thousands of people over the years, and we love performing for this city. Our good friends here in the city have provided the park, security and facilities at no cost.”
To honor the people who lived in Southern California long before the first fandango, Leona Aronoff-Sadacca introduced Jacque Tahuka-Nunez, a tribal member of the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation. Tahuka-Nunez burned sage and chanted to bless the evening as part of the land acknowledgement ceremony with the audience at rapt attention.
Pacific Symphony President and CEO John Forsyte thanked the many donors who had provided generous support during the difficult past year, singling out John and Mary Tu for providing a million-dollar challenge grant. He commented, “It is nothing short of remarkable to consider the achievements of the musicians, staff and board of the orchestra. Over 200 video productions were seen in 50 countries a far as South Korea, Singapore, India and Australia as well as all of our cities here in Orange County.” He went on to recount the extraordinary efforts of the Symphony’s production and education teams for generating so much digital activity that created continuity of service for the many people who craved connection and enrichment during the pandemic.
Board chairman John Evans took the podium to introduce the first honorees of the evening, Ling and Charlie Zhang. He said, “Winston Churchill wrote: ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’ In Ling and Charlie Zhang, we observe the ultimate example of building a beautiful life through purpose-driven work. Not only do Charlie and Ling give so generously of their wealth, they set a high bar for hard work and accomplishments, challenging artists, board and staff of Pacific Symphony to push through barriers to better serve our community through inspiring music.” He introduced a tribute video honoring the Zhangs.
Forsyte welcomed Ling and Charlie Zhang to the stage and presented them with flowers and a photo album with a personal message from Carl St.Clair. The Zhangs acknowledged the audience’s applause and expressed their gratitude.
For its first Gala performance, Pacific Symphony played a program that featured music one might associate with the Spanish and Latin American heritage of Southern California: Marquez’ Danzon No. 2, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with guitarist Mak Grgic, James Horner’s “Mask of Zorro,” Morricone’s “Gabriel’s Oboe” with Jessica Pearlman as soloist and “Malambo” from Ginastera’s “Estancia.” Carl St.Clair and Richard Kaufman traded podium duties throughout the program, finishing with Kaufman conducting “Fandango” by classic film composer Dmitri Tiomkin. Carl St.Clair introduced a video celebrating Richard Kaufman’s 30-year tenure as Pacific Symphony’s principal pops conductor and presented him with monogrammed briefcase.
To complete this “Evening in Early California,” guests fandangoed the night away to the dance band sounds of Jump Start.