Music Students Explore the Legacy of César Chavez with Pacific Symphony’s AXP@Home Program

Over the past year, the arts-X-press team carried on their summer fun traditions by introducing AXP@Home, the remote format of Pacific Symphony’s immersive arts summer camp. With the success of last summer’s virtual camp, AXP@Home has since been expanded through alumni workshops that explore important themes through a different art form each month. 

Starting with the March workshop, however, the AXP@Home staff opened its doors to all middle-school students for the 2021 Spring workshop series as we prepare to welcome new students for our 2021 summer program.

The AXP@Home Spring Workshop, Si Se Puede! — Yes You Can!, provided students a creative safe space to explore dance, musical theater and cultural history. In celebration of César Chavez Day (March 31), Theatre Arts Instructor Deana Occhipinti led our group of new and returning students through an interactive musical theatre adaptation of a children’s book called Harvesting Hope by Kathleen Krull, which describes the inspirational life events of Chavez. Occhipinti wrote this script to be interactive and educational, and to inspire empowerment through storytelling.

Together, Instructor Occhipinti and students collaborated to reflect the spirit of the commemorative holiday through energetic choreography and call-and-response chanting; each time the script mentioned César’s name, students all followed a chant of “Sí, se puede!” with “Yes, it can be done!” 

Occhipinti emphasized how elements of impassioned storytelling can become the driving force for all forms of the arts: “We became part of the story, and there is always a story to be told!” Occhipinti told students. “As you go through life, I encourage you to tell your story, and also become a good audience—learning how to appreciate other people telling their stories.” 

To get the group’s creativity flowing, students and counselors also created chants to reflect what they feel most passionate about in their lives:

  • “Doesn’t having fun matter? Let’s open our creative eye together!” 
  • “We’re marching to justice for our sisters and our mothers. We should have equal rights—so let’s stop the fights!” 
  • “Stand tall—don’t let people discriminate! 

As we look to inspire future leaders in many young artists, we should actively work to provide them a platform to share their experiences and voice what truly matters to them.

The next workshop in the AXP@Home Spring Workshop series, “Blooming in Your Community,” will be a creative expression workshop taking place on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. Click here to register! 

Please stay tuned to @artsXpress on Instagram and Facebook for updates on news and content!

Pacific Symphony’s Multi-Talented Joshua Ranz

Hailed in the Los Angeles Times as offering a “stunning rendition” of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, and an “exciting” version of the Copland Clarinet Concerto, Joshua Ranz is equally gifted on clarinet and bass clarinet. Since 1997, he has served as bass clarinet with Pacific Symphony in addition to being principal clarinet of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) as well as principal clarinet of the New West Symphony.

Ranz has played on over 100 soundtracks for such composers as John Williams, Michael Giacchino, James Horner, Randy Newman and many others. Some of the recent films he has played on include Coco, Lady Bird, Star Wars VII, Rogue One and The Incredibles 2. A graduate of Harvard and Yale, he recently joined the faculty of UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music as Lecturer in Clarinet.

As you might imagine, Ranz is a consummate musician with a lot creative energy. In spite of the pandemic, he managed to record his first album, which will be released on April 23. “Three Cello Suites,” from Joshua Ranz and Navona Records is a truly groundbreaking take on Bach’s legendary works. The album features—for the first time ever—three unabridged cello suites by Bach arranged for the bass clarinet by Ranz. He selected Suites 1, 4, and 2 in that order for this recording because, together, they form a cohesive and dynamic whole.

Ranz lends a fresh voice to Bach’s profoundly beautiful music. “Bach’s music transcends any one instrument, and I believe having the opportunity to hear it with a fresh set of ears can be an invigorating way to experience his genius,” says Ranz. “I have discovered that playing and recording the suites on the bass clarinet offers a fluidity and lyricism, giving the music a unique beauty rarely heard in other renditions. Great cellists have told me that they prefer certain movements on the bass clarinet than even on their own instrument.”

In anticipation of the April 23 release of the new album, Pacific Symphony will present an “Album Release Party” on Weds., April 21 at 5 p.m. KUSC radio personality Alan Chapman will join Principal Flute and Symphony Mixer host Ben Smolen for a conversation with Joshua Ranz about his recording project. They’ll play selections from the new release and will give away CDs to members of the audience. You can catch the “Album Release Party” on Facebook.

The “Three Cello Suites” recording will be available on Apple Music/iTunes and Amazon.com beginning April 23. Or you can pre-order the album here.

In addition to the many musical hats Ranz wears, he’s a master of klezmer, an instrumental musical tradition associated with the Ashkenazi Jews of Central and Eastern Europe. His wailing klezmer clarinet plays a starring role on Michael Giocchino’s soundtrack for the Seth Rogan comedy-drama “An American Pickle” (2020).

Ranz will be in conversation with Alan Chapman for a Zoom event entitled “Essential Klezmer” on Thurs., April 15 at 4 p.m. He will be talking about growing up hearing his grandmother speaking Yiddish, and how he began developing his klezmer artistry during childhood, playing clarinet in a klezmer trio with a young violinist friend. He will demonstrate klezmer effects on clarinet to show how that technique differs from playing classical music. Chapman will also provide historical context on klezmer. If you’ve always wondered about how klezmer music is played or you want to experience this side of Ranz’s artistry, be sure to look for this presentation on Pacific Symphony’s Facebook page on April 14.

A Virtual Nowruz Celebration

Pacific Symphony is once again partnering with the Farhang Foundation for a third annual celebration of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. This year the concert will be online and available for free beginning on Sat., April 3 at 7 p.m. A traditional festival that marks the beginning of spring, Nowruz is a time to celebrate the “rebirth of nature” and to wash away the past. 

The program will be hosted by the award-winning standup comedian and actress, Melissa Shoshahi. Some program highlights include classical guitarist Lily Afshar and soprano Sara Hamidi. Two masters of Persian classical music—conductor, pianist and composer Shardad Rohani and Sohrab Pournazeri—who appeared with Pacific Symphony last in the 2019 Nowruz celebration will also be featured. Sohrab Pournazeri will be offering us a tanbour improvisation direct from Tehran. In addition, Music Director Carl St.Clair will lead Pacific Symphony in Dvorak’s “Carnival Overture.”

This performance will be available for FREE streaming on Pacific Symphony’s YouTube channel and Facebook page from the premiere on April 3, through May 2.

Symphony President and CEO John Forsyte and Music Director Carl St.Clair cordially invite you to the virtual Nowruz concert.

For more information, visit our website here!

Pacific Symphony’s Online Store Celebrates Spring with a Sale

Spring is in the air! To mark the new season, Pacific Symphony’s online store is holding a sale for the entire month of April. You can receive a 15% discount off everything in the store by using the code “HappySpring” when you check out.

You may want to stock up on music note face masks, Symphony coffee mugs, baseball hats, totes and music boxes, to name just a few items available. You’ll want to check out all the fun gift ideas for family and friends of all ages – just click here!

Pacific Symphony League, the volunteer group that supports the shop at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, is pleased that Pacific Symphony staff created an online version of the store, especially during this unprecedented time. The League was founded in 1990 and its dynamic members serve as avid ambassadors throughout the community, existing to provide financial and volunteer support, specifically for its education/community engagement programs. All Symphony store purchases benefit Pacific Symphony’s Education and Community Engagement Programs. Your support matters!

Meet Pacific Symphony’s New Assistant Conductor: Dr. Jacob Sustaita

Imagine moving cross-country to assume a new conducting position in the middle of a global pandemic! That was the experience of Jake Sustaita (pronounced soos-TIE-tah) moving from Texas to Southern California last October to begin his tenure as Pacific Symphony’s Assistant Conductor and Music Director of Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra.

In Sustaita’s recent conversation with Principal Flute Ben Smolen for his first Symphony Mixer appearance, he talks about all that and more. He discusses growing up in San Antonio and how he got interested in conducting when he was just a sixth grader. For a while he pursued both viola and conducting, before focusing entirely on conducting. He describes how he developed musically and capitalized on a number of fortunate opportunities that helped him evolve as a conductor.

Each conducting experience developed in him a thirst for more. Yet in the face of great obstacles, Sustaita would say, “Nothing scares me, bring it on.” He admits, “Being a musician is like living in a world of no, but you only need one yes.” He advises the gifted musicians of Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra, “If you work hard, pathways will open up. Never give up. Never stop dreaming. You never know what life has in store for you.”

Sustaita is looking forward to what life has in store for him in his work with the Symphony and Youth Orchestra. He currently lives in Anaheim and is excited to get to know more about Orange County’s Latin community. In anticipation, Sustaita, whose surname is of Basque origin, is brushing up on his Spanish language skills.

We’re all looking forward to getting to know Jake Sustaita better and to hearing him conduct some inspiring concerts in the near future!

Find out more about Jacob Sustaita’s background and experience here.

Watch his Symphony Mixer here:

Pacific Symphony Stands with the Asian American Community

Pacific Symphony is outraged and deeply saddened by the recent acts of violence against Asian Americans, throughout the pandemic and beyond. Anti-Asian violence, discrimination and xenophobia haunt American history and culture dating back centuries. In recent months, anti-Asian hate crimes has increased dramatically throughout the US and to a very great degree in California (Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino).

The Pacific Symphony family especially mourns the victims of the horrific murders in Atlanta. It has never been clearer that the intersection of race and gender makes Asian American women at particularly high risk of anti-Asian violence and other hate incidents. This nation’s history of discrimination and violence against both women and people of color places a disproportionate burden on women of color, and we extend extra loving arms around our Asian American sisters processing the trauma of the events of the last week, year and lifetime.

We stand in solidarity with all Asian Americans. We deeply value our Asian American community members, throughout Orange County’s community and beyond, and they are much appreciated in the Pacific Symphony family of musicians, students, staff, board members, patrons and volunteers. We especially treasure our partnerships with Irvine Chinese School/ South Coast Chinese Cultural Center and the Asian American Senior Citizens Services Center and uplift their wonderful contributions to the Asian American community in Orange County, as well as our artistic work and community engagement.

Pacific Symphony recognizes the work we must do to be a more equitable, inclusive and diverse organization. Our organization is still learning what it means to be in solidarity with our colleagues and community members of color, and we pledge to prioritize our existing work in this arena moving forward.

We condemn discrimination and violence against the AAPI community. While racism, sexism and discrimination may have a centuries-long hold on our society, we can begin taking steps toward the diminishing of these forces on our own organization. In the coming weeks and months, we will strive to show up for our AAPI community members through actively working to make our organization a safe place for all.

To all our Asian American colleagues, community members and friends: we see your pain, and we pledge not to increase it through indifference and inaction.

#StopAsianHate #StopAAPIHate #StopAsianViolence

Classical Toons

We recently stumbled upon a brilliant Twitter thread examining all the interesting ways some favorites of the classical music repertoire have been used in vintage cartoons – let us know if you recognized these famous pieces!

Check out the full thread on Twitter!

Why Beethoven?

Roll over Beethoven! Festivities to mark the composer’s 250th birthday are continuing into 2021 around the world, due to the complications of the pandemic last year. If any composer deserves to celebrate his birthday for two full years, it’s Ludwig. 

In that spirit, we offer this guest blogpost “Why Beethoven?” from pianist Orli Shaham, curator of Pacific Symphony’s Café Ludwig chamber series. ©2001 Musical America Worldwide, used by permission. Read the original here!


A 250th birthday celebration is a big deal. Only a miniscule number of figures from history merit a worldwide outpouring after so much time. So what is it about Beethoven that elicits such a personal reaction from masses of people? Even during an overwhelming pandemic, when people are wondering about whether their beloved holidays are actually worth celebrating, Beethoven birthday celebrations are still planned, virtually, all around the world. Why Beethoven?

In the late 90’s, I had the privilege of meeting one of the most observant, perspicacious, and expressive people in our culture, Charles Schulz. As is well-known, Schulz’s young pianist character Schroeder nearly always played works by Beethoven, and both creator and character admired Beethoven wholeheartedly. Schulz regularly used excerpts from his piano sonatas in his strips. The great cartoonist couldn’t read music, but he loved the look of the notes, and he reproduced them faithfully and precisely. I am sure I’m not the only music nerd who spent their childhood trying to guess which Beethoven sonata yielded the little snippet over Schroeder’s toy piano. Perhaps because Schulz didn’t read music, but chose the notes for their looks and occasional comic potential, this little guessing game was at times quite difficult! The excerpts were rarely the ones a musician would have picked.

Beethoven looms so large in Peanuts that there is a countdown to his birthday as elaborate as an Advent calendar. When I was a teenager, this countdown inspired me to listen to all nine of his symphonies every December 16th. I know I’m not alone.

When I met Schulz, who turned out to also be the kindest, most generous, thoughtful and empathetic conversation partner, I had to ask him, “Why Beethoven?” He told me that although Brahms was his favorite composer, Beethoven was “just funnier.” I’ve spent over 20 years thinking about that answer and why it is so true.

Of course, it’s built into the name. Especially in English, the two “e”’s look silly next to each other, the fact that someone would be named after a root vegetable is hilarious, and that his name ends in an “oven” is riotous.

But it’s much more than his name. This creator—who overcame a severe disability and nevertheless out-composed all of us and all of his contemporaries; who refused to budge on his ideals, but held himself equally to the strict standards he held for others; whose genius was incomprehensible to most and yet who could barely master basic grooming; who defied all the conventions he thought were unnecessary but reverently studied and adapted those he deemed worthy; who was gruff to some but a loyal friend to those who had earned it; who believed in our intrinsic rights, our equality, our human brotherhood; who sought to uplift, just as much for himself as for the rest of us; who never hid his struggles from us, both great and petty, whether they were over a lost penny, over a revered leader who caved under the dark magic of power, a manuscript that was worked and re-worked (though to us the final version seems inevitable); who wasn’t afraid to share his sadness with us—this creator was quintessentially a member of the human race. Like us, he aspired to something greater than himself, and was often frustrated by his own perceived shortcomings. Like us, he went after that football again and again, believing deep down that someday he would surely kick it to infinity. Did he ever!

Beethoven is funny because we are. Those jagged sforzandi, the overwhelming dynamic contrasts, the relentlessness of pulse, the endless, obsessive struggles over whether a pitch is this one or that one, over and over again within a piece, the drawn-out, arduous efforts to bring a dominant FINALLY down to the tonic after 20 minutes of music–these resonate with us as labors we deal with throughout our lives, within ourselves. Beethoven reminds us that occasional transcendence is possible. It’s no surprise the creator of Charlie Brown understood this long ago. Beethoven captures, in his music and in our imagination, the essence of what it means to be human, and that is Why Beethoven.

Did You Miss Our Town Hall?

Recently, Music Director Carl St.Clair joined Pacific Symphony President & CEO John Forsyte for a virtual town hall. They presented a roadmap to recovery from the pandemic, exciting news about our virtual concerts, updates on the status of the Symphony, plans for reopening and how we continue to educate, engage and connect with the greater community. Watch it here:

To the Rescue: Upping the Symphony’s Streaming Game

With attending live performances sidelined for the time being due to the pandemic, virtual concerts are the primary way Pacific Symphony can perform for audiences. In the past, orchestra concerts were filmed largely just to document the performance for the Symphony archives.

As Pacific Symphony management planned presenting concerts online, they wanted to create a visual experience closer to the current production values of film and television that audiences have come to expect. They knew they would need to upgrade to state-of-the-art audio, video and lighting equipment.

Enter Janet Curci to the rescue. A well-known philanthropist in the Newport Beach-Costa Mesa area and an active supporter of Pacific Symphony (especially its opera programs), she made a generous gift to the orchestra from the Janet Curci Family Foundation, and the Symphony was able to purchase all new equipment. With video cameras that are able to connect to the internet, powerful computers, high-end microphones, high-definition monitors and so much more, the Symphony has a whole new system for filming and streaming concerts.

And the results are sure to please Symphony audiences. They will see concerts in a whole new way from new and unusual angles provided by 12 video cameras: close ups of individual musicians, interaction between musicians and the ever-changing musical expressions on conductor Carl St.Clair’s face at close range.

As you watch PacificSymphony+ virtual concerts, remember the generous woman who made it all possible, Janet Curci!

For more on PacificSymphony+, click here.