The Brass Ancestor


the Ophicleide

Music has played a huge role over many centuries in defining generations, places and time periods – but have you ever wondered about the history of modern day instruments? One instrument that most people probably have not heard of is the Ophicleide.

Introduced in the early 19th century, the Ophicleide is said to be a predecessor to the modern tuba, and looks like a cross between a baritone saxophone, a keyed bugle and a tuba. The word “ophicleide” in Greek literally means “serpent with keys.” The Serpent was a wooden instrument that was uniquely twisted into an s-shape but played by a mouthpiece like a horn or trumpet. As early as the 1500’s, the Serpent was the bass of the brass family and was almost exclusively used in the church and high mass. To make this instrument easier to play, the Ophicleide was invented.

The Serpent Trumpet

the Serpent

Unlike the Serpent, the Ophicleide was introduced immediately into the orchestra. Its most prominent introduction into the classical music world was in Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, composed in 1830. In this mystical piece, Berlioz invoked two Ophicleides and four Bassoons to chant out one of the most well-known and haunting classical melodies, Dies Irae, the song of the dead. Check out the video to hear the Ophicleide’s sound, and the Dies Irae, live!


On February 6-8, the enchanting sounds of Dies Irae can be experienced along with the rest of Berlioz’ revolutionary Symphonie Fantastique at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Conducted by Maestro St. Clair and performed by Pacific Symphony, this incredible concert will also feature guest artist Alain Lefèvre for a musical experience you do not want to miss. Learn more here!


Emma Ballen is a Senior at Chapman University, studying Business Administration, and is currently an entertainment host as Disneyland, interning with the Symphony’s Marketing & Public Relations department.

Beethoven’s 32 Sonatas

This is Beethoven’s 250th birthday year, and former Symphony guest pianist Boris Giltburg is recording all 32 of the great composer’s piano sonatas! His website explains:

“To celebrate Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year, I will be learning and filming all 32 of his sonatas over the coursedevelopment. Giltburg explains: “I will attempt to view each sonata—or most of them, at least—as the highest point of what Beethoven could achieve at that time, which makes every sonata interesting in itself, not only for its position in the cycle.”

Giltburg’s project is probably the most interesting way to celebrate Beethoven’s immense catalog of incredible music this birthday year, and we can’t wait to see the first sonata! You can follow the entire project on his website,, or on his YouTube channel!

Looking Forward to “Lunar New Year”


‘Tis the “Year of the Rat,” and we couldn’t be more excited here at the Symphony for another colorful Lunar New Year celebration at the end of the month! For the past several years, we’ve celebrated the Lunar New Year with some incredible concerts.

The Year of the Rat, and the animal itself, are an interesting part of the Chinese zodiac calendar, and myth surrounding the Lunar New Year. According to this website, “the Jade Emperor said the order would be decided by the order in which they arrived to his party. The Rat tricked the Ox into giving him a ride. Then, just as they arrived at the finish line, Rat jumped down and landed ahead of Ox, becoming first. In the terms of yin and yang, the Rat is ‘yang,’ and represents the beginning of a new day. In Chinese culture, rats were seen as a sign of wealth and surplus … married couples also prayed to them for children.”

Here are some highlights from last year’s concert …









Don’t miss our celebratory concert on Jan. 25 in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall! Tickets and more information here.

LI: Spring Festival Overture
HE & CHEN: “The Butterfly Lovers” Violin Concerto (mov. 1)
KIM: “Look at Me!!,” Theme and Variations on a Korean Folk Tune (World Premiere)
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 (mov. 4)
WEI: “Flourish the Whip to Urge on the Horse”
YAO: “Do La Ji”

~ Intermission ~

WILLIAMS: “Liberty” Fanfare
ZHANG: “Peking Opera Medley”
MASCAGNI: “Voi lo sapete” from “Cavalleria Rusticana”
MASCAGNI: “Regina coeli” from “Cavalleria Rusticana”
VERDI: “Brindisi” from “La Traviata”
VERDI: “Gloria all’Egitto” from “Aida”
LIU: “My Homeland”
WARD: “America the Beautiful”


Celebrating 25 Years of “Class Act”

“Music is always about people, wanting to connect, and connecting together”

—Valerie Imhof, Class Act co-founder and program chair

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Class Act “godmother” Valerie Imhof with Class Act musician and assistant principal bass Doug Basye and Class Act ambassador Tom Casey

In 1994, parents from seven Orange County elementary schools sat around a table and discussed their hopes and dreams for music in their children’s lives. Guided by then-Education Director Kelly Lucero and Pacific Symphony supporter Valerie Imhof, this group of visionaries conceived a unique partnership between the Symphony and local school communities—and Class Act was born.

Symphony musicians would serve at the heart of this new and exciting partnership. Parents, teachers and administrators at seven inaugural schools would also play an important role, each bringing their own unique contribution to the program. In September 1994, Class Act went from being a beautiful dream to a vibrant reality. Three Symphony musicians joined the team as the program’s first teaching artists: Cynthia Ellis, Flute; Andrea Honea, cello; and Michael Hoffman, trombone. Today, the Frieda Belinfante Class Act program has served more than 250,000 students, making a lasting impact on school communities through workshops, lessons, assemblies and concerts at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. In the 2019-20 school year the program will serve 14,680 students in 29 schools from 14 cities across Orange County. The cornerstone of Class Act’s funding is a multi-year grant from the Fieldstead Foundation, in the name of musician, conductor and educator Frieda Belinfante.


Celebrating the Vision of Class Act’s “Godmother”

A violinist, teacher and passionate lover of music, Valerie Imhof has been the beating heart of Class Act throughout its quarter-century history. Though her official title is Class Act co-founder and program chair, Valerie is affectionately known as the program’s beloved “godmother.” When asked what inspired her to create Class Act collaboratively with a group of parents, she says, “We wanted to develop a program that actually connected with schools in a very meaningful way, and we thought that parents would have a good idea of how to do this.”

This approach, putting parents at the center of the partnership, clearly worked. It continues to be a critical part of the program’s success, as Valerie has seen over the years. “Involving the parents was the best way forward, because we were invited to be part of their schools, instead of imposing ourselves upon them and trying to ‘sell’ what we had. Today, the parents’ role is just as essential, with parent volunteers handing down their knowledge to the next generation of parents.” Valerie then shares a benefit of the program that she never imagined. “Some of those parent volunteers are still with us many years later, as volunteers, and as staff.” Valerie’s pride is well founded.

The current Class Act staff  team, led by the Symphony’s Director of Education Jonathan Terry, boasts no fewer than three former Parent Coordinators with many, many more serving as regular Symphony volunteers.


Inspiration and the Joy of Learning

25 years on, Valerie still finds joy and inspiration in her involvement with Class Act. “I get involved with all of these wonderful people, and these fabulous musicians in a way that I would never have been able to do before. I get to watch them work. For me, this is a royal gift.”

She particularly loves the Class Act Lessons, where specially-trained Symphony teaching artists work directly with a single classroom of students, teaching them about their musical lives and the lives and music of a new and inspiring composer each year. “You think that you have already heard all the questions that could ever be asked, but then at the end of a lesson a student asks a question that you would never have even thought of! You then know that they have really become engaged and involved in a way that they have found meaningful.”

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Students attending a Class Act lesson

Valerie also loves the moments when students have the opportunity to hear “their” musician play as part of an ensemble, both at a school’s Family Night chamber music concert, and when the schools come to the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall for the yearly Youth Concerts.

“My favorite moment was when one of my students, who barely smiles and acts ‘cool’ all the time, told me without hesitation and without embarrassment, that he cried through the whole Youth Concert, out of pure emotion. My heart sang hearing him say those words,” shares a teacher from Heritage Elementary in Tustin. It is indeed moments like these that inspire us all.

“I can’t even imagine my life without Class Act,” Valerie reflects. “I have made such friends along the way. But most of all, the program is always growing, and always changing. Because it is all about the people. Music is always about the people, wanting to connect and connecting together. And it is about the sincerity of our musicians wanting to connect, too. It has been really special to me, because when everything works, it is just magical.”


Lasting Impacts

In celebrating Class Act, Valerie and the whole Class Act Family joyously celebrate the lasting impacts that the program has had on its students.

In the fall of 2007 a kindergartner named Sean Oliu heard the beautiful strains of Mozart’s music at his first Class Act Prelude Assembly at Adelaide Price Elementary School in Anaheim. He met his Class Act musician Mike Hoffman, and according to his mother Robbie Hernandez-Oliu, the seeds for a vibrant musical future were planted. Today, Sean is a high school senior at Servite High School and is a featured performer on Disney’s “Club Mickey Mouse,” where he writes and performs his own music. Even more importantly, Sean is the founder of Kids Giving Back, a local not-for-profit that supports music education in Anaheim schools.

Another high school senior, Kyle Graham, details how Class Act opened the doors for him to discover his own future in music. “Class Act stimulated my interest and love for music, as now I want to be a music major in college. I also found out about the Pacific Symphony Youth Ensembles and have been in Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble for four years.”

Kyle’s mother, Melanie, who served as a volunteer Class Act Parent Coordinator for many years, provides a parent’s perspective on her family’s Class Act experience. “As a parent in Class Act, I learned about all the programs available to students with an interest in pursuing music at a higher level. I also learned that most professional musicians are very encouraging and willing to help students make their way into broader musical experiences.”

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Class Act Alumnus Kyle Graham performing with Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble


Celebrating 25 Amazing Years

Valerie Imhof can’t wait to launch the 2019-20 Class Act season. “I’m looking forward to this year. And I love those musicians! I’m so proud of them and the work they do. And so proud our incredible staff who hold everything together, and our dedicated volunteers who give hours and hours and hours.” She has a lot to be proud of. Class Act celebrates its 25th anniversary, and Carl St.Clair’s 30th anniversary, with the music of John Williams and the theme, “Symphony at the Movies.”

“I am very excited about John Williams! So many of our Pacific Symphony musicians have played his movie scores with him, and now we get to share this with our students and schools,” Valerie enthuses. “It is going to be a great year!”


This article was written by Vice President of Education & Community Engagement Susan Miller Kotses. You can learn more about our Class Act program on our website here!

All You Need to Know About “Beethoven’s Violin Concerto”

Starting the New Year off strong is “Beethoven’s Violin Concerto,” a concert taking place from Jan. 16-18. Clara-Jumi Kang performs this wickedly lyrical piece, often referred to as “The Emperor Concerto,” as Christian Arming conducts the Symphony.

Elsewhere on the program are Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony, rich with the sounds of his Czech homeland. Arming states:

edf2c5c9331bf7d7b9ed058f7bd05fa7.jpgThe Eighth symphony touches me in a very special way. The melody in eighth symphony naturally flows out from its heart. The rich emotionality paired perfectly with its musical ideas. In the meantime, composer had very clear thoughts about the overall structure and organize it well. It reminds me of symphony works from Brahms.


Clara-Jumi Kang also notes:

clara-jumi-kang017.jpgI love Beethoven too much. If this concerto didn’t exist, maybe I wouldn’t love the violin as much. … I found myself thinking that Beethoven is much too great for me to control it. It’s from above this earth, and I should just play it, just worship it as something from above. That is what I focused on all evening.


The Oregon Symphony’s program notes, written by Elizabeth Schwartz, describe the concerto:

Ludwig van Beethoven’s only violin concerto is truly iconoclastic, and it shattered conventional notions of what an early Romantic concerto could be. Instead of using the concerto as a vehicle to show off the soloist’s technique, Beethoven recreated the genre, giving the soloist plenty of opportunities to display their talents with music full of depth and innovation.

Beethoven’s Violin Concerto had an interesting performance history, with a world premiere that was less-than ideal.

It is believed that Beethoven finished the solo part so late that Clement had to sight-read part of his performance.Perhaps to express his annoyance, or to show what he could do when he had time to prepare, Clement is said to have interrupted the concerto between the first and second movements with a solo composition of his own, played on one string of the violin held upside down; however, other sources claim that he did play such a piece but only at the end of the performance. The premiere was not a success, and the concerto was little performed in the following decades.

While we can’t promise Clara will be attempting any of the theatrics described above, we can promise a beautiful and energetic rendition of one of the finest pieces of violin music ever composed.

Grab your tickets while you can – we’ll see you there!

The Real Differences in Piano Player’s Brains


The little bolts of electricity running through their neurons as they play are not connected the same way as concert goers’. Piano players brains even work differently than the way musicians’ are wired. And this is all because of the instrument they are playing. The piano makes them and their brains unique.

You’re a musician. You know in your heart that your brain works differently than everybody else, but can’t exactly put your finger on why. LifeHack has a great article outlining some of the brain differences in those who play an instrument – specifically, piano players.

Among examples listed are:

  • Piano players are more balanced
  • Piano players are more logical multitaskers

And my personal favorite:

  • Piano players are well practised at conversing (though not in a language we are used to using everyday)

Check out the article here, and let us know how playing an instrument has changed your brain!

January At-A-Glance

Take time in the New Year to reconnect with the arts, and discover the magic of classical music in live concert! Our January schedule is packed with talented musicians from all over the world, making it the right time to attend an event.


Clara Jumi Kang
Photo: Marco Borggreve

Celebrate Beethoven’s 250th Anniversary by attending Beethoven’s Violin Concerto on January 16-18. Referred to as “King of the Concertos,” it is regarded as one of the greatest violin concertos of all time. Joining us for this concert is guest conductor Christian Arming, one of Austria’s most sought after conductors, who has been highly successful in both the symphonic and operatic fields. Performing the solos is German guest artist Clara-Jumi Kang, known for her impeccable elegance and poise. Also being performed is Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8, which is celebrated for it’s Bohemian lyricism and indelible melodies.



Next, step under the big top at our Family Musical Morning’s zany circus on January 18 at 10 and 11:30 a.m., as talented singers take the stage in a rollicking, kid-friendly version of Donizetti’s comic opera “The Elixir of Love.” This fun and fascinating 45-minute concert is designed especially for children 5-11. Enjoy FREE interactive activities in the lobby! Featuring family-friendly arts and crafts, an instrument petting zoo, and opportunities to meet Symphony musicians, local performing groups, and more! Activities begin at 9 a.m. for 10 a.m. attendees and 12:15 p.m. for 11:30 a.m. attendees.


Dennis_Kim_450x430Sunday, January 19th at 3 p.m. is our concert Sundays at Soka: Mozart. This personal and intimate concert on Soka University’s campus is truly a Pacific Symphony special. Joining Maestro St.Clair in this all-Mozart program is our Concertmaster Dennis Kim and Benjamin Smolen, who holds the Symphony’s Valerie and Hans Imhof Principal Flute Chair. This will be our last event at this beautiful campus until April.


Finally, celebrate the “Year of the Rat” with us as we honor the Lunar New Year! This performance on Saturday, January 25 at 8 p.m. sells out every year as audiences from across our communities come together to feast on a colorful presentation of Eastern and Western music and dance. The concert will feature numerous guest artists, singers and dance companies all lead by our own Maestro Carl St.Clair. It is praised every year for being a visual masterpiece that intertwines dance, culture and music.