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.

Download Our App For A Chance To Win Amazon Gift Cards!

Pacific Symphony will be hosting the program notes for “Thursdays @ 7,” our virtual concert series, exclusively on our very own app! Free to download in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, and working for both iOS and Android devices, our Pacific Symphony app streamlines the concert-going experience for new and veteran Symphony audience members. Plus, when you download the app, you may be one of four lucky winners each week who will receive a $25 Amazon gift card!

How To Win:

  • Simply go to your app store and search “Pacific Symphony” and download
  • Click the first card at the top “Win an Amazon Gift Card” – this will bring up a Google Form
  • Fill out your name and email address in the Google Form, and voilà, you’ve been entered to win! Winners will be emailed, and announced on social media on Fridays

In the app, you’ll be able to find program notes for that evening’s virtual concert, see upcoming concerts, check out our social media and blog feeds, and find all the info you need about the performers.

For example, you can read the program notes to tonight’s first-ever “Thursdays @ 7” virtual concert, “Strauss & Tchaikovsky” while you watch the performance tonight at 7 – streaming free on Facebook and YouTube! The app is the perfect companion for the virtual Pacific Symphony experience.

Meet PacificSymphony+, A Digital Concert Hall For The Orchestra’s Streaming Content

Pacific Symphony has returned to the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall stage after an absence of nearly one year, due to the uncertainty caused by coronavirus. After an in-depth collaboration with UCI’s Department of Public Health to develop Covid protocols in order to ensure the health and safety of the musicians, the Symphony has been given permission from the OC Health Officer to begin recording new content.

PacificSymphony+ is a new way to experience your Symphony online and on-demand, so you can enjoy the magic of music whenever and wherever you can. Starting Feb. 25 at 7 p.m., newly recorded footage from the Concert Hall will be premiered every Thursday, beginning with Classical events and eventually including Pops, Family and chamber programming. Many of the programs will be free of charge. The classical offerings are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation. Their ongoing support is greatly appreciated. A generous gift from the Janet Curci Family Foundation helped the Symphony to upgrade its video cameras and internet streaming equipment to enhance the online presentation of these concerts. The Feb. 25 concert is sponsored by Mike and Ellie Gordon. 

Music Director Carl St.Clair planned the repertoire for these online concerts in such a way that each piece can be performed by a smaller ensemble rather than the full orchestra. This allows the orchestra to be properly socially-distanced on stage and assures that everyone is safe. Last weekend, for example, Richard Strauss’ Serenade for 13 Winds and the finale of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings were recorded.

The following week’s concert on March 4 will feature the Symphony’s brilliant brass section in two works: Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” and Daugherty’s “Asclepius.” Other highlights of the upcoming Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Foundation Virtual Classical Series on subsequent Thursdays at 7 p.m. will include: Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” Suite and Suite from “The Firebird;” Mozart’s “Serenata Notturna;” Gounod’s “Petite Symphonie for Winds” (finale only); selections from Ravel’s “Mother Goose;” Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 3;” and a number of Bach concertos. Symphony Thursdays @ 7 will be streamed on Pacific Symphony’s YouTube channel, Facebook page and on the Symphony’s website. Individual events will remain available for online viewing for 30 days. Additional programming will be announced as it becomes available.