Dr. Jacob Sustaita, Pacific Symphony Youth Ensembles, Family Musical Mornings, and More!

Fall is my favorite time of the year. Yes, I celebrate my birthday at the end of September, but more than that, fall marks the beginning of a new symphony season, a new school year, and the return of our youth ensembles! There is nothing more exhilarating then hearing the first sounds of a youth ensemble playing together at the start of a new season. There is familiarity among the returning musicians, but there is also a sense of the unknown and wonderment. As the summer ends, and the first rehearsal of the new season grows near, I find myself asking questions like, “what will this year’s orchestra sound like and be like? What goals will I set for the year? What will be our biggest challenge?”

It takes about twenty seconds of playing before all my questions are answered and a million other thoughts and questions enter my mind. There is something very meaningful and joyful when I am with Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra (PSYO). The connection I have with the students go far beyond the incredible music-making and energetic spirit that we share. When I look out from the podium and see so much talent and potential, it almost takes my breath away knowing what an honor it is to serve as their music director. It really is a dream come true.

The more I reflect on being a part of Pacific Symphony Youth Ensembles (PSYE), the more I am thankful and proud of being a part of the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio (YOSA) when I was in high school. I have the most vivid and specific memories of countless moments in the years I spent in YOSA that shaped my life as a man and musician. From the excitement and stress of that first audition to get accepted to the tour we had in Australia, it was my time in youth orchestra that showed me that I wasn’t alone in my passion and obsession with classical music, and those years, concerts, tours, and rehearsals–I can’t imagine my life without every one of those moments.

My experiences in YOSA helped me to realize that my life would always be about music and sharing music with others. Now, there were many other great musical moments in my life as I grew up but being a part of an ensemble that challenged me and taught me about responsibility and ownership as an artist was the greatest gift for me.

I ask myself from time to time – what is it that a youth ensemble can provide? Why would a young musician want to be a part of a youth ensemble? The answers are always the same. A youth ensemble brings young people together from a larger area than any school has the capacity to make happen. A youth ensemble is a platform for a young person to make a commitment to their peers to be the best artist and collaborator possible.

Watching an orchestra or wind ensemble grow and connect with each other over a season is unbelievable. As a music director, I invite each of them to work hard, pay close attention to each other, problem solve as a section, and to always be creating an environment that is safe and fosters greatness. It is more than just teamwork and improving our skill set. Being in a youth ensemble is about coming together to be stronger and more creative as musicians, artists, and people. Through the difficulties of playing ones instrument in a world-class ensemble and being willing to challenge yourself to work toward a common goal, it is clear that youth ensembles builds more resilient leaders for the future.

As Assistant Conductor with Pacific Symphony, I work closely with Pacific Symphony Music Director Carl St. Clair and the symphony’s outstanding musicians, staff, and administrators on designing and presenting our Family Musical Mornings Series sponsored by Farmers and Merchants Bank. This is a five-concert series every season that focuses on our young audience members and families coming to enjoy the symphony in a concert made just for them.

I love our planning session. We have the best time brainstorming and bouncing ideas off each other. I am particularly impressed with the willingness and support of trying innovative ideas and platforms. I said it before, but I am constantly reminded of how blessed I am to be the one to conduct these concerts, and I often get to be a part of the narrative aspect of our concerts.

If you haven’t seen one of our Family Musical Mornings, you are all in luck. Our next performance is one of my all-time favorites! Saturday, December 3, 2022–Nutcracker for Kids! As with all of our Family concerts, we perform twice on Saturday mornings–10 a.m. & 11:30 a.m.

Nutcracker for Kids! 2021. Photo by Stan Sholik.

There is so much that we offer at Pacific Symphony–concerts for young people, concerts built for school music programs, concerts for families, and don’t forget about our events and lobby activities before the 10:00 a.m. concert and after the 11:30 a.m. concert. Our gift to our community is music. We have something for everyone in Orange County, and I hope to meet more and more of you at our concerts. Check out our website for up-to-date information and for tickets. Also, find us on Facebook and Instagram to stay connected with us and see some behind-the-scenes footage.

Bring Class Act to Your School Today!

Don’t miss this opportunity to bring Class Act to your elementary school! The Frieda Belinfante Class Act Program connects Pacific Symphony to a select number of elementary schools each year. Class Act strives to enhance existing school music programs by providing additional musical experience through the Symphony. Focusing on six main “contact points” with schools, the program works to increase awareness of and involvement with symphonic music for elementary school students, their families, and educators.

Class Act lesson at partner school.

Each year, students form a relationship with a new Symphony musician who serves as a “Class Act teaching artist,” through activities including classroom lessons, ensemble performances, and scripted presentations. Schools that select the Level II Class Act experience also enjoy either a Youth Concert for older students or an Interactive Performance for younger students. All activities feature the music of the Class Act Composer of the Year.

Click here for applications and additional information on Class Act. Applications for the 2022-23 school year are due by 5 p.m. today. Please contact us with any questions.

Why Choose Class Act?

Class Act was created with students in the center and to bring Pacific Symphony directly to schools. Each year, thousands of Orange County students form relationships with their Class Act Teaching Artists that visit the school campus several times during the school year. The culminating event includes a field trip to Reneé and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall to see the entire Pacific Symphony perform a special concert, just for Class Act schools. Click here to read the history of Class Act.

Here is what some Class Act participants have had to say about their experiences:

“Class Act has been a wonderful tradition that I look forward to every year. From getting to know the musicians, learning about the composers and seeing the joy on the children’s faces when they learn something new, the program is very near and dear to my heart. It is a true treasure!”

—Class Act parent coordinator and PFO Co-president

Class Act lesson at a partner school.

“The Class Act program has benefited our school and students by instilling a love and appreciation for classical music. Our school orchestra has grown substantially as we have partnered with the Pacific Symphony.”

—Class Act school principal


“My favorite part of the Class Act Year is the Youth Concert at Segerstrom. The students got to hear professional musicians and got to see what it looks like to pursue music at a high level.”

—Class Act school music teacher

Class Act Youth Concert at Reneé and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall

“Through Class Act I have learned the impact that classical music has on children and how much classical music is in our lives.”

—Class Act school teacher


Click here for applications and additional information on Class Act. Applications due by 5 p.m. on September 30, 2022. Please contact us with any questions.

The History of Class Act: How a Dream Became a Vibrant Reality

In the opening months of 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 ardent 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. Cindy Ellis, flute; Andy Honea, cello; and Michael Hoffman, trombone stepped off of the concert stage and into the classroom!

Pictured L-R: Andy Honea (cello), Michael Hoffman (trombone), Kelly Lucero (former Education Director), and Cindy Ellis (flute).

A violinist, teacher, and passionate lover of music, Valerie Imhof has been the beating heart of Class Act since its creation. 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 enthusiastically shares, “we wanted to develop a program that actually connected with the schools in a very meaningful way, and we thought that parents would have a good idea of how to do this.”

Class Act co-founder Valerie Imhof prepares a class for their Class Act lesson.

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

Valerie Imhof, Class Act co-founder and program chair

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.”

Applications are now available for the 2022-2023 Class Act year! For more information on bringing Class Act to your school, visit our website.

Café Ludwig’s Artistic Director Orli Shaham Joins Juilliard’s Piano Faculty

Host, Curator and Pianist Orli Shaham at the Samueli Theatre during a Café Ludwig concert.

The Juilliard School just announced that Orli Shaham is joining the prestigious school’s piano faculty in the 2022-23 academic year. Shaham is an alumna of the school (Pre-College ’93; and the cross-registration program with Columbia University ’97), and for the past two years has taught at Juilliard as an interim faculty member. Pianists Soyeon Kate Lee and Shai Wosner also join the faculty.

Orli Shaham says, “I am honored and humbled to join the stellar faculty at The Juilliard School. In my years as interim faculty, I’ve seen firsthand how brilliant and inspiring these students are, and I’m thrilled to continue to dig into it all with them! Congratulations, too, to my fellow new faculty members, pianists Shai Wosner and Soyeon Kate Lee, I can’t wait to work alongside you and the rest of the Juilliard faculty and staff.”

In a statement, department chair Veda Kaplinsky says that Shaham, Lee and Wosner each “embody the ideals that are so fundamental to our mission: a passion for teaching, a keen intellect and superb artistry. We look forward to having them join our exceptional faculty and to working alongside them.” Dean David Serkin Ludwig adds that they also each “possess the rare combination of great artistry and outstanding teaching ability that defines the Juilliard faculty.”

Orli Shaham, who was born in Israel and grew up in New York, is the artistic director of both Pacific Symphony’s chamber series Café Ludwig in Costa Mesa, California, and the interactive children’s concert series Orli Shaham’s Bach Yard, which she founded in 2010. Also a regular guest host on National Public Radio’s From the Top, she’s chair of the board of trustees at Kaufman Music Center in New York City.

This season, Shaham is releasing the second and third volumes of the complete Mozart Piano Sonatas. Her Mozart recording project also includes volume 1 of the Piano Sonatas and her album of Piano Concertos with St. Louis Symphony, all of which are part of her discography of a dozen titles on Canary Classics. After receiving her bachelor’s degree at Columbia University, where she participated in the Barnard-Columbia-Juilliard exchange, she pursued graduate studies in historical musicology at Columbia. She is a winner of the Gilmore Young Artist Award and the Avery Fisher Career Grant.

Pacific Symphony Youth Ensembles Make Much-Anticipated Return to Concert Hall 

Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra in concert in Nov. 2019. Led by Music Director Roger Kalia. 

We’re excited to welcome Pacific Symphony Santiago Strings (PSSS), Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble (PSYWE) and Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra (PSYO) back to the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall starting Sunday, Nov. 14.  

Young artist development has always been an integral part of what we do. After all, Pacific Symphony got its start at California State University, Fullerton in the late 1970s. Led by Music Directors Irene Kroesen, Dr. Gregory X. Whitmore and Dr. Jacob Sustaita, respectively, each group supports young musicians in unique ways: 

  • PSSS provides string musicians in grades 6 – 9 with quality string training and performance instruction.  
  • PSYWE provides wind and percussion musicians in grades 8 – 12 the opportunity to refine their skills in an innovative, and technically advanced wind symphony environment.  
  • PSYO provides 100+ string, wind and percussion musicians in grades 9 – 12 with intense orchestral training.  

Starting Sunday, they’ll be kicking off the season with three back-to-back concerts. Admission is free, but tickets are required. Seating is general admission. To learn more, please use the links below.  

Don’t miss the opportunity to see these gifted young musicians in action! To learn more about the work they do year-round, please use this link.  

Bernstein, Made for TV

The importance of Leonard Bernstein will be discussed again and again this year, the centennial of his birth. The multitalented musician can be a little hard to pin down, though, because he did so many things so well (and not as well as he wanted to do). In the podcast below, Bernstein’s talent as an educator is cogently considered, specifically as host of the Young People’s Concerts at the New York Philharmonic, broadcast on CBS television from 1958-1972. From Sara Fishko at WYNC.