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.

What’s Happening This Month: April 2022

April is upon us and that means we’ll be in Verdi mode for the next couple of weeks until April 12. Even though Otello wasn’t Verdi’s last work, people in his life still tried to find ways to encourage him to come out of retirement to work on this fate tempting project. All it took was Boito’s compelling first draft and a mutual love of Shakespeare prevailed.

Later in the month, the magic of cirque comes to the concert hall with Cirque de la Symphonie, April 22-23. There will also be two performances of Cirque for Kids on Saturday, April 23. We’re honored to be a part of the North American Premiere of Danny Elfman’s Percussion Concerto featuring British percussionist Colin Currie at Soka Performing Arts Center on Sunday, April 24. The month closes off with Yang Plays Rachmaninoff Apr. 28-30 and Pacific Symphony Santiago Strings wraps up their 2021-22 season with It’s All About Strings! on Saturday, Apr. 30.

Thank you for joining us! Here’s your monthly update.

Verdi’s Otello • April 7, 9 & 12 at 8 p.m. PDT

Love, betrayal and jealousy – all trademarks of great tragic opera – Otello embraces these themes to the fullest. Written decades after going into retirement, Verdi’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s tale takes you on a journey through a passionate romance destroyed by one of opera’s most loathsome villains. This will be a semi-staged opera in four acts, sung in Italian with English supertitles. There will also be an intermission after Act II.

Our cast includes tenor Carl Tanner as Otello, soprano Kelebogile Besong as Desdemona and baritone Stephen Powell as Iago. Pacific Symphony will be under the baton of Maestro Carl St.Clair.

To learn more, please click here.

Cirque de la Symphonie • April 22-23 at 8 p.m. PDT

Beauty, thrills and majesty! This popular troupe returns with a show featuring a jaw-dropping fusion of fliers, acrobats, contortionists, dancers, jugglers and strongmen who perform their cirque acts while Pacific Symphony provides a soundtrack of classical masterpieces and contemporary favorites. They’ll be performing to selections from Chicago, Flight to Neverland, Swan Lake and more! Pacific Symphony will be under the baton of Dr. Jacob Sustaita.

To learn more, please click here.

Cirque for Kids • April 23 at 10 and 11:30 a.m. PDT

Symphony + Circus = a spectacular show, created especially for kids! Experience a jaw-dropping fusion of fliers, acrobats, contortionists, dancers, jugglers and strongmen who perform their cirque acts while Pacific Symphony provides a soundtrack of classical masterpieces and contemporary favorites. This fun and fascinating 45-minute concert designed especially for children 5-11. Pacific Symphony will be under the baton of Dr. Jacob Sustaita.

To learn more, please click here.

This video was produced by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Sundays at Soka: Percussion Concerto by Danny Elfman • April 24 at 3 p.m. PDT

Danny Elfman brings to Aliso Viejo the North American Premiere of a brand new percussion concerto, co-commissioned by Soka Performing Arts Center at Soka University and the London Philharmonic, performed by Colin Currie – as one critic put it, ‘surely the world’s finest and most daring percussionist’. Additional pieces include Golijov’s Last Round and Wineglass’ Alone Together. Pacific Symphony will be under the baton of Maestro Carl St.Clair.

The Percussion Concerto is co-commissioned by Soka University and the London Philharmonic.

To learn more, please click here.

Yang Plays Rachmaninoff • April 28-30 at 8 p.m. PDT

Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 is a work that leads you from gorgeous melodies to unforgettable themes, all without pause. Earlier in the evening, piano phenom Joyce Yang dazzles with Rachmaninoff’s tour-de-force of the keyboard, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. April is also a big month. Not only are we acknowledging Rachmaninoff’s birthday on April 1, Yang’s birthday is also on April 11. Pacific Symphony will be under the baton of guest conductor Maestro José Luis Gomez.

To learn more, please click here.

PSSS: It’s All About Strings! • April 30 at 1 p.m. PDT

Pacific Symphony Santiago Strings wraps up their 2021-22 season with a program of rousing and engaging works from many eras. From the ethereal beauty of Gerald Finzi to the brilliance and drama of Tchaikovsky, this program is sure to provide new and exciting musical vistas for all to enjoy! Admission is free, but tickets are required. Seating is general admission. Pacific Symphony Santiago Strings will be under the baton of Maestra Irene Kroesen.

To learn more, please click here.

What concert are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below!

Introducing Pacific Symphony Youth Concert Band

“I couldn’t be more delighted to welcome Angela into our Pacific Symphony ‘family’ as the newest member of our conducting ‘team.’ Having known Angela for over three decades, it has been wonderful observing her impressive career development. Her many accomplishments have distinguished her as one of the leading conductors and educators with middle school and high school aged musicians. There is no one more perfect than Angela to lead this new and exciting initiative in the Symphony’s Youth Ensembles Program.” –Music Director Carl St.Clair

Pacific Symphony Youth Concert Band Music Director Angela Woo.

In this their inaugural year, Pacific Symphony Youth Concert Band (PSYCB) is our newest addition to the PSYE family of ensembles. Founded in 2022 through the generous sponsorship and advocacy of Hans and Valerie Imhof and John and Elizabeth Stahr, PSYCB is led by award-winning music educator Angela Woo (pictured right), and benefits from the artistic guidance of Pacific Symphony Music Director Carl St.Clair.   

Representing middle schools throughout the SoCal region, PSYCB provides an experience that nurtures the confidence, poise and musical sensitivity of young musicians through the study and performance of outstanding concert band literature. PSYCB serves instrumentalists in grades 6 through 9 and is one of four Youth Ensemble programs offered by Pacific Symphony.  

Each season, students enjoy an interaction with Maestro Carl St.Clair, as well as interactions with guest artists and professional musicians of Pacific Symphony. Students also engage in an annual weekend retreat and are offered free and discounted tickets to Pacific Symphony performances throughout the concert season. 

PSYCB presents a two-concert series each season at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Rehearsals for PSYCB take place on Sundays from 5-7 p.m. at the University of California, Irvine. The ensemble season begins in August and ends in May of each year. Members are selected through annual auditions which take place in May. The deadline for audition submissions is May 6, 2022.

An alumna of the University of California, Los Angeles, Ms. Woo holds the degrees Bachelor of Arts in Music Education and Piano Performance, Master of Education, and Master of Fine Arts in Conducting. She also holds the Master of Arts in Educational Administration from California State University, Northridge. Prior to her appointment to John Adams Middle School in 1995, Ms. Woo was Director of Music at Corona del Mar High School in Orange County, California where she led the band, orchestra, choral, and jazz ensembles. She also served as conductor of the Santa Monica College Wind Ensemble during the 1995-96 season.

Ms. Woo is a staunch advocate for music education at all levels. She has been recognized and honored as the 2005 Santa Monica-Malibu District Teacher of the Year by the Santa Monica Rotary Club. In 2012, the John Philip Sousa National Foundation awarded Ms. Woo the Legion of Honor Laureate, honoring band directors with outstanding music programs. In 2019, the Education Through Music – Los Angeles Foundation presented Ms. Woo with its Shining Star Award which recognizes excellence in music education. Most recently in 2020, the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association honored Ms. Woo with its Gold Award in recognition of her long-time service to music education.

To learn more about our Pacific Symphony Youth Ensembles, please click here.