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Press Release


Jean Oelrich
Director of Marketing & Communications
(714) 876-2380

Exotic night of surprises! mesmerizing voyage to far east for Pacific Symphony's 2013 Gala extravaganza, "An Evening in China," raises $1.34 million!

May 15, 2013

From ancient treasures to modern splendors, Pacific Symphony’s 2013 Gala celebrated the best of China. More than 325 guests, all dressed in their Asian or black-tie finest, gathered to revel in “An Evening in China” and be entertained by the rich cultural offerings and fascinating, mysterious art forms of this country. Taking place Saturday, May 11, at the striking St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point, the important annual Symphony fund-raiser was not only one of the most anticipated social events of the season, but also raised more than $1.34 million for the Symphony’s artistic and education programs! This year’s event chairs were an imaginative trio of Symphony supporters—Hope Miller, Pat Podlich and Patricia Steinmann—who transformed the hotel into an enchanting wonderland and delivered an array of astonishing acts in Chinese art, music and dance. The evening culminated with a thrilling live auction, brimming with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, travel packages and exclusive luxury items.

In a stunning display of generosity, John Tu—whose band J.T. & Friends provided post-dinner entertainment for a third year in a row (generously underwritten by Tu) —replicated last year’s tremendous gesture by pledging to double the amount of money raised during the auction (up to $250,000) and giving an additional $100,000 to Fund-a-Need. Together, the numbers soared!

“I am delighted with the amazing success of the Pacific Symphony Gala,” enthuses Gala co-chair Podlich. “Thanks to the generosity of our guests and the amazing and philanthropic John Tu, we exceeded our financial goal! The beautiful evening was full of fun and surprises with unusual and fascinating entertainment, good food and capped off with dancing to fantastic music. It could not have been more enjoyable!”

The lavish ballroom—festooned in mango and tangerine lanterns and colorful kites and parasols—set the scene for an elegant cocktail reception that began at 5 p.m. Invited to mingle and sip cocktails, including champagne and lychee martinis with pomegranate vodka, while enjoying delectable appetizers, guests wound their way down the elegant staircase to find music wafting with the dulcimer-like sounds of a guzheng (long zichen) and a yangquin (butterfly harp). In another room, the sounds of a bamboo flute and erhu filled the air, as guests were awe-struck by the array of entertainment—from a stunning lion dancer to an intricate Chinese paper-cutting demonstration to a calligraphy artist (many guests taking home commemorative mementos of the beautiful writing) to stilt performers with brightly painted faces in traditional red Chinese attire. One more floor down in the courtyard, Kung-Fu masters created a spectacle on the grass, drawing the attention of a crowd of onlookers.

“Our Pacific Symphony Galas have always been amazing, and every year seems to surpass and astound!” says event co-chair Miller. “The St. Regis provided an exquisite backdrop for our ‘Evening in China’ theme. The event was full of exotic wonders and enjoyment for all our senses—decor, food, entertainment, including John Tu’s incredible dance band. One of the many highlights for me was the performance by the fantastic young pianist, Haochen Zhang. We are very thankful to all our supporters!”

As the dinner hour arrived, guests were ushered into the Pacific Ballroom, transformed into an exotic Chinese paradise, to savor a gourmet feast with a distinctly Asian flair. Mandarin- orange table linens and chair cushions lit up the room, and centerpieces were decked with orange and pink orchids surrounded by a sea of floating candles all aglow. Emcee for the evening, Celeste Den (from South Coast Repertory’s “Chinglish”) greeted everyone before Symphony President John Forsyte and Music Director Carl St.Clair took to the podium for welcoming comments, as guests dined on a compressed watermelon salad, a duo of beef filet and shrimp on a bed of faro, followed by “prosperity noodles,” prior to dessert, per Chinese tradition. Simultaneously, guests were treated to the mind-boggling illusionary art of mask changing, featuring Wei Qi Zhong, as well as an exquisite cultural dance by the Shin Dance Company. The dancers, dressed in gold and carrying red fans, performed a dramatic piece that fused Chinese fan and modern dance. The dance floor, illuminated with yellow and pink lighting, added to the exotic nature of the performance. Then, pianist Zhang played Blakirev’s enchanting Islamey (Oriental Fantasy) and Chopin’s Waltz in E flat Minor, Op 18, before the exhilarating live auction got underway. Led by auctioneer Jim Nye, paddles flew and eyes popped at some of the extraordinary packages up for bid—including a trip to London to attend a scoring session with film-composer James Newton Howard for Angelina Jolie’s new movie, “Maleficent,” a remake by Disney of “Sleeping Beauty.” The package went to Diane and Rodney Sawyer for $21,000. Erin and Henry Walker took home a winter getaway for eight to Cabo San Lucas that included all meals, golf and residency at the Sonenshine estate—for $12,500. For $16,000, Joann Leatherby purchased “The Gourmand’s California” and will be joining Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine & Cocktails executive chef, Yves Fournier, and Wahoo’s Fish Taco co-founder Wing Lam for a culinary adventure—a private dinner and wine pairings for 12, along with a wine education and history on some of California’s most esteemed wineries.

“Let us Entertain You” —a posh, private dinner and entertainment by The Barry Perkins Collective for the winning bidders and 25 lucky friends—went for $35,000 to Pat and Bill Podlich. Twenty-seven couples purchased (for $2,500 each) a private luncheon with acclaimed 18-year-old pianist Conrad Tao and Maestro St.Clair, while “The John Williams Experience” went to Jane and Richard Taylor for $17,500 and included Box Circle seats for six at the iconic film composer-conductor’s benefit concert, an exclusive backstage meet-and-greet with Williams, and a pre-concert dinner and wine pairing. “Take the Spotlight as Maestro” went to both Valerie and Barry Hon and Mary and John Tu for $13,000 (per couple), offering a chance for each to test their conducting skills on stage at a future Symphony concert.

Jane and Jim Driscoll’s winning bid of $11,000 purchased 24 side-by-side luxury seats at Angels Stadium for a game against the Chicago Cubs; four seats at Dodger Stadium; a luxury suite at an Anaheim Ducks game; four pit table seats with dinner and wine at a Symphony summer concert—and more. A South Coast Plaza (SCP) retail package featuring a made-to-measure suit from event sponsor Ermenegildo Zegna and other luxury gifts from SCP stores went to Sheila and Jim Peterson for $11,000. The evening drew to an end with a chocolate and fruit dessert and music from the popular dance band, J.T. & Friends, featuring a full string section, brass, woodwinds, keyboard, percussion and singers impersonating Lady Gaga, Rod Stewart and the Jersey Boys, who in their snazzy blue suits crooned, “New York, New York,” Walk like a Man” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry—for a grand ending to the evening.

“I think we achieved an authentic depiction of the Chinese culture, respecting the overall language, music and cultural traditions, and we had fun presenting them in a wonderful Southern California setting...mixing up everything with the music of John Tu,” says co-chair Steinmann, who adds, “Getting to see the Symphony family enjoying themselves was a delightful experience for me.