Director of Marketing & Communications
Pacific Symphony’s enchanting 2015 Gala showcasing Orange County’s best raises $1.6 million while celebrating much-loved Music Director Carl St.Clair’s 25th Anniversary
Orange County, Calif. — May 21, 2015
More than 400 guests dressed in their finest gathered on Saturday, May 16, to participate in one of Pacific Symphony’s most heartwarming galas to date, “Celebrating Carl St.Clair’s 25 Years in Orange County.” Honoring the beloved music director’s 25 years with the orchestra, the 2015 gala took place at the Hotel Irvine, where the sights, tastes and aromas of Orange County were center stage. Thanks to the vision of co-chairs Lynn Freeman and Ellie Gordon, the focus was also on fun and celebration, as guests arrived to revel in an OC classic: a beach party! Donning sunglasses and flip–flops, attendees engaged in friendly competition, playing games such as ultimate Frisbee and “Hang 10,” while sipping cocktails and enjoying a surf band rocking Beach Boys tunes. The evening transitioned into a memorable tribute to Maestro St.Clair as guests feasted in an enchanting orange grove. After an exciting live auction and generous “Fund-A-Dream,” Symphony musicians surprised the audience with a “flash mob” performance of Beethoven’s Ninth with a rock overlay, which led straight into the party tunes of JT & Friends.
“The highlights of the evening are hard to enumerate because there were so many,” says co-chair Gordon. “The enthusiasm and energy levels were high all night—from the moment everyone arrived to an outdoor California beach scene until the moment the ballroom opened and everyone saw how we’d turned the room into an orange orchard, complete with real orange trees they could smell and see! It was magic!
“Best of all, this was our most successful Gala in terms of money raised,” she continues.
“Our supporters came out in force to celebrate Carl’s 25 years with Pacific Symphony and we surpassed our goal, raising more than $1.6 million! The most important part of the evening, besides the friends that we made, was gaining the ability to carry on our education and community outreach programs, which are so central to the mission of the orchestra.”
The outdoor reception, which began at 5:30 p.m., brought the beach to the hotel. Lifeguards stood watch over guests as they tested their balance on the mechanical shark and the mobile surfboard. Ladies kicked off their heels to ride in their long gowns and play games with their fellas. Others lounged in hammocks and beach cabanas as they watched dogs chasing Frisbees. The sun shone brightly above in the usual Southern California fashion, as a brisk breeze cooled the air and guests nibbled on scrumptious appetizers that included avocado, crab and nori sushi hand rolls, grilled-peach pastries and the beach-favorite, fish-n-chips.
“It’s hard to say what was the most fun—watching one of our distinguished patrons dressed in a beautiful black tuxedo play our beach games on the lawn before dinner (including being thrown off the bucking mechanical shark) or the guests who stayed to dance to John Tu’s incredible 40-piece orchestra and 12 vocalists until they turned the lights out,” says co-chair Freeman.
”But for me, the highlight was listening to our orchestra and soloist perform a portion of the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, including the inspirational ‘Ode to Joy’ as never before performed. Breathtaking. Inspiring. The capstone of a perfect evening.”
As the dinner hour struck, guests were escorted past an elaborate sandcastle by a party of bikini-clad revelers. They continued beneath white-tulle canopies adorned with hanging candlelit bulbs, arriving to find a stunningly transformed grand dining hall. It exemplified another intrinsic aspect of Orange County’s history: the growth and export of oranges of the Irvine Company—a piece of history that gave the county its unique name. Lined with aromatic orange trees and filled with a complementary dim purple glow that enhanced the mood offered by the backdrop of a moonlit sky; the room resembled an upscale backyard fiesta. Then, dinner was served. To start, a romaine and butter leaf salad with white radishes, Fuji apples, almonds, and topped with a blood
orange vinaigrette. As the main entrée, a filet with jumbo prawns, mashed yams and squash shallots, and beuree blanc sprinkled with chive oil. For dessert, a delectable chocolate and banana dome with a caramel coulis had lips smacking.
During the extravagant meal, speeches and performances were given in honor of St.Clair. Friends of the maestro, including prominent musicians and composers such as André Watts, Yo-Yo Ma and Philip Glass, offered their congratulations through an endearing video montage. Symphony President John Forsyte gave a heartfelt speech thanking the multitude of supporters, as he spoke movingly about his long-lasting friendship with the music director. John Evans, a longtime member of the Symphony’s Board of Directors, offered a framed compilation of photos from St.Clair’s adventurous journey with the Symphony and with the community of Orange County. In return, St.Clair presented past board chairs with conducting batons before delivering his own inspiring speech. Justin Koga, a member of Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra, and his teacher, Lazlo Mezo, a Symphony cellist, serenaded the audience with a movement from Barriere’s Sonata X for Two Cellos.
The auction began with a symbol of the night: a single, juicy orange, with the starting bid at $1; it sold for $2,500, thanks to the generous offer of Pat and Bill Podlich. Amy and Steve Litchfield bid $14,000 on an extravagant getaway to Sin City with the “Viva Las Vegas” package, while the Zhao family bid a winning $10,000 to fly to London and spend time with James Newton Howard as he completes his score for the final “Hunger Games” film. Twenty parties bid a grand total of $57,000 to participate in a luncheon with the violinist Midori. Tahiti.com’s generous donation of a trip to Tahaa and Tetiaroa in their package “Polynesian Bliss” was auctioned for $18,000 to Diane and Rodney Sawyer. An adventure to Chicago with Michele and John Forsyte was shared by three couples, totaling $44,000. Bulgari offered a trip to Rome, including visits to their atelier, a private tour of the city and viewings of private Bulgari pieces, which was won by Joyce and Ron Hanson for $10,000. The prestigious position of maestro at a Symphony’s Pops concert sold for $10,000 (per couple) to both Marcia and John Cashion and Valerie and Barry Hon.
To conclude the bidding, a multitude of guests donated to the “Fund-A-Dream” cause. In
a stunning display of generosity, John and Mary Tu offered to match all donations up to $350,000. Charlie Zhang, Valerie and Hans Imhof, and David Tsuong and Betty Tu each gave generous donations of $50,000. Proceeds from these generous gifts amounted to $397,750, and with the match totaled $747,750. Overall, the evening accrued an astounding $1.6 million.
To top off the joyful evening, John Tu and his group of musicians drove the audience onto the dance floor with their rendition of the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” and Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance,” before tackling their interpretation of the Blues Brothers. Bopping around musical genres to please individual tastes, JT & Friends was an instant hit, and a worthy ending to a magical night.
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