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Press Release


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

It was some enchanted evening when guests of Pacific Symphony’s 2016 gala enjoyed the beauty and wonder of a French Polynesian paradise while raising $1.3 million!

Orange County, Calif. — May 11, 2016

Principal Pops Conductor’s 25th Anniversary Gives Evening Special Celebratory Glow!

Gala 2016Straight off the imaginary jet and into the spellbinding world of tropical delights for Pacific Symphony’s 2016 gala, “Je t’aime Tahiti, Some Enchanted Evening,” 400 guests arrived to discover that they’d been magically transported to a lush Tahitian paradise. Taking place at the elegant Hotel Irvine, the lavish evening of South Pacific delicacies, jaw-dropping auction items and mesmerizing entertainment proved to be a huge success, raising a whopping $1.3 million (net!), all benefitting the Symphony’s artistic and education programs. Guests of the gala were treated to endless delights—starting with an exotically enchanting reception, before moving on to a magnificent gourmet dinner and post-party. The sentimental evening paid tribute to the Symphony’s beloved Principal Pops Conductor Richard Kaufman, celebrating his 25th anniversary with the orchestra.

Co-chaired by Joann Leatherby and Ginny Davies, this delightful and imaginative “Queen of the Pacific” fête was inspired by the heart of the Pacific, Tahiti. Taking place this past Saturday, May 7, the evening was a visual spectacle beginning with the guests themselves, colorfully dressed in either formal South Pacific fashion or black-tie (with bright adornments). From the moment they landed in the middle of a Tahitian dream, guests were pampered and treated to a very special night. Warmly greeted by Miss Tahiti 2014, in her flowing, off-the-shoulder floral-print gown and a necklace of traditional black Tahitian pearls, guests each received homemade, white-flower leis to wear around their necks.

“From the moment we walked in, music was in the air,” says co-chair Davies. “I loved the gorgeous staging, the music, the dancers, all the details. Most of all, people had a great time and felt part of our community.”

“I knew our event would be successful because we had all of the right pieces,” says co-chair Leatherby, “a roomful of generous guests, an inspiring theme, beautiful décor and spectacular entertainment.”

Guests meandered, taking in the sights of a cascading rock-waterfall, green palm fronds, white Tahitian Tiare flowers and an elegant candle displayGala 2016 of candles floating and glowing in cylindrical vases. While being entertained by the dance troupe O Tahiti E (wearing traditional costumes and singing and dancing Polynesian songs), guests sipped on blue and orange cocktails garnished with fresh pineapple and complemented by beef and chicken skewers. In one corner, models, dripping in stunning Tahitian-pearl jewelry, stood on pedestals for all to admire. All pearls on display—from those on the models to the exquisite “pearl show,” as well as those worn by top gala supporters—were provided by Hinerava, a Fine Tahitian pearl jeweler.

“The décor was stunningly beautiful, so reminiscent of the island of Tahiti,” says Leatherby. “The rooms even smelled of tropical flowers and vanilla. Combined with the beautiful Tahitian dancers, we really felt like we were in Polynesia!”

As the reception concluded, dancers ushered guests into the ballroom, framed by large palm trees and white draperies, bamboo walls and chairs. Teal-blue lighting gave the room the ambience of the ocean. The dazzling décor included tables adorned with centerpieces featuring birds-of-paradise flowers, foliage and candles. The striking blue color of the Tahitian sea flowed throughout and the ruffles on the deep-blue tablecloths rippled like ocean waves, providing the picturesque setting for a feast fit for the South Pacific.

Attendees enjoyed a menu created by the hotel’s new executive chef, Michael Beck, with cuisine featuring soy ginger braised beef short ribs and coconut curry seared diver scallops, mashed sweet potatoes, plantains, Chinese broccoli, bok choy and braising jus—to name a few of the mouth-watering delights. Entertainment began with a percussion quartet featuring Symphony musicians Robert Slack, Ken McGrath, Danielle Squyres and Justin DeHart. Symphony President John Forsyte greeted guests by saying, “We’re here to celebrate transforming people’s lives through the beauty of music.” He then thanked the Segerstrom Family Foundation for their generous and continuing support of the Classical Series.

Gala 2016The evening celebrated Maestro Kaufman’s 25 years with the Symphony (coincidentally on the occasion of his 21st wedding anniversary) by revisiting his career and Kaufman’s daughter Whitney sharing personal family stories exemplifying his kindness and generosity. Drawing a standing ovation from guests, a touched Kaufman told the room: “This orchestra has been one of the greatest blessings in my life.” Guests were then treated to a short production from the musical “South Pacific.” With a projection of the ocean covering the main stage, actors and singers performed scenes and romantic hit songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite.

“Highlights for me included the vignette from the musical, ‘South Pacific,’ and the beautiful, romantic and fun music,” says Leatherby. “ ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ and ‘Younger Than Springtime’ are two of the most beautiful love songs to come from musical theater. Add the mysterious sound of ‘Bali Hai’ and the fun and laughter of ‘There is Nothin’ Like a Dame’ and ‘I’m Going to Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair’—and our guests couldn’t help but smile!”

After dinner, the enticing live auction, led by Jim Nye, began and was brimming with extravagant items. Among the array of offerings, this year’s lucky guests had the opportunity to bid on luxury travel packages to Tahiti, Chicago, New York and Maui, an exclusive dinner with opera star Renée Fleming, stunning Tahitian Pearl jewelry, a dinner at Maestro’s and two chances to conduct at a Symphony Pops concert.

Among the top bids was $20,000 from Trish and John O’Donnell, who need to start planning for their grand trip to New York aboard a private jet, where they will enjoy performances by the New York Philharmonic, at The Metropolitan Opera and on Broadway. Diane and Rodney Sawyer will be heading to Tahiti (the real one!) for a stay at the gorgeous St. Regis Bora Bora Resort—thanks to their bid of $12,000. Other winners included co-chair Leatherby and her husband Greg Bates, who bid $16,000 for a tropical stay at the Mahalo Montage Maui in Hawaii; Charlie Zhang, who took home “The Royal Pearls” for $20,000; and Walkie Ray, whose $12,000 bid will soon have him packing for Chicago, where he will enjoy an expert-led tour of the city’s illustrious art and architecture. All together, the live auction raised $167,000!

Next up was Fund-a-Dream, which began with a heart-tugging video about the Symphony’s education programs. The action began with two sets of super-supporters, John and Mary Tu, announcing a $250,000 matching opportunity for gala guests, and Charlie and Lin Zhang saying they would donate whatever was needed to fill any gap left in the total raised—in order to reach the Tus’ full matching gift. The evening’s numbers soared!

Gala 2016The night finished with Polynesian dancers rousing guests onto the dance floor to gyrate to the tunes of the Symphony’s favorite band, J.T. & Friends, courtesy of Fund-a-Dream angel, Tu (who donated his services). Heating up the packed dance floor with a full orchestra and singers performing conga and salsa music, the band also played selections like “Mack the Knife” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.” Adding to the endless fun were celebrity impersonators, including Lady Gaga, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner and the Bee Gees. Eventually everyone went home—but not empty-handed—leaving with boxes of macaroons and wide smiles.

“It was absolutely worth the effort,” says Leatherby. “To see many of our long-time donors enjoying themselves along with lots of new supporters was so wonderful!”

“The success was due to an ideal partnership between staff and volunteers,” adds Davies, “and I am looking forward to our next Gala on May 6, 2017!”