Community: Students design gowns for philharmonic gala

Musical and visual treats await those attending the opening night gala of the Burbank Philharmonic Orchestra’s 24th concert season on Nov. 8 at the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena.

The program will feature “Les Preludes” by Liszt, “Violin Concerto” by Glazunov, “The White Peacock” by Griffes and “Francesca da Rimini” by Tchaikovsky.

“Fashion Meets the Phil” is the title for the evening as seven musicians will be wearing gowns created by students of the Fashion Design program at Woodbury University, said Steven Kerstein, music director/conductor.

This is the second consecutive year of this partnership. Kathryn Hagen, department chair, oversees the project, which is implemented by Karolyn Kiisel, professor of the Senior Collections class; Wayne Kastning, adjunct fashion design instructor; and Jared Gold, creative director.

The student designers came to the Ambassador Auditorium over the summer to take a tour and become familiar with the colors of the facility and the stage lighting. They were also introduced to the music on the program. The designers started working on their preliminary sketches in August and are now in the final weeks of construction.

Kerstein came up with the idea to provide musicians with garments that allow for the movements each instrument requires.

“What I’ve noticed over the years of conducting the philharmonic is that a lot of the gowns that these artists were bringing were hindering their performance instead of enhancing it,” he said.

In addition, sometimes the theme of the music conflicts with the style of the gowns that musicians’ wear, which can be distracting.

Karen Craig, a member of the philharmonic board of directors, made the connection with Woodbury University, and Professor Kiisel was a good fit for the project.

Kiisel has been teaching college-level fashion for more than 20 years. Her fashion collections have been sold internationally and her costume work has been seen widely on screen and stage including for the Mesopotamian Opera Company of New York City.

The marriage between design and music has benefited the students and the audience, Kerstein said. Students receive a real-life experience designing for a real person instead of a mannequin, and there is an additional visual stimulus for the audience with the designs as well as the beautiful architecture of the Ambassador Auditorium.

The move to the Ambassador from the Forest Lawn Hall of Liberty is for this concert only, to accommodate the growing audiences from Glendale and Pasadena, Kerstein said.

One of the musicians who will wear a custom-made gown is soloist Heidi Hatch, winner of the 2014 Hennings-Fischer Young Artists Competition. She will be featured on Glazunov’s “Violin Concerto.” Hatch is studying at the USC Thornton School of Music under a full merit scholarship.

She made her debut at age 11 with the Glendale Symphony Orchestra and performs with orchestras here and in Europe. She graduated from Glendale’s Lark Musical Conservatory at age 12, and is one of the youngest students ever admitted to Madrid’s Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofia.

The designers and musicians wearing their gowns will be recognized during intermission. The 8 p.m. concert is free and the Ambassador Auditorium is at 131 St. John St. in Pasadena. Parking in the structure is $10. There is very limited on-street parking.

JOYCE RUDOLPH can be contacted at