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Column: O.C. arts patrons travel north to honor Colburn School

The Colburn Gala Honoring Elizabeth Segerstrom
The Colburn Gala honoring, from left, Valery Gergiev, Elizabeth Segerstrom and Yasuhisa Toyota, was held at the Colburn School on Oct. 23 in Los Angeles.
(Photo by Ryan Miller)

The Colburn School of Los Angeles, arguably the premiere academy of classical music, opera and performing arts on the West Coast, held its annual gathering of formidable support Oct. 23 at its downtown campus opposite the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Honored at the concert and dinner were three remarkable cultural icons: Maestro Valery Gergiev, artistic and general director of the Mariinsky Theatre, sound engineer Yasuhisa Toyota, who designed the acoustics for Disney Hall, and arts patron Elizabeth Segerstrom, co-managing partner of South Coast Plaza and a significant supporter of the Colburn.

Each honoree received the Richard D. Colburn Award named for the late founder of the school, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

“Being here in front of the Colburn School makes me feel emotional, bringing back memories of the friendship my late husband, Henry Segerstrom, and I shared with Dick Colburn,” Segerstrom said. “Dick was a true visionary, inspired by big ideas and big projects. His eyes would light up at any possibility to save the world of music — and save the world through music.”


The grand evening on Grand Avenue served not only as a 20th anniversary bow, but also to herald the expansion of the Colburn to include a world-class concert hall of its own. It will be erected on an adjacent property and designed by acclaimed architect Frank Gehry, who designed the Disney Hall across the avenue and was on hand, arm in arm with his friend Segerstrom, for the celebration.

Co-chairing the gala evening were Carol Colburn Grigor and Murray Grigor joining Eva and Marc Stern. The crowd arrived at dusk for a cocktail reception in the open-air atrium of the Colburn punctuated by multiple sets of students performing classical orchestral selections.

Moving to Disney Hall, Colburn students, under the direction of guest conductor Gergiev, joined vocalists from the Atkins Young Artists Program Fellowship at the Mariinsky Theatre. It was nothing short of exhilarating and transformative, soaring to the heights designed by Gehry with the other-worldly sound provided by Toyota.

Pianist Dominic Cheli transfixed the audience. This young man was mesmerizing — his fingers were one with each key. Gifted vocalists Ekaterina Sannikova, Alexander Mikhailov, and Vladislav Kupriyanov also deserve a special nod.


As the concert concluded, guests of the Colburn journeyed back to the campus to find an elegant al fresco supper. It was in an area right off Grand that had been enclosed by tall, faux hedges. Looking up at surrounding buildings and a starlit black night sky, it was Manhattan in Southern California.

The honorary host committee included Frank and Berta Gehry, Plácido Domingo, Sel Kardan, Benjamin Millepied, Rosemarie Fall, Andrew Millstein, Elizabeth Redleaf, Anne Akido Meyers, Jason Subotky, Alyce de Roulet Williamson and Marilyn Ziering.

Spotted in the VIP crowd were several Orange County residents, including television anchor Maria Hall Brown, Caroline Jones of Cartier, Todd Quartararo of the Newport Beach Film Festival, Chris Gialanella of Angeleno magazine, Debra Gunn Downing of South Coast Plaza and entrepreneur R.J. Brandes.

Segerstrom summed up the evening poetically: “When I stand here and take it all in under the stars, it’s impossible not be in awe of Dick Colburn and Henry Segerstrom’s vision that Southern California would become one of the most significant art destinations in the world. That vision is now reality.”

B.W. COOK is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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