A classical 'Connection'

Grant Sevdayan founded the Huntington Beach Symphony to fill a vacuum in the local musical landscape.

Although the city offered a vibrant rock scene, Sevdayan also knew of formally trained classical musicians who were forced to stay home or drive 15 or 20 miles to find an orchestra.

"People now have the chance to play music and exercise their skills," said Sevdayan, a Torrance resident. "They are able to serve the community and feel important and inspired."

Taking its roots in a communitywide group that performed at events starting in 2006, the nonprofit orchestra was incorporated in 2009, said Sevdayan, 55.

The Huntington Beach Symphony is now getting amped up to perform at the Huntington Beach Library Theater at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. At "The French Connection," guests will be treated to renditions of luminaries including Claude Debussy, Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns, Christoph Gluck, Charles-Francois Gounod, Georges Bizet and Hector Berlioz.

"These pieces are written by the French or composers who lived in France for long enough to be considered representative of the culture," Sevdayan said. "Paris was an attractive place where a lot of people settled, whether from England, Germany or Italy. Our goal is to showcase the greatest music that was written by these composers."

Along with selections from Faust and Paul Dukas' "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," there will be French singing, Sevdayan said. The musical director and conductor said he hopes the audience will appreciate the "beauty of the language."

A part of the show is dedicated to Phyllis Janet Heckman, an 80-year-old Huntington Beach resident who died in March from pneumonia and congestive heart failure after a long battle.

"It was my idea to dedicate the performance to my grandma, and I'm so thankful the symphony is making that idea a reality," said Heckman's granddaughter, Danielle Janaé Leone, a musician with the symphony. "Although my grandma was too weak to be active with the symphony, she always supported my music endeavors. Because I knew I would be the flute soloist on Debussy's 'Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,' I knew the performance would be very personal for me. The moment I play this piece, I know my grandma will be listening."

Leone, 27, of Huntington Beach, has been playing music for 15 years. Most flute players study "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" from a young age, she explained, which adds to her thrill of playing it professionally.

"French music is my favorite to play," she said. "The musical sound and texture is so rich with great orchestration. Every instrument is used like a splash of color to make a beautiful work of art."

Being a part of the Huntington Beach Symphony has afforded Leone the opportunity to collaborate with "amazing singers, solo instrumentalists and even a magician."

Sevdayan is constantly hard at work behind the scene, providing musicians with sheet music and even CDs, she said.

Originally from Armenia, Sevdayan studied theory, composition and choral conducting at Yerevan State Conservatory. After immigrating to the United States in 1987, he completed a master's program in organ performance and orchestral conducting at USC.

Having served as a conductor for nearly 15 years, Sevdayan admits to an unending fascination with the art of conducting and how "sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."

"My take is that I help the musicians produce music in any way I can," he said. "It's a telepathic art. The way you move can make them nervous or help to relax them. My main goal is to help them do the best they can, as a group, as individuals, by providing extra confidence."

A believer in the power of inspiration and music, Sevdayan recalls naysayers warning him that it was nearly impossible to make a living with music.

"I managed to survive and make enough money to pay bills," he said. "And I'm happy."

Diane Bohl, who plays second violin under Sevdayan's baton, considers music more important than food.

A fan of the symphony's musicians and "well-planned rehearsals," she said she is really looking forward to playing in "The French Connection."

"I play in six other symphony orchestras, yet this performance has a definite feeling of connection with our audience," she said, expressing hope that the Huntington Beach Symphony doesn't follow suit with other troupes that have been shuttered.

"The arts are suffering today from lack of funding in these difficult economic times," she said. "Many orchestras have been lost. It is so important that we let the community of Huntington Beach and surrounding cities know [to] support this fine orchestra."

Sevdayan echoed the sentiment, adding that music positively affects the lives of youths.

"Music brings kids together and allows them to perform and present themselves," he said of the symphony, which frequently attracts participation from high school students. "Kids need inspiration and group activities, whether singing or playing in the orchestra. By learning the importance of creativity, expression and discipline, basically, they're learning to be good citizens."


Twitter: @RMahbubani

If You Go

What: Huntington Beach Symphony's "The French Connection"

Where: Huntington Beach Central Library, 7111 Talbert Ave.

When: 3:30 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $20 for adults; $25 at the door/ seniors and students enter for $18; $20 at the door

Information: (714) 274-5524 or http://www.hbsymphony.org

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