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Huntington Beach Symphony expects a ‘W’ with 10th anniversary performance

Huntington Beach Symphony expects a ‘W’ with 10th anniversary performance
Grant Sevdayan, the music director of the Huntington Beach Symphony Orchestra, plays the organ at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in in 2011. Sevdayan and the orchestra are celebrating their 10th anniversary with pieces by Richard Wagner, John Williams and Glenn Westcott. (File photo)

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Huntington Beach Symphony Orchestra is putting the spotlight on composers whose last names start with W.

German composer Richard Wagner is one. The prelude to his opera “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg” will kick off the concert on Sunday at the Academy for the Performing Arts theater on the Huntington Beach High School campus.

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The second is the more contemporary John Williams, who composed the scores for “Jurassic Park,” “Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and the “Star Wars” films.

The third, Glenn Wescott, is not so well known. Wescott is an 86-year-old Huntington Beach resident with a love of musical theater who has been composing music and writing lyrics since he was 12. He got the ear of orchestra Maestro Grant Sevdayan several years ago.

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“He has a very interesting, rare gift of writing simple, attractive melodies,” said Sevdayan, 62.

The “W” is not the only thing the three composers have in common. Their music also lends itself to more theatrical productions, the maestro said. The orchestra — which is expected to number about 60 for the “Wagner, Wescott, Williams” anniversary show — will be joined by the Clifton Dance Project from Huntington Beach and the Westminster Chorale.

Over the past decade, the Huntington Beach orchestra has led a nomadic existence, performing at the Robert B. Moore Theatre at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, the Mainstage Theater at Golden West College in Huntington Beach and at the Academy for the Performing Arts theater.

It’s an issue founder Sevdayan would like to see addressed with a permanent home.

“We have developed financially and artistically every year,” he said. “But now we are in a situation that without having the ambiance of a permanent theater or performing auditorium I don’t think we will grow further.”

He isn’t optimistic that will happen any time soon.

Dave Dominguez, Huntington Beach facilities and development manager, said the city has no plans for a performing arts center.

However, the high school auditorium is ideal for the theatrical aspects of the anniversary show, Sevdayan said. It has a space that can be used as an orchestra pit, which enhances the acoustics and allows other performers on the stage.

Following the Wagner opera prelude and the second and fourth movements from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, the nonprofit Westminster Chorale will sing as the orchestra performs Williams’ crowd-pleasing “Duel of the Fates” from “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” and “Battle of the Heroes,” the theme for “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.”

Then the mood will mellow as the orchestra plays three of Westcott’s calendar-based suites — “Winter Waltz,” “May Wine” and “December Decorations” — accompanied by about 25 dancers, ages 14 to 18, from the Clifton Dance Project.

The dancers will perform original choreography for the pieces, said Keith Clifton, director of the group.

“It was very unique, and my students and parents are thrilled and honored,” he said, adding that it’s the sixth year the group has partnered with the orchestra.

Westcott is a retired elementary school teacher and avid pianist. His first musical, “The Golden Knight,” was performed in 1962. He also wrote a satirical review, “little man in search of his serious side,” in 1966, based on sketches by Jules Feiffer.

He has been working with Sevdayan for the past several years to polish his music for this performance and others.

And now he is being featured in a show alongside such luminaries as Williams and Wagner.

“I’m very flattered and trying to maintain my balance,” he said with a laugh.

“I have been saying that all my music needs is the right pair of ears, and he has the right pair of ears,” Westcott said of the maestro.

Born in Armenia in the former Soviet Union, Sevdayan studied music theory, composition and piano there. After immigrating to the U.S. in 1987, he completed studies with honors in organ performance and orchestral conducting at USC. He has guest conducted concerts with Southland orchestras at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and Notre Dame in Paris.

He also plays organ and directs the choir at St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church in Huntington Beach, where a number of orchestra members, volunteers and board members attend.

Sevdayan’s family shares his love of music. Wife Victoria is a singer and teaches in the Los Angeles Unified School District. His three adult children will be performing with the orchestra Sunday. Jirair, the oldest son, plays trumpet. Son Armen plays piano and drums. Daughter Araxia plays guitar and piano.

Looking ahead, Sevdayan said he hopes to continue providing opportunities for trained musicians and even semi-amateurs and college students who are sometimes invited to play with them.

“It is amazing how many talented people have no place to play,” he said. “We are in a field where there are few opportunities.”

Not to mention giving people like Wescott a place to explore their creativity.

“It’s a nice thing to do,” Sevdayan said. “That’s what art is supposed to be about.”

If You Go

What: “Wagner, Westcott, Williams”

When: 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Academy for Performing Arts theater, Huntington Beach High School, 1905 Main St., Huntington Beach.

Cost: $22 before the show, $28 at the door. Students and seniors are $20 before the show and $25 at the door.

Information: WagHBSymphony.org.

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