Polyester leisure suits were the fashion statement at Pacific Symphony’s 40th anniversary gala March 2 at Hotel Irvine. It was back to the 1970s era of disco for some 400 symphony patrons, who raised an impressive $1.5 million for education and music programs after a night of dancing to the music of the Bee Gees. The “Staying Alive” theme echoed throughout the crowd celebrating 40 years of growing and prospering and spreading amazing performances in Orange County.
The gala chairs of the grand evening were Ruth Ann Evans and her husband, John Evans. “John and I love Pacific Symphony and have been committed to its support for 32 seasons out of its 40-year history,” Ruth Ann Evans said. “John has been on the board since 1987 and is a past chairman. I have chaired two other galas and three opening nights for the symphony because I find it to be creative and satisfying.This gala is a wonderful, festive celebration of the Symphony’s Ruby Anniversary.”
Pacific Symphony President John Forsyte commended the Evans family for their leadership and dedication. “They were passionate about making this 40th year celebration one of our most memorable,” Forsyte said.
The party began with a red-carpet cocktail reception at dusk, unfolding in a set designed to resemble the symphony’s own iconic Studio 78, a recreation of New York’s former Studio 54. The crowd entered past faux paparazzi and was greeted by an ABBA tribute band. A champagne tower flowed, aerialists flew by and the obligatory glimmering mirrored disco ball reminded many of a long-past youth. Organizers even hired Liza Minelli and Bette Midler lookalikes to mingle with guests as disco-attired wait staff served hors d’oeuvres reminiscent of ’70s food favorites, such as cheese fondue, mini slices of quiche and beef Wellington.
Four hundred strong, the crowd streamed into the ballroom for a dinner that began with a bay shrimp cocktail on Boston lettuce, followed by a presentation of Main lobster bisque and an entrée of filet mignon in morel mushroom sauce.
Pacific Symphony musicians led by concertmaster Dennis Kim entertained throughout dinner. During the meal a video tribute was presented honoring Eleanor “Ellie” and Michael Gordon, who were named Philanthropists of the Year. The Gordons have served the symphony for decades, establishing an endowment to recruit and retain concertmasters, including Kim. Others recognized and honored on the 40th anniversary evening were former board chairs, including Doug Freeman, John Stahr, John Daniels, Sally Anderson, Michael Kerr, as well as John Evans and Michael Gordon. The current Symphony board chair, Joann Leatherby, was also lauded.
Pacific Symphony maestro Carl St.Clair bestowed his appreciation upon so many of the dedicated patrons in attendance, going table to table and personally thanking as many people with whom he could shake hands. As the dinner service concluded St.Clair invited students from the Pacific Symphony Santiago Strings Program for a rousing performance as a dessert of brown butter chocolate chip cookie topped with vanilla ice cream got the crowd in the proper mood for bidding on an auction. A John Travolta impersonator transitioned the audience from bidding to dancing as the big band sounds of JT & Friends performed familiar disco hits by Donna Summer, the Bee Gees and so many others.
Spotted in the crowd were David and Benicia Zeng, Ling and Charlie Zhang, Brandon and Melissa Mazzcavallo, Jaynine and Dave Warner and Leslie Seigel and Scott Seigel.