Symphony in the Cities returns to O.C. parks

It’s that time of year again — time for the Pacific Symphony to reach out to the communities of Orange County and give back as a show of thanks with “Symphony in the Cities,”  free concerts performed in community parks. And the orchestra has had a lot to be thankful for after the season just concluded.

“We had an amazing year and accomplished amazing milestones,” said John Forsyte, president of the Pacific Symphony, which finished its 40th regular season with a trifecta of accomplishments: Its Carnegie Hall debut in April, its first China tour in May and its national TV debut on PBS in June.  “And we’ve experienced growth in all our community outreach programs as well.”

The orchestra has had hardly any time to catch its collective breath as it plunged into its summertime activities, which include its regular summer series (SummerFest) at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, having played with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – and now, Symphony in the Cities, which returns to its two most successful cities, Mission Viejo on Saturday and Irvine on Sunday.

“That’s one of our anchoring series,” said Forsyte, who helped initiate it shortly after his arrival to the Pacific Symphony almost two decades ago.  “It’s a way of reaching out, serving the public and increasing accessibility of the orchestra to the broader community: by providing a barrier-free opportunity for anyone to enjoy great orchestral music in a family-friendly environment, thereby building interest in the art form.  For many, this is their introduction to a large symphony orchestra.”

  • Audience members enjoy a performance by the Pacific Symphony during a Symphony in the Cities event. (Photo courtesy of Pacific Symphony)

  • Music Director Carl St.Clair conducts the Pacific Symphony at Mike Ward Community Park in Irvine, part of the annual Symphony in the Cities series.
    (File photo by Steven Georges, contributing photographer)

  • SoundThe gallery will resume inseconds
  • Kids participate in a drum circle before a Symphony in the Cities concert. (Photo courtesy of Pacific Symphony)

  • Music director Carl St.Clair teaches kids how to conduct before a Symphony in the Cities concert. (Photo courtesy of Pacific Symphony)

  • Dianne Seo, a flute player with the Pacific Symphony’s Wind Ensemble, left, works with kids during the Pacific Symphony’s Musical Playground at Mike Ward Community Park in Irvine in 2016. (File photo by Steven Georges, contributing photographer).

  • Soprano Chelsea Chaves will perform with the Pacific Symphony during its Symphony in the Cities concert this weekend. (Photo courtesy of Pacific Symphony)

  • Tenor Nicholas Preston will perform with the Pacific Symphony as part of its Symphony in the Cities concerts this weekend. (Photo courtesy of Pacific Symhony)

  • Carl St.Clair leads a group of kids as they help conduct the Pacific Symphony in Sousa’s Hands Across the Sea during a free concert at Mike Ward Community Park in Irvine. (File photo by Steven Georges, contributing photographer)



The goal for Symphony in the Cities, Forsyte said, is not to play in all 34 Orange County cities – some cities lack parks that can accommodate the large crowds the orchestra has come to expect with this series – but “to reach every region of the county, and to increase our offerings from (the current) two to four.”

The main event of Symphony in the Cities, of course, is the concert itself.  Although with different selections from year to year, the program remains the same in its basic “pops” set-up of shorter classical works (Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” Overture) interspersed with popular pieces from the stage and screen (“West Side Story” by Leonard Bernstein, whose centennial is next month).

Another regular feature of Symphony in the Cities is showcasing soloists, such as this year’s two, tenor Nicholas Preston and soprano Chelsea Chaves, both of whom previously collaborated with the orchestra.

“And we always honor our veterans,” Forsyte pointed out, mentioning the “Armed Forces Salute” played toward the end.

But the concert is not the entire “Symphony in the Cities.”  There is the pre-concert portion, where families can come early – 4 p.m. in Mission Viejo, 5:30 in Irvine — and take part in such activities as an instrument petting zoo, instrument-making – and a conducting clinic with music director Carl St. Clair.

“What never fails to amaze and impress me is how involved Carl is,” Forsyte said.  “He’s always wanted to do this. He really enjoys connecting with the children and their families. He’s so gifted and we’re so blessed to have someone of his caliber and international reputation be interacting with the kids.  He has a true affinity with them.”

Symphony in the Cities has been a huge success, having attracted as many as 5,000-plus in Mission Viejo, and more cities are asking about it, Forsyte said.

“Hopefully, we’ll be bringing the series to new communities in 2019,” he said.

Symphony in the Cities

With: The Pacific Symphony, Carl St. Clair, conductor; Alan Chapman, host; Chelsea Chaves, soprano; Nicholas Preston, tenor

Where: Norman P. Murray Community and Senior Center, Village Green, 24932 Veterans Way, Mission Viejo; Mike Ward Community Park, Woodbridge, 20 Lake Road, Irvine.

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, July 28 (Mission Viejo) with Prelude in the Park and Musical Playground at 4 p.m.; 7 p.m. Sunday, July 29 (Irvine) with Prelude in the Park and Triada at 5:30 p.m.


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