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Pacific Symphony Launches New Concert Programs for Musician Innovation Grant

By: Jun. 20, 2015
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Orange County, Calif.-June 18, 2015-Inspired by the creative minds and unique backgrounds of its musicians, Pacific Symphony and its Board of Directors awarded four orchestra members with a "Musician Innovation Grant" totaling $20,000 to fund new artistic projects. The grant's purpose is to give musicians the opportunity for original expression, creativity and experimentation, with the goal of serving new communities and developing new or deeper interest in classical music. These four chamber music performances explore such diverse themes as obsession, synesthesia, suppressed musical treasures of the 20th century, as well as classical and Broadway music. Taking place from June through next season, each of the events is free or low-cost to attend and features a chamber ensemble of Symphony musicians and outside artistic collaborators. For more about these projects and Pacific Symphony, call (714) 755-5799 or visit

The inaugural event took place June 6, when Principal Second Violinist Bridget Dolkas curated "Obsession," an evening of passionate and emotionally charged music in partnership with Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (OCCCA) in Santa Ana. On June 17, First Violinist Dana Freeman used music to invoke memories with a program of classical and Broadway tunes for the senior residential community of Laguna Woods. And coming up on July 18 and 19 at the Symphony in the Cities concerts in Mission Viejo and Irvine, Second Violinist MarlaJoy Weisshaar presents "Synesthesia," a family-friendly program that illustrates the concept of experiencing multiple senses at once. In 2016, flute/piccolo Cynthia Ellis uncovers music from suppressed Jewish composers in "The Inextinguishable Project."

Symphony musicians mixed it up with DJs, video and art for an immersive concert experience entitled "Obsession" earlier this month during the opening night of OCCCA's exhibit "Moist" in downtown Santa Ana. Spearheaded by Dolkas, "Obsession" dealt with desire taken too far, as well as sexuality and sensuality in music and art. A three-part event, Symphony musicians Dolkas, violist Carolyn Riley, violinist Alice Wrate and flutist Benjamin Smolen, along with keyboardist Ruby Cheng-Goya and cellist Alex Greenbaum, first performed in the gallery. As guests viewed the artwork, musicians shared the space and played a range of music from the Renaissance period through today. Along with interludes crafted by DJ VFresh, the classical works included Dowland's "Lacrimae Antiqua," Ravel's "Bolero," Debussy's "Syrinx" for Solo Flute, Ysaÿe's Sonata No. 2 for Solo Violin (nicknamed "Obsession"), Bizet's "Habanera" from "Carmen" and Reich's Violin Phase, among others.

Video art was provided by the museum's executive director, Stephen Anderson, to help create a night of intense visual, emotional and aural stimulation. The musicians moved outside to the promenade for a more pop/rock take on "Obsession," which included Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" and Santana's "Evil Ways," as well as a new take on Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet." At the conclusion, OCCCA welcomed everyone back inside for an after-party with DJ Hapa.

"Music and art are often a reflection of the human condition," said Dolkas. "Desire is a part of that condition and obsession is taking desire too far, pushing it to the extreme. My vision was to create an emotion-provoking performance to show that classical music can be relevant, exciting and attractive. I already had the theme of obsession in mind when I discovered OCCCA's call for artwork for their exhibit 'Moist.' This performance was a thrilling combination of classical and contemporary music, DJ remixes and art in the gallery!"

OCCCA's exhibit, "Moist," features a call for visual art curated by Ginger Shulick Porcella that explores the intricacies of eroticism and desire through the mediums of painting, photography and video. The show continues through July 11. For more information, visit

For her project, violinist Freeman chose to offer a musical performance to the residents of Laguna Woods, an active retirement community in south Orange County. Co-presented by The Lovers of Music Club in Laguna Woods, "Pacific Symphony Quartet in the Village" recently took place mid-afternoon, when violinist Agnes Gottschewski, violist Adam Neeley and cellist Laszlo Mezo, along with Freeman and soprano Susan Kotses, visited Clubhouse 5 to perform a free concert of classical and Broadway favorites.

"With 18,000 residents, there were certain to many who enjoy music, and quite a few retired musicians and music teachers," says Freeman. "The program balanced serious string quartet repertoire with Broadway sing-along show tunes. We wanted the music to be accessible to a wide audience, while satisfying the discerning taste of the professional musicians present."

The ensemble performed string quartets by Mozart and Verdi, which are exciting and beautiful pieces and were familiar to some of those who love chamber music. In addition, Kotses led the audience in a sing-along of Broadway show tunes by George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington and Irving Berlin, as well as La Vie en Rose by Louiguy. After the concert, the musicians and audience socialized over refreshments.

Freeman has been involved with the Symphony's education and community engagement work for many years. She currently teaches elementary school students to play the violin through Santa Ana Strings, and previously, she performed in the "Music and Wellness" programs at the Orange County Rescue Mission and The Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. With an awareness of the benefits of music on people's health and well-being, she was encouraged to bring the power of music to the senior community in Laguna Woods.

"I have read many studies showing how valuable music is for brain development," said Freeman. "Music enhances and optimizes the brain. Language and singing are closely related in the brain, and the music enhances rhythm, meter and the melodic shape of language. I have admired the Laguna Woods community since I moved back to California in 1986. My friends who live there were very active with numerous clubs and sports, and their grandchildren had a hard time keeping up with them when they visited. So I've known for many years that retired people can stay young in a community like that, where their needs are met without restricting their freedom. I was thrilled to be sharing Pacific Symphony with these residents."

Violinist MarlaJoy Weisshaar showcases her project, "Synesthesia," on July 18 and 19 during the Musical Playground before the orchestra's Symphony in the Cities concerts in Mission Viejo and Irvine. Synesthesia, or the activation of one sense while another is being engaged (such as seeing colors while hearing music) is something Weisshaar experiences in her own life.

"Numbers, days of the week and months of the year are specific colors for me, as are some timbres of specific musical instruments and musical keys," she explains. "The fascinating thing about synesthesia is that it's unique to every individual who has it. And even if a person doesn't 'have it,' they can still consciously fuse two or more of their senses together to bring about a more meaningful experience. It can also add another dimension to one's experience in art or daily living."

Weisshaar is fascinated by synesthesia and the different ways the brain perceives its surroundings. She hopes to use this concept to help enhance how people hear and engage with music. The activity she has planned involves a seven-piece ensemble made up of the highest and lowest registers in each orchestral family: for the woodwinds, a flute and bassoon; for the brass family, a trumpet and trombone; and for the strings, a violin and cello. Participants listen to each musician perform and react to what they hear by choosing shapes and colors that correspond. By the end, they will walk away with an original "composition" in the form art that reflects how they interpreted the music. This event takes place before Symphony in the Cities, where the Symphony performs for the community in a park setting. For more information, visit

In 2016, violist Ellis brings a chamber concert featuring repressed voices, or great masterworks from composers whose music has been neglected due to political and geographical circumstances. The title of the concert, "The Inextinguishable Project," suggests that music cannot be extinguished, even under the harsh thumb of war and tyranny. An ensemble including violin, cello, flute, harp and piano brings light to composers who were suppressed during World War II such as Bohuslav Martinü and Theo Smit Sibinga. Bob Elias from The Orel Foundation, an organization founded by James Conlon and committed to rediscovering suppressed musical treasures of the 20th century, has been a consultant on this project. Ellis hopes that this eventfosters public interest for the concept of artistic freedom and its link to political turmoil in the past, present and future.

"I became passionately interested in composers who have not had the easy road-those whose artistic life was made more difficult due to geographical and political circumstances," describes Ellis. "The music of these composers has been neglected, not from lack of talent and beautiful musicianship, but due to unfortunate circumstances pertaining to war. My hope is that with this concert, those interested in Jewish heritage and the history of World War II and composers who have 'repressed voices' will discover some of the wonderful music that was written during this period."


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