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Segerstrom Center for the Arts Dances into its 30th Anniversary

John Alexander

“A triumph of sophistication!”

Those were the words arts benefactor Elizabeth Segerstrom used to describe “Tour De Force III,” the international ballet extravaganza in Segerstrom Hall marking the launch of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ 30th anniversary celebration.

“I always feel so blessed, seeing the response of our audience – so well-trained after 30 years of Judy Morr bringing the best in dance to Orange County,” added Segerstrom, widow of center founder Henry Segerstrom, as she mingled with dance patrons and world-class ballet stars at Mastro’s, site of the post-performance party presented by South Coast Plaza. “I think my husband is watching from heaven saying, ‘Good job!’ ”

Observed Morr, executive vice president of the center: “We’ve just seen the best dancers in the world, like we always do. It may be 30 years, but it feels like a brand new day, a new center. We’re going to keep taking it to the heights!”

Ballet at the Barclay: World-class dancers also took the stage at the Irvine Barclay Theatre when Orange County’s resident professional ballet company, Festival Ballet Theatre, presented its ninth annual “Gala of the Stars” in Cheng Hall. Performing with Festival Ballet Theatre company dancers before a standing-room-only crowd were stars from San Francisco Ballet, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Staatsballett Berlin and Stuttgart Ballet. Festival Ballet Artistic Director Salwa Rizkalla,  who studied with masters of the Bolshoi and Kirov, called the evening “a night to savor – because it confirms that Orange County and our Southland Ballet Academy is producing world-class-quality dancers.”

Stagestruck: Philanthropists Bette and Wylie Aitken welcomed theater patrons to their Newport Beach home for cocktails by the sea, a prelude to the South Coast Repertory gala that traditionally kicks off Orange County’s social season. Themed “Stagestruck!,” the September event was highly theatrical, featuring vignettes from some of the venerable theater’s most memorable shows, complete with costumes and props. With a nod to social media, guests were invited to pose for selfies at the vignettes and then watch them appear on giant screens, part of the gala decor.

Stagestruck is a theme that trial lawyer Wylie Aitken can relate to, he said. “I studied theater in high school and college, starred in a few plays, and then I looked at the income of a starving actor and decided I’d be better off going to law school. Now, I appear before an audience of 12!”


Maestro creates his farewell season for Pacific Chorale

How does an artistic director/conductor go about creating a farewell season, after nearly a half-century at the helm?

With thoughtful sensitivity, when it’s John Alexander, who retires from conducting the internationally acclaimed Pacific Chorale – resident choir of Segerstrom Center for the Arts – at the conclusion of its 2016-17 season.

“I decided years ago that I wanted to program the Ralph Vaughan Williams ‘A Sea Symphony’ as my final concert,” at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall (May 13), Alexander explains. “I have loved this work all my life. I love the universal nature of it – one of England’s most wonderful composers setting music to a text composed by one of our most wonderful American poets, Walt Whitman.

“Used in this work, Whitman’s poetry compares the overall adventure of life to a great adventure of sailing on the high seas. It touches me deeply and personally as I embark on a new journey, retiring from my longtime leadership of the chorale.”

Alexander chose to open the season on October 30 with another of his favorites, Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis,” a piece the composer regarded as his greatest work, Alexander says. “This is one of the most technically difficult works of the chorale repertoire and Pacific Chorale is one of the few choirs in the nation that can sing it magnificently.”

For other season concerts, Alexander has chosen “sentimental favorites,” he says, “smaller works that I have performed with the Pacific Chorale” over the years. They include: “Carols by Candlelight” on December 3 at Our Lady Queen of the Angels church in Newport Beach; the family-oriented “Tis the Season!” on December 18 at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall; Mozart’s “Requiem,” on March 18 at the Musco Center for the Arts in Orange and “American Voices” on April 8 at the Meng Concert Hall in Fullerton.

Any post-season plans? “I am by no means retiring from my lifelong work in the wonderful world of chorale music,” he says. “I am looking forward to having the time to explore other opportunities and to accept invitations which I have not been able to accept in the past due to my intense schedule. I look to the future as a time of exploration of new ideas and new artistic endeavors, following the path of Walt Whitman’s beautiful poetry in the ‘Sea Symphony.’ ”

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