Pacific Symphony’s 40th Anniversary Gala Guests Relive The Glories Of The Disco Era

Event raises more than $1.5 million for the organization’s music and education programs

All Guest Photos By Ann Chatillon

All Guest Photos By Ann Chatillon

More than 400 guests found themselves transported to the heyday of the disco era for Pacific Symphony’s 40thAnniversary Gala. Time-traveling back to 1978, the year the orchestra was founded, gala-goers got into the festive spirit and dressed in fashionable disco evening wear for this splashy disco extravaganza.

The evening’s gala chairs—the dynamic duo of Ruth Ann Evans and husband, Symphony Board Member John Evans—along with the gala committee, designed an exciting evening on March 2 at the Hotel Irvine that sparkled with all the decadence and all-night fun at Pacific Symphony’s own iconic Studio 78: a recreation of New York’s legendary Studio 54 nightclub, the emblematic hot spot of ‘70s disco nightlife. The event raised more than $1.5 million for Pacific Symphony’s vast array of music and education programs.

(left to right) John Forsyte, President of the Pacific Symphony, Ellie Gordon, Mike Gordon and Music Director of the Pacific Symphony Carl St. Clair.

(left to right) John Forsyte, President of the Pacific Symphony, Ellie Gordon, Mike Gordon and Music Director of the Pacific Symphony Carl St. Clair.

Pacific Symphony President John Forsyte saluted the efforts of the co-chairs, saying “John and Ruth Ann are fantastic leaders for the Symphony. They were determined, imaginative and passionate about making this 40th Anniversary celebration one of our most memorable. They also recruited a fantastic committee. The décor, food, entertainment and celebratory elements were extremely well received.” He continued, “I can’t thank John and Ruth Ann enough for agreeing to chair this event for a second year in a row, but given their 30-plus year history with the Symphony, there is no couple more well-suited to take on the responsibility.” 

 Ruth Ann Evans commented that she and her husband John both “love Pacific Symphony and have been committed to its support for 32 seasons out of its 40-year history. John has been on the board since 1987 and is a past chairman; I’ve chaired two other Galas and three of the Symphony’s opening night events, because I find it to be creative and satisfying. This Gala was a fun and festive celebration of the Symphony’s Ruby Anniversary.” 

“We were gratified to be chairing the Gala again this year,” adds John Evans, the Symphony’s most-tenured board member. “For four decades, Pacific Symphony has been a cultural beacon of Orange County. We’re so pleased to be celebrating the Symphony’s 40 years of success.”

The reception got underway at 5 p.m., as guests walked the red carpet and were presented with their own Studio 78 “VIP passes,” while paparazzi’s flashbulbs bedazzled the glamorously attired arrivals. Once past the velvet rope, the VIP guests were greeted by aerialists and a champagne tower. An ABBA tribute band got guests in a dancing disco mood performing a mini-set with JT & Friends as a back-up band. The Symphony’s Gala brought to life all the excitement and glamor of an extravagant 70s disco scene with glimmering disco balls, mirrors, fog, balloons and spectacular lighting. Photo ops for guests included stepping into the cover of a 70s magazine or striking a pose in front of a larger-than-life disco ball.

Pacific Symphony Gala-01.jpg

To create a 70s vibe, a movie theater played clips and scores from ’70s blockbuster films like “The Godfather,” “Star Wars,” “Rocky” and “Jaws.” A Bette Midler impersonator and Liza Minelli lookalike entertained the crowd. Dancing roller skaters and disco-attired wait-staff served hors d’oeuvres that included such ’70s favorites as fondue, quiche and beef wellington. In addition to champagne, such vintage cocktails as piña coladas and negronis were served.

Dinner featured a bay shrimp cocktail on Boston lettuce with cognac sauce followed by Maine lobster bisque garnished with chives, jumbo lump crab and a cheese twist. The entrée served was a thick, juicy filet mignon with Morel mushroom sauce along with a twice-baked potato and spring vegetables. 

As dinner continued, an ensemble of Pacific Symphony musicians performed “Summer” from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” led by concertmaster Dennis Kim, who holds the Eleanor and Michael Gordon chair. A video tribute to the Gordons was played and John Forsyte presented the “Philanthropist of the Year” award to them. He commented, “It was so wonderful to have the musicians featured in Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons,’ and for Dennis Kim, our new concertmaster, to be the soloist. As we honored Mike and Ellie Gordon for their years of philanthropy and the endowment they provided to recruit and retain concertmasters, Dennis’ performance was very touching.”

President Forsyte went on to recognize six board chairs in attendance that night who were instrumental in steering Pacific Symphony from success to success, recognizing each one in turn while presenting a special medal commemorating their service: John Evans (1987-88), Doug Freeman (1998-2001), Mike Gordon (2001-04), John Stahr (2004-2006), John Daniels (2007-09), Sally Anderson (2009-13), Michael Kerr (2013-16), and the current board chair Joann Leatherby.

Carl St.Clair then invited students of the Pacific Symphony Santiago Strings program to the stage, where they performed “Por una cabeza,” a classic tango composed and made famous by Carlos Gardel and danced by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie “True Lies.” As guests concluded their meal on a sweet note with a dessert of brown butter chocolate chip cookie topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce, the exciting live auction got underway, which offered a tantalizing selection of extravagant items, travel packages and one-of-a-kind experiences.

Then, the cherry on the top of a delicious evening proved to be Fund-A-Dream, which began with a heart-tugging video on the Symphony’s numerous education programs and the many children they benefit. Paddles were back in action and the evening’s numbers soared. Altogether, the live auction raised $253,710, with Fund-a-Dream adding $389,000 to bring the auction totals to a whopping $642,710—all benefitting the Symphony’s outstanding programs. 

Pacific Symphony Gala-02.jpg

As the auction concluded, the party heated up. A John Travolta impersonator busted out some major disco moves while Bee Gees impersonator sang disco hits. Gala guests joined in, trying out their disco choreography on a dazzling “Saturday Night Fever”-inspired LED-lit dance floor. The spectacular evening wrapped up with guests dancing the night away, as the big band sounds of JT & Friends turned up the heat with more classic disco hits, performing hits by the Bee Gees, Donna Summer and more. At the conclusion of the evening, guests were treated to a box of delicious disco donuts to-go.