An ebullient gathering of 325 ardent Pasadena Symphony and POPS supporters converged Saturday evening to celebrate the city’s treasured orchestra and to reconnect, in-person and surrounded by the beauty of Pasadena City Hall.
“City Hall was buzzing with joy, I have never seen our supporters have so much fun, there was an electricity in the air, everyone simply could not get enough of each other’s company,” said Pasadena Symphony and POPS Chief Executive Officer Lora Unger. “People were thrilled to be out, in a safe environment and were excited to help fund our reopening plans for the orchestra and our education programs.”
As is recent custom for the Moonlight Sonata, the black tie-doings began in City Hall’s courtyard among the low hedges and around the stately fountain where long disconnected friendships flourished anew.
As dusk fell the crowd moved to tables set up in Centennial Square in front of City Hall, accompanied by music performed by the Pasadena Youth Symphony Orchestras.
The program, ably emceed by iconic Los Angeles meteorologist Dallas Raines and his wife Dannie, heard greetings from Board of Directors President Reggie Wilson before a heartfelt welcome from CEO Unger.
The event then honored two longtime Pasadena Symphony Association supporters as outstanding luminaries – Artistic Luminary Polly Sweeney and Community Luminary Robert Michero.
Sweeney was honored for her contributions to the orchestral community of Los Angeles, and her visionary work for the Pasadena Symphony and POPS. She was celebrated by her daughter TV actress Alison Sweeney in a special video tribute.
Michero was recognized for his longtime Board service to the Pasadena Symphony Association and his charitable contributions to the Pasadena community. His daughter Darcey hosted a video salute to him.
“Our video tributes to our Luminaries, always [are especially memorable]. We take great care and pride to tell each honoree’s life story and to watch it on the big screens, having their loved ones speak about them — really just taking in the accomplishments of what makes a person’s life his/her life. It’s quite intimate and powerful,” Unger said.
“It is always a privilege to honor each year’s Luminary Award recipients, but it was especially emotional this year given what we have all been through. We are experiencing a renaissance of the arts and, collectively there is a shared commitment to not take these special moments for granted,” she continued.
Guests then enjoyed a sumptuous dinner courtesy of Parkway Grill.
Next the program got down to business with a live auction to power the Symphony and POPS’ ambitious agenda.
“We are committed to getting our youth back on track after losing a full academic year due to the pandemic. Right now, we’re leading the way by bringing students back to in-person, after school and in-classroom ensemble instruction, safely and at full capacity. Our dedicated musical professionals teach weekly instrumental curriculum to more than 600 students from 46 schools every year,” Unger told Pasadena Now shortly after the event.
That lofty plan is going to require an equally ambitious budget.
“To achieve this high level of service, especially with new health-related safety guidelines, we have had to double our education budget to fund a layered matrix of rehearsal schedules to adhere to social distancing protocols,” Under explained. “We also tripled our weekly schedules for conductors and coaches, doubled our small group sectionals for intimate 10:1 student to teacher ratios in order to get our students caught up on their musical proficiency.”
The audience responded, not only to the array of packages sold by auctioneer Jim Nye but to his calls for dollar amount donations of different amounts.
Unger watched and recalls it was a “moment of pride” to witness the ‘Fund the Future’ paddle raise, which raised substantial financial support.
“We are moving mountains getting our students back to in-person learning and our donors really stepped up this year to ensure we have the resources to meet the challenge,” she said.
To top off the elegant affair, legendary songstress Melissa Manchester performed an intimate set in an exclusive performance befitting an enchanted night that was all about music and community.
(For those who couldn’t attend, but want to support the Pasadena Symphony and POPS, donations can still be made at www.PasadenaSymphony-Pops.org )