Celebrations: Where to have the wedding

The Langham, courtesy of FotoNuova.

Pasadena is rich in possible venues for a memorable occasion

By Linda Fields Gold

Back when I was getting married, our moms called the church or synagogue, a hotel or the woman’s

club or country club, and they booked a date and everything else followed. The coordinator at the

venue had a list of photographers and caterers and where to order wedding invitations (which

came in a choice of either ecru or white and choice of two fonts ). And then you went to pick out

a dress at Robinson’s or Bullock’s or Hinshaw’s.
And that was that.

But things have changed.
Recently, I accompanied a group of young women about to get married on a “Pasadena Bride Tour,”

a trip designed to highlight just a few of the many prime locations for weddings and receptions.
There were four engaged ladies and three of them had a least one friend along as moral support.
We were 14 in all on the shuttle, including Aaron Gil of FotoNuova Photography and Laurel

Pellegrini and Chabeli Sanchez of P.S. and Associates Event Planning. Those three were the sponsors

and coordinators of our tour.

We met at FotoNuova in San Marino and set off for Pasadena’s Grande Dame, The Langham.

This hotel was purchased by Henry E. Huntington in 1908 and opened in 1911.
A few of the original hotel areas, with stained glass windows and carved, gilded ceilings and

magnificent chandeliers and crystal sconces, are still in use as are some original gardens.

And what is new is just as glorious (and posh).
Imagine a wedding in the peaceful Japanese Garden and a reception in the nearby elegant

and historic Georgian Ballroom, or choose the Horseshoe Garden, which allows an entrance 

 by the bride in a horse-drawn carriage — or even a small elephant.

The hotel offers wedding food and beverage packages for three elegant ballrooms that range

from $20,000 to $60,000, and can accommodate from 150 to 650 guests. In general,

luncheon receptions begin at $150 per guest, and dinner receptions at $200 per person,

although prices depend on the day of the week.

Off to Happy Trails Garden Catering (not to be confused with the song by Dale Evans).

This was an unexpected treat. We hopped off the bus and walked through a wrought

iron gate into a magical secret garden. A huge, Jack-in-the-Beanstalk tree was having a

new deck built around it. Owner Katherine Black was there to meet us and explain

possible options to use this strictly outdoor venue. She said that only one event per day

is booked, so that no one feels rushed.
At least two of the “brides” perked up at this more casual location. Rental starts around

$3,000, not including food or drinks. The catering would range from $100 to $120 per

guest, for up to 200 people.
Florist Amanda Claverie was there; she brought out a half dozen sample table decoration

choices, including a particularly stunning one with red roses, kale and peacock feathers.

On the way to our second-to-last stop, Aaron suggested that the bus take us past

Pasadena’s very photogenic and often photographed Spanish-inspired City Hall, completed

in 1927. He pointed out the fountain and balcony, both excellent photo spots.
We checked with the city and learned that a Pasadena resident can rent the courtyard

and rotunda is $310 an hour for a four-hour minimum. (Non-residents pay more.)

There is an hourly rate for set-up and clean up, $131. Do you need electrical outlets for anything —

perhaps a keyboard or CD player? That’s $121. Did you want the fountain on after 6 p.m. or

on a weekend? $186. Open restrooms are $215 (a security guard for the restrooms is determined

by current contract. Trash and recycling fees: $292. Security guard for when the restrooms

are in use – and they must be in use and open to the public if it is after normal business hour

s – is a four hour minimum, amount determined by contract.
An event/sound monitor, required from set-up to clean-up, $42 per hour. If you are thinking about

doing that charming ceremony where the bride and the groom use their separate candles to light 

 the one in the middle? You’ll need a separate Open Flame Permit from the Fire Department.

The cleaning/security deposit, $783.

If you are serving alcohol, there is a separate form to fill out, plus you must stop serving one hour

before the end of your event. Do not think about throwing rice at the bridal couple; but birdseed is OK.

Soon we were at Rococo Room on West Union Street, connected to the Cafe Santorini. This seemingly

traditional Italian restaurant actually has lots of choices for catering, not just from Italy, but also

nearby Mediterranean areas including Greece and North Africa. Weekend wedding receptions for

150 people can range from $3,000 to $7,000 food and beverage minimum. Add use of the mezzanine

for $750; a cash bar option starts at $1,000.
Our final stop was Pandora on Green, a 1908 building that has been newly renovated. This elegant

location, also associated with Cafe Santorini, has 15 custom hand-blown glass chandeliers from

Murano, Italy, and is a space that could have many different personalities. Weekend weddings require

a minimum of $6,000 to $15,000 food and beverage, plus $2,000 for a cash bar.

Other stops on the tour included Town and Country Event Rentals ($2,500 to $4,000 to rent tables,

chairs, linens, china, utensils and glassware for 150 guests) and the Blo-Out Lounge  for makeup and

hair ($145 for a bridal do and $145 for bridal airbrushed makeup, less for bridesmaids). But in five and

a half hours, the group couldn’t possibly cover all the wedding locations, nor the restaurants offerin

g catering.

One of the best-known Pasadena wedding locations, for example, is the Brookside Golf Course, which

is next to the Rose Bowl.
At Brookside, wedding packages start at $45 per person. A casual wedding can be held on the patio or grass.

There also are indoor rooms, ranging from a Mediterranean to Madrid, accommodating from 50 to 300 guests.


The Langham
1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave.
Jill Hilts, director of catering sales

Happy Trails Garden Catering
207 S. Fair Oaks
Katherine Black

Pasadena City Hall
100 N. Garfield Ave.
Public Works Department: 626-744-4195

The Rococo Room
70 W. Union St.
Pandora on Green
33 W. Green St.
Marc Hamilton

Brookside Golf Course
1133 N. Rosemont Ave.
Private Events Team, 626-577-4497, ext. 2


FotoNuova Photography
936 Huntington Drive, Suite E
San Marino

P.S. and Associates Event Planning
Chabeli Sanchez or Laurel Pellegrini


Town and Country
Distinctive Event Rentals and Services
523 S. Arroyo Parkway

Rosebud Floral Designer
Amanda Claverie

Blo-Out Lounge
62 N. Raymond Ave.

A timely tale of high-tech horror

Daniel Suarez of Pasadena is a New York Times best-selling author. His third book, “Kill Decision” is high-tech horror. Photo by Walt Mancini


(Dutton, $27)
Daniel Suarez

By Michelle J. Mills

It’s a hot, sunny day, but it’s cool and comfortable in best-selling author Daniel Suarez’s Pasadena living room.
Lucy, an oldish orange cat, strolls into the room and stops to sniff my ankle. It’s her duty: Lucy sat with Suarez hour after hour as he wrote and rewrote “Kill Decision” (Dutton, $27), so she is merely following up on the success of his labors.
“Kill Decision” is Suarez’ latest techno-thriller. The title is drawn from the military term for the sanction to use lethal force. In the book, Linda McKinney, a scientist studying African weaver ants, is saved from a drone attack by a Special Ops soldier known as Odin. She discovers her research has been stolen and used to power an army of autonomous drones by unknown forces. McKinney teams up with Odin to slow the destruction and uncover its source.
It might sound like science fiction, but the tale is steeped in reality. The proliferation of drones around the world inspired Suarez to write the book where he explores the idea of machines programmed to make the decision to kill human beings.
There are 50 nations currently making drones, Suarez notes, and people around the globe need to talk about this “before Pandora’s box is opened.”
“Increasingly, I’ve noticed that modern war is powered by data and I don’t hear a lot of people talking about that,” Suarez said. “The power of these systems to autonomously attack  concerns me. This is something that’s going to happen soon.”
Suarez identifies with the myrmecologist in “Kill Decision,” who learns in an excruciating way how science has tremendous power in the world. The McKinney character is intriguing because she has a pure quest for knowledge but her work is used for something that she never intended. The horror lies in the fact that, just as the drone systems copy McKinney’s ants, today’s computer systems, networks and software are mimicking the natural world.
Suarez did much research into top secret drone projects. He admits that he is obsessive when it comes to collecting information and regularly files interesting data in boxes. When he has an idea, he pulls out the appropriate file and sees where it may be of use.
“I will take a look at what’s known and then I will take a look at expanse technology, technologies that are known to exist, and I will combine them in devious ways.
“I’ll push that frontier back just a little, just go over the horizon and I’ll try to take what I know about (technology) and science and say, ‘what would I do? What’s missing here just to push it a little further?’
“I guess I have a knack for devious thinking,” Suarez said. “I don’t know what that says about me.”
It took 14 months to write “Kill Decision,” which Suarez says is not just a cautionary tale. It also explores “why we should not, as a democracy, empower machines to kill without human influence.”
Suarez believes that this not only presents ethical questions, but also harms government because it centralizes power. His biggest concern is that the topic is not being discussed and says it needs to be reviewed now so that the United States can be prepared to respond to an attack.
Suarez is originally from the East Coast. He wrote stories as a child and hoped to be a novelist. He was also interested in video games and technology, so he got involved with computer programming while studying English literature at the University of Delaware.
His first job out of college was writing “flap” copy for book covers. In 1988, his brother persuaded him to move to Los Angeles where Suarez went high tech — developing software for the defense, finance and entertainment industries.
“I realized early on that it was going to be a tough road if I just wanted to write novels,” Suarez said. “Very few people do that, so I went and had a whole other career for nearly 20 years doing tech. And suddenly I had plenty to write about.”
Suarez has been writing full-time for four years now. His wife Michelle has been instrumental in his career, handling the business end of things since the time he self-published his first book.
That first book was “Daemon,” an Internet doomsday scenario centered on a daemon, a computer program that runs in the background and is not under the direct control of an interactive user. It introduced a scary vision of a new world controlled by a computer program. “Daemon” was later picked up by publishing company Dutton and made the New York Times Best Seller list in February 2009.
In his follow up effort, “Freedom,” the Daemon is firmly in control, using a network of operatives determined to destroy civilization and rebuild it anew.
Suarez is currently working another book — a new story whose subject matter is being kept under wraps.

Young Latinas can find a better future at PCC conference

By Luis Torres

Getting young Latinas started on the right path to college and careers is
the goal of  an all-day conference scheduled for April 21 at Pasadena
City College.
More than 1,500 middle school and high school girls are expected
to attend the 18th annual Adelante Mujer Latina conference which is
organized by the nonprofit  Pasadena Youth Center. (Adelante Mujer
Latina translates to “Go Forward, Latin Woman.”)
“We expect will have the largest attendance of girls in the history
 of the event,” said PYC executive director Stella Murga. She said
young women will be able to participate in a number of workshops
led by professional Latinas in such fields as law, medicine, science,
theater, music and education.
“These workshops give girls a chance to hear first-hand about
professional careers from successful women who will give them
guidance about how they achieved success and about the many
opportunities available to them,” she said.
Students from the San Gabriel Valley and throughout Los Angeles
County will get advice and encouragement about how to prepare
for college and how to take the necessary steps to pursue
fulfilling careers.
“It’s important for students to start early, to know which
courses to take to prepare them to apply to college,” said Murga.
“And this conference does a great job of providing that for them,
among other things.”
More than one hundred women representing a variety of fields
 will conduct workshops.
“These professional women serve as role models for young Latinas
 and give them a good idea of what steps they have to take to
reach their professional goals,”  Murga said.
 “We’re very grateful to the professional women who volunteer
their time to give the  girls encouragement and direction. It
can make a big difference in a young girl’s life.”
Among those participating at this year’s conference will be
Noramay Cadena, an MIT-trained mechanical engineer who is an
executive at Boeing in El Segundo. She’ll be one of the keynote speakers.
She has volunteered at previous conferences and is a longtime
supporter of Adelante. She says she herself benefited from conferences
such as this when she was in high school in the San Fernando
Valley, giving her the kind of direction and motivation she needed.
Hers is a rather remarkable personal story. Cadena was a teenaged
single mom when she  was accepted to the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology. She took her 1-year-old daughter with her to the
Boston area and applied herself equally to her studies
 and to her responsibilities as a young mother.
“It took a lot of balancing and a lot of discipline,” she said.
She earned a bachelor’s  degree and two master’s degrees at MIT. She
will share her experiences with the students  at the conference.
“That is extremely important,” Cadena said. “My career wouldn’t be
what it is without the help of people who were willing to come back
to the community and share their experiences and pull us forward.”
And education is the key, she said.
“One of my messages to the girls will be that when we go out and
get educated, it’s not just a personal benefit but also a family
benefit and a community benefit as well.”
Also participating in the conference will be Karina Ortiz, a
Cal Poly Pomona student from La Cañada Flintridge. Ortiz plans
to eventually go to law school; she attended several Adelante
conferences while in in high school.
“That really motivated me to pursue higher education,” she said.
“The help and encouragement you get is very, very helpful to
young Latinas – I think this can be a life-changing event.
“From these women at the workshops, you learn what obstacles
they had to overcome and how they did that, and you get the
sense that ‘I am not alone and I can really achieve
 my dreams.’”
More information about the conference can be obtained by
contacting the Pasadena Youth  Center at pasadenayouthcenter.org.

David Bryan Russell draws history to life

A view of illustrations by David Bryan Russell for the "Red Tails" storyboard.

If you enjoyed the action in the recent film, “Red Tails,” about the valiant Tuskegee Airmen, you should thank David Bryan Russell. Russell is a storyboard artist, who has worked on movies, such as “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “Master and Commander,” “Batman,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “The Color Purple,” as well as in television and computer games.

Illustrator David Bryan Russell lived in Pasadena and created the storyboards for the film, "Red Tails."

A storyboard artist works with the director of a film to create the first visual roadmap of the project. The director uses what the artist has gleaned from the script as a shooting guide or inspiration to combine with his own ideas.

“There are times when you are directing on paper as a storyboard artist, the director has enough confidence in your ability and your understanding of the script to give you very basic information about a particular sequence and then you are designing that sequence with no further input,” Russell said.

In 2008, George Lucas was preparing to bring the years-long dream of “Red Tails,” a story about the African American pilots who fought in World War II, to fruition. He tapped Russell to storyboard the projects, as Lucas was aware that Russell’s father, James C. Russell, was a decorated Tuskegee Airman. David Russell had grown up in Altadena and Pasadena hearing his dad’s stories about the art of flying, which aided in the technical aspects of drawing the movie’s action sequences.

“It was a very moving experience because it allowed me to fly several miles in my father’s shoes,” Russell said.

David Bryan Russell's father, James C. Russell, center, was a Tuskegee Airman in 1944.

But with the tales of the planes, Russell’s dad, like many men of his era, kept mum on other experiences as part of the 332nd unit. Though the men were just as willing to fight for their country as other Americans, they were subjected to racism. The airmen made a pact of sorts to not discuss the hatred they had encountered as to avoid making their children unpatriotic.

“They were true patriots and I think they had a better understanding of what it meant to be American than a lot of mainstream Americans at the time,” Russell said.

After the war, most of the African-American men of the 332nd were denied jobs in the aerospace industry because black pilots were not being hired at that time, Russell said. Among them was Russell’s father, who never flew again.

“At the same time, because of the confidence and the strength these men had developed during the course of the war and their experiences, many of them went on to become civic, business and political leaders and many became very active in the Civil Rights Movement,” Russell said.

“In that sense, we all stand on shoulders of the giants that preceeded us. They converted that negative energy into an enormous positive and made American society stronger because of it and were noble enough to stay quiet about the suffering they had endured for a very long time.”

Russell is currently living in Australia and designing covers for 21 ebooks by science fiction author Jack Vance, as well as illustrating a young adult/children’s book about a space journey. He is also an author. Russell’s contemporary fantasy adventure, “Enchanters: Glys of Myradelle” (Freya Publishing) was originally released in 2006 in hardback and is now available as an ebook. For more information on David Russell and his work, visit www.dynamicimagesdr.com and www.davidbryanrussell.com

– Michelle J. Mills

SOUNDS OF INSPIRATION: Los Angeles Children’s Chorus

“As long as we live, there is never enough singing,” – Martin Luther King Jr.

As the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus celebrates its 25th anniversary, it continues to lift up the purest of voices with love and a devotion to spreading the beauty of music.
“If a country loses the voices of its children, it loses quite a lot,” says Anne Tomlinson, who is celebrating her 15th year as artistic director of LACC. “I’m grateful it’s survived not only for the community but society at large. We put a lot of emphasis on the children and the decisions we make is in their best interest.”

(Photos by Sarah Reingewirtz)

The nonprofit is recognized worldwide as one of the best children’s chorus. The group performs each season throughout the country, working with many prestigious ensembles such as Los Angeles Philharmonic, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Pasadena Symphony and more.
Among its many accolades and accomplishments, the choral group was also featured in the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Sing!” that chronicled a year in the life of the choir. Filmmakers Freida Lee Mock and Jessica Sanders revisited LACC with their sequel documentary, “Sing Opera!”, while Mock released a third LACC documentary, “Sing China!,” in 2010.
Tomlinson has been a key figure in helping to continue the focus of the choral group but it was her predecessor who began the magic. Having a musical education background and a passion for teaching music to children, Rebecca Thompson was the ideal person to begin this great endeavor, whether she knew it at the time or not.
“One of the most inspiring sounds I’ve ever known is children’s voices,” says Thompson, currently the director of a choristers guild institute in the East Coast. “I don’t think I could live without their beautiful sound.”
In 1985, Thompson, wife of Pasadena Presbyterian Church’s then-Senior Pastor Dean Thompson, brought together children from the church’s chorister choir and All Saints Church Children’s Choir to form a small ensemble.
Her vision for a children’s group that would support and nurture young souls through singing began when William Hall, former music director at Pasadena Presbyterian, asked Thompson to prepare the children for a special performance. With the help of Stephanie Naife and Polytechnic School, where Thompson taught for many years, the performance inspired the church and community. Not long after, the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus was formed. While it is now a self-contained group, it continues to rehearse at Pasadena Presbyterian Church.
“From the beginning, we wanted to nurture the artistic side of the child. Teach them to appreciate the beauty that is possible with music – we’ve done that,” says Thompson.
LACC is open to all children from Pasadena and beyond and is tuition-based, though scholarships are offered. About 20 percent of choristers currently in the program are on full or partial scholarships.
“So many arts programs for children were deleted from educational environments,” says Tomlinson. “This program, and many others like it, were begun to answer this very issue. So many people banded together to ensure we would not lose the voices of our children in this country. It’s really been a remarkable effort. It’s made a profound impact.”

LACC has affected the lives of thousands of children since its inception, as well as touched the hearts and souls of many that hear its sound.
“I sang in other productions but LACC took me to a new level. I love the musical aspect of it,” says 13-year-old Caleb Glickman of  Sherman Oaks, a fourth-year chorister who will attend Hamilton Music Academy this fall. “Music is the biggest part of my life. That’s what I want to do but I’m not sure yet how or in what (capacity).”
Abby Rosen of La Cañada is in her fifth year at LACC and first in concert choir. She is following in the footsteps of her older brother who was also in LACC.  ”Every time I come to rehearsal, we’re just here making music and I have this feeling of just doing what I love,” says the 13-year-old. “(Tomlinson) is fantastic. She puts in so much work. I would not be here without her guidance.”
Jacqui Santoni, 17, agrees. “Mrs. T. is different than the other conductors. She gets to know us well. She takes countless hours learning all our parts to help us properly,” she says.
During rehearsal for the summer tour, one can sense the devotion and mutual respect the choristers have with Tomlinson and their fellow choristers.
“The way the staff interacts with the children and the community – the word that come to mind is grace. There’s so much grace in every molecule,” says David Scheidemantle, LACC board chairman.
The Pasadena father of two choristers says he has first-hand experience with the effect LACC has on people.
“You see it in the way people (in the audience) react when they hear them perform. People stop and stare. Some people get overwhelmed by it,” says Scheidemantle. “During a China tour a few years ago, I had the opportunity to perform with them, (playing the violin). It was really an amazing experience being surrounded by the sound.”
Tomlinson has received many accolades and awards, including the 2000 Gold Crown Award for Music Education, given by the Pasadena Arts Council; the 2001 Power of One Award, given by the Facing History and Ourselves Foundation; and the 2006 Educator of the Year Award given by the Harvard-Radcliffe Club of Southern California.
But for Tomlinson, who is also the children’s chorus mistress for LA Opera, the ultimate award is something not easily grasped.
“Seeing a child come into this, seeing when that light goes on in their eyes, when they know they’ve accomplished and achieved something, seeing a child enriched by this program — that’s the greatest delight of my job,” says Tomlinson.

The beginning for any LACC chorister is with auditions held every year. And every step from there is made to ensure each chorister is given all the experiences to help them grow and enrich their lives with music.
About 100 to 125 children from throughout Southern California audition each year to enter the chorus group. There are about 40 to 50 new students accepted each season, depending on the openings.
LACC’s First Experiences in Music program helps children ages 6 and 7 prepare for the auditions and their future in LACC.
Once a child is accepted and placed in a choir, the hard work and training begins. Choristers meet weekly or bi-weekly for rehearsals from September through May. They learn to sing and gain a deeper understanding and comprehension for music and the choral art.
LACC’s choirs include Concert, Chamber Singers, Intermediate, Apprentice, Preparatory and Young Men’s Ensemble, which was created for young men whose changing voices no longer fit perfectly with the usual treble choir repertoire.
The repertoire covers a wide range of music from classical works to art songs and folk songs from around the world. Children are placed in the choirs based on their skill level and experience, not age. Each year they are reevaluated and can advance. Choristers also receive individual vocal coaching and take musicianship classes.

On a local level, LACC dedicates its outreach within the community with performances for retirement homes, community centers, public schools and various civic groups each season.
But touring is another important aspect for LACC. The concert choir’s touring ensemble has performed throughout the United States and some parts of Canada, as well as in China, Great Britain, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Brazil, Australia and more.
More than 40 choristers in the touring ensemble visited the East Coast this summer with stops in New Jersey, New York City and Washington, D.C. The tour included visits with other choirs and a special performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Independence Day.
The group has learned various cultural pieces and choral works in a variety of languages throughout the years.
“Last year we went to Scandinavia, it was amazing. We learned an Estonian piece. It’s really beautiful. It’s fun to learn different cultural pieces,” says Caleb Glickman, 13 of  Sherman Oaks, a fourth-year chorister.
Jacqui Santoni, 17 of Claremont, the only chorister completing 10 years in the upcoming season, says her first year at LACC was hard work. She almost quit but was inspired by something her conductor at the time says of learning the language of music.
“She says if you sing, it’s an international language, you can speak to anyone,” says Santoni. “I thought that was cool.”
The soon-to-be high school senior says she has sung in African, French, German, Latin, Spanish, Persian, Brazilian, Chinese, Swahili, Finnish, Swedish, Yiddish, Hebrew and Estonian, and learned to sing in Elvish for a “Lord of the Rings” performance.
“This last year is going to be bittersweet,” she says. “I’m going to give it all I got.”

— Claudia S. Palma


“Getting to know you, getting to know all about you” – the words may be the legendary Oscar Hammerstein’s, but the sentiments are from the legendary Marvin Hamlisch as he takes up the principal conductor’s baton at the Pasadena Pops orchestra.
“The first thing is to introduce me, and the audience getting to know me, mostly — it’s my hello to everyone in Pasadena,” Hamlisch says, reflecting on conducting his first Pops concert series at the Rose Bowl this summer.
His introduction came with “Marvin Does Marvin,” a program of his signature themes and compositions on July 23, followed Aug. 6 by “Marvin Does Broadway” and “Marvin Does Movies” on Aug. 27.
That’s a lot of Marvin.
But, says Hamlisch — one of only two people to have racked up an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Grammy, a Golden Globe, a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize — it’s his “calling card,” a way of getting a feel for what his audience responds to.
“I’m not looking to the podium to push my music,” says Hamlisch, the composer of more than 40 movie scores.
Among his hits are the Oscar-winning score and song for “The Way We Were,” starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, and adaptation of Scott Joplin’s ragtime music for “The Sting,” with Redford and Paul Newman — filmed partly in Pasadena — which earned him a third Oscar.
What he is looking for, Hamlisch says, is the chance to give audiences a good time, with good music and good fun.
“It’s a vitally important part of the draw of this kind of music,” Hamlisch says of the Pops format. “It reminds you of seeing a show, or hearing music on the radio or TV, and it should be very family oriented. I hope children will come. And one thing I like to do is talk to people in the audience.”
The concert offerings are structured, but there’s always room for the unexpected, he says, and he does enjoy interacting with audiences — he’s famously able to improvise songs from titles suggested by the crowd.
“Nothing’s 100 percent totally planned — there’s enough leeway to have the enjoyment factor, something happens, something interesting, whatever it is, to make it enjoyable.”
Hamlisch, who lives in New York City, made his first-ever visit to Pasadena to be feted at City Hall in November after being hired to conduct the Pops.
His arrival came after last August’s abrupt departure of Rachael Worby after 10 years. He added the Pasadena gig to his posts as principal pops conductor for the National Symphony Orchestra and the symphony orchestras of Pittsburgh, Colorado, Milwaukee, Seattle and San Diego.
The Hamlisch name has added some luster to the Pasadena Pops, which, with the Pasadena Symphony, has struggled to rebuild the orchestras’ joint finances after a rocky few years.
Hamlisch says he hopes his signature approach to the American Song Book will please the fans and bring in new audiences.
“Hopefully, down the line, we will be having guest stars,” he says. “There’s a lot of wonderful people with great talent out there and I hope to grab them.”
His crowded schedule allows for two rehearsals before each performance, so the quality of the musicians is key.
“The beauty of having this great orchestra playing this music is a tremendous plus,” he says. “A really good orchestra knows how to rehearse whether it’s familiar to them or not. They’re such good sight readers it becomes their own.”
Wonderful music in an open-air setting, and a few surprises along the way, is the promise, Hamlisch says.
“There’s great expectations,” he says of taking on the Pasadena Pops. “I’m going to do my best. I don’t know if it will be a success, we’ll see what happens. I’ll be thrilled if it works, and disappointed if it doesn’t. But I’m walking into this confident, and looking to give it my best shot.”

— Janette Williams

PULLING THE STRINGS: Pasadena Symphony and Pops

By Janette Williams
Even as a kid, running the streets of his hard scrabble Baltimore neighborhood, Paul Jan Zdunek showed the hard-headed creative touch he brought to Pasadena in 2008 as a 41-year-old whiz kid hired to save the teetering Pasadena Symphony.
“Anything to make a buck,” he says of those days, growing up with a single mom who tolerated him running Halloween haunted houses at their home, “churning out fry bread” in her kitchen to sell to neighbors, and hawking his “art” – which he describes as watercolors on 8-by-11-inch pieces of paper – round the neighborhood.
It wasn’t until he was 12, and he was asked to join a boys’ choir, that Zdunek says he found in himself a musical side to equal that entrepreneurial spirit.
“From running in the streets, I went to singing Beethoven and Mozart,” Zdunek says. “I saw this whole world, the Baltimore Symphony, the opera – I didn’t know that world existed. It was an eye-opening experience.”
He went on to play piano, get a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from the Cleveland Institute of Music, a bachelor’s degree in composition from the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University and a Certificat d’Etudes in composition and conducting from the American Conservatory in France.
Still, he says, the 10-year career he built as an artistic director and conductor of the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies, executive and artistic director of the Greater Baltimore Youth Orchestra and executive director/founder of the Young Artists Concert Series didn’t check all the boxes.
“When I was conducting, I always had this business itch,” Zdunek says.
“It always drove me, that I was given this opportunity. And as I got older I could see there was always this drive, especially on the side with administration, fundraising, ticket sales and letting people out there know – people like me who don’t realize what’s is in their backyard.”
Now, he says, in leading the Pasadena Symphony and Pops orchestras, he’s found the career balance between his business and artistic sides.
When Zdunek arrived as a crisis-management consultant in 2008, the combined “Orchestras of Pasadena” (as it was called then) faced a financial crisis that threatened their survival.
Zdunek was coming off a five-year stint in Modesto, credited with putting its orchestra on a sound financial and artistic footing after a nine-month musicians strike that decimated audiences, angered audiences and fractured the community.
At the time, he says, Pasadena’s situation was even worse.
The orchestras’ endowment had shrunk, audiences were wary and confused after the cancellation of some 2008 season concerts, and public support was in question.
Between then and now, he says, there’s “absolutely no comparison.”
“Even using the cliché “180-degree turn” seems not to really do it justice. Rome was burning when I first arrived, and now we’ve put out the fire,” he jokes.
“But, all kidding aside, we’ve weathered the storm and built a brand new culture, a culture that’s sustainable, that isn’t something that’s just fixed for the short term,” he says. “I think that’s something people have been watching us for.”
Since 2008, he says, the orchestras have been restructuring the organization and digging out of a financial hole.
“We’ve paid all our debtors, $1.2 million in back payables, and we did that all while producing our current season. We’re current on all our bills. It’s a totally different atmosphere – we’re not wondering if tomorrow, we’ll be here or not.”
Still, he says, change hasn’t come without criticism and “pockets” of resentment.
The abrupt departures of popular longtime music directors Jorge Mester and Rachael Worby, board-member resignations and staff layoffs came under his watch.
“Across the board, people don’t like change, but they want everything to be fixed and better and, again, those people have not stayed with us,” he says. “I think there was also a group that was very fearful and upset about some changes we had to make and the experience we went through, but realized it was OK, and in some cases it was better, before accepting it as the new norm.”
Making “dramatic change in a short amount of time” has brought both praise and criticism, Zdunek says, but he’s been complimented on making an honest appraisal of what he saw wrong with the organization.
“But it’s not really about me, that’s been one of the misperceptions, and one of the successes of this organization has been board leadership,” Zdunek says.
“They really pulled it all together collectively … what’s best for this organization, putting together the recovery plan. It’s been a group decision to move on and make all these changes, large and small. It’s the group that’s been driving this.”
Most recently, the symphony brought James DePreist on board as artistic director and recruited Marvin Hamlisch to conduct the Pops.
The symphony’s first season at the fabled Ambassador Auditorium — after years at the 3,000-seat Pasadena Civic Auditorium — just ended; and next year’s Pops season will move from the Rose Bowl to debut at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia.
Now the drama of the last few years is calming down.
“We’ve been plugging along doing great work, bringing on new board members, bringing in new blood,” he says. “We’ve got a great staff and a great board, great venues and a great artistic product.”
Decisions were made “quickly and thoughtfully,” and that’s the symphony’s “new culture,” he says.
“Different doors opened for us,” Zdunek says. But it’s not a revolving door.
There’s “a lot of misinformation, a lot of rumors” that he’ll move on to another job now that the symphony looks set to survive one of the biggest crises in its eight-decade history.
“None of that is true, that I’m interested in fixing and running out of town,” he says. “I love Pasadena, beyond fixing the orchestra. There’s so much the organization hasn’t fully realized, there’s been so much growth and we can continue to grow and serve the community more than in the last 83 years. Personally, this is probably the only place I’ve moved to and thought, ‘Wow, I’m not itching to get out again.’
“It feels like home.”


They say a picture tells a thousand words. One exhibit is acting as the ultimate storyteller of how printmaking broke through as a respected art form. “Proof: The Rise of Printmaking in Southern California” features a collection from the Norton Simon Museum with works from local founders of this movement. It all started with the Tamarind Lithography Workshop, which aimed to create a group of master lithographers who would revive the art form.

(Courtesy of Norton Simon Museum)

Now more than a half century later, you can explore the history of this creative outlet and where it might go from here.
Oct. 1-April 2. Norton Simon Museum, 411 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 449-6840. nortonsimon.org