David Benoit, Keiko Matsui, and an evening of jazz and classical music at the Norris Theater

For the symphony, a new name and an anniversary

by Bondo Wyszpolski

The wheels are starting to turn again for David Benoit and the Pacific Vision Youth Symphony (formerly Asia America Youth Symphony). “The first year of COVID, 2020,” says Benoit, “we were completely bankrupt. The second year, we did a concert, but it was a virtual event; there were only a few viewers, just a few people working on the show. So it wasn’t really official. This year we are officially starting to rehearse together as a band again – and this is our first official gig.

Benoit refers to “An Evening with Keiko Matsui”, the internationally renowned contemporary jazz pianist. Matsui will perform with Benoit and the Pacific Vision Youth Symphony on Saturday April 2 at the Norris Theater in Rolling Hills Estates.

The two-part program begins with “An Outdoor Overture” by Aaron Copland. “Actually, Copland wrote it with a symphony for young people in New York in mind,” explains Benoit, “so it’s a really perfect piece for our group. Some of Copland’s pieces are very difficult, but this one isn’t so bad.

David Benoit at home. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

The second work on the bill is the US premiere of Benoit’s “Soul to Seoul: East Meets West”, which was written a few years ago when Benoit’s youth orchestra exchanged with a youth orchestra in Korea. from South. Although “Soul to Seoul” was performed there, local audiences will now hear it live for the first time.

After the orchestra has played a piece from John Williams’ “Schindler’s List”, with soloist Phillip Wang, Benoit will conduct a medley of songs by Henry Mancini.

Matsui will be highlighted during the second half of the program. “She chose the tracks and most of them were the ones we already had the music for,” says Benoit, and he notes that he also arranged and orchestrated most of the tracks. Matsui will also be rolling up his sleeves and performing a few pieces unaccompanied.

And so we can expect a seductive mix of classical and jazz with movie themes.

Sitting in his living room, Benoit makes sure I’m aware that “This is the 20th anniversary of the founding of the youth orchestra, which I personally founded in 2002. The parent group was the Asia America Symphony , and it was a unionized professional orchestra. I started the Youth Symphony as a way to develop youth programs and engage young people.

Toyota Motors had graciously financed it, but Toyota has since moved to Texas. The youth symphony continues however and for the concert on April 2 some musicians from the parent orchestra will join their junior counterparts.

“As for the name change,” says Benoit, “we had a president who was worried that a lot of people would think they had to be Asian to be in the group. She wanted to make it more inclusive, so we changed the name (from Asia America Youth Orchestra) to Pacific Vision Youth Symphony.
Meanwhile, the orchestra is still largely made up of musicians of Asian descent, around 60%, says Benoit. Recent rehearsals were held at Peninsula High.

When the phone didn’t ring

David Benoit grew up in Hermosa Beach, but back then, he says, “I never really liked it because Hermosa was always about surfing; it’s all about surfing, and jocks. I felt like something was missing culturally. So as soon as I could, I moved to Hollywood. I was about 18 years old. I rented a little guesthouse in Laurel Canyon. I loved living in Hollywood and lived there for 11 years.

“But when I came back to Manhattan Beach, I fell in love with it! Damn, it’s beautiful, it’s paradise; what was I thinking?!”

David Benoit, new album and concert. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

Later, he and Kei, his wife of 37 years, moved to Palos Verdes Estates and now they are in Rancho Palos Verdes, in a small enclave of houses where another excellent pianist, Anli Lin Tong, resides. If a few more musicians move in, the peninsula will have its own little Laurel Canyon stage, nodding, of course, to the great artists of the 1960s who lived in this fabulous musical paradise.

The years of COVID have, in some ways, been a mixed blessing for Benoit. The concerts and tours have dried up, but Benoit has continued to compose music and his latest CD, “A Midnight Rendezvous”, was released earlier this year. It’s in the idiom of contemporary jazz, with quartets and quintets, but the disc ends with three big band tunes, with a dozen musicians on each title; and since Benoit has his chops as arranger and orchestrator, they sound broad, encompassing and richly rewarding.

He also orchestrated Vince Guaraldi’s piano trio music for symphony orchestra, which will be premiered later this year with the Santa Rosa Symphony Orchestra.

But, as mentioned earlier, the wheels are starting to turn again, and with them comes the transition from the private realm to the public sphere. Already, says Benoit, a little sadly, “I miss these moments of calm”. He had even begun to write his memoirs. “That was why I had time… It was just one of those things I was able to do when I had nothing else to do.”

For most musicians and performers, the lull, the quiet time, is over or nearly over. Indeed, who would have imagined that many of them could one day recall those days spent at home, uneventful, with a certain melancholy and nostalgia?

An evening with Keiko Matsuiplaying with David Benoit and the Pacific Vision Youth Symphony, takes place Saturday, April 2 at 8 p.m. at the Norris Theater, 27570 Norris Center Drive, Rolling Hills Estates. Tickets, $100, $75, $50 (does not include $10 setup fee added to each ticket). There are also a limited number of $200 VIP tickets that include a meet and greet with the featured artists. These can be purchased directly from the Asia America Symphony Association at (310) 377-8977. Alternatively, call the Norris Theater at (310) 544-0403 ext. 221 or visit palosverdesperformingarts.com. PEN