40th annual Bren Honors Concert is pitch perfect

IUSD students put on a world-class performance and receive a $2 million gift

Over 1,000 students and their families packed Segerstrom Concert Hall on Tuesday for one of Irvine Unified School District’s longest-standing traditions: the annual Donald Bren Honors Concert.

“This means the world to us,” Loraine Gesk said after watching her daughter Naomi play the harp on the same stage where greats like Yo-Yo Ma and Tony Bennett once performed. “I could feel the joy, the pride and the warmth of the community coming together tonight. It’s phenomenal!”

Before the first note was struck, parents lined the grand entrance, clutching bouquets of flowers to celebrate their children’s performance. Backstage, students – dressed in crisp white shirts and black pants or skirts – tuned instruments and rehearsed vocals in the corridors.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Woodbridge High senior Yuri Yaguchi, a violinist who served as concertmaster for the 40th annual honors concert. “Irvine’s music education has opened so many opportunities in my life.”

Performed by students in grades 5-12, the concert stands as a prime example of Irvine’s thriving music program, bolstered by Irvine Company Chairman Donald Bren’s 20-year, $50-million Excellence in Education Enrichment Fund to support IUSD’s art, music and science education.

Midway through the show, Irvine Company Senior Vice President Jeff Davis presented the district with its 17th consecutive $2 million check, as the audience cheered and students on stage stomped their feet in appreciation.

“Educational opportunity and excellence have always been at the heart of our planning efforts in Irvine,” Davis said. “The funding commitment made through the Excellence in Education Enrichment program has deepened our decades-long partnership with IUSD, students and families to support enrichment programs in science, art and music.” 

A leader in test scores

Irvine Company’s $50 million commitment has also helped make IUSD a leader in a host of state test scores.

In California Science tests, which measure students’ ability to think critically and solve scientific problems, IUSD ranks No. 1 among public school districts of 35,000 students or more, according to IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker.

In Advanced Placement tests, IUSD students outperformed the state in art history, music theory, 2D art, biology, chemistry and physics.

“Irvine Company’s support is a cornerstone of our instructional profile and has made a lasting impact on the lives of students,” Walker said. “This extraordinary commitment is exceedingly rare in education and represents the best in public-private partnerships,” 

Over the past 17 years, this funding has enhanced the education of nearly 200,000 children, he added, providing many their first exposure to science, music and art education, while fostering a lifelong love of learning.

A passion for music

That lifelong love of learning and music was on full display Tuesday, as students performed complex musical selections normally reserved for older musicians.

Westpark Elementary sixth-grader Adit Vaity took part in singing the show stopping finale of “Branches of One Great Tree,” commissioned for the concert by renowned composer Shawn Kirchner, who was in attendance.

“I thought I’d be nervous but I wasn’t at all,” Vaity said. “It was so much fun getting to sing with the older students.”

One of those older students was Portola High senior Jack Kendig, who will major in music performance and composition next year in college.

“To stand on the same stage where so many great artists have stood before me – it’s amazing,” he said, as families hugged and posed for pictures. “I’m so grateful to attend a school that inspired this passion for music in me.”