As art venues open up, the excitement of art lovers all over Orange County is palpable. Yet few people are as enthusiastic about this new era as Jerry Mandell, president, Irvine Barclay Theater. “We never really closed,” the impressario/jazz musician said in an interview. “We’re not going to live that way.”
Mandell added that the theater has held private concerts throughout the past 15 months, with many live-streamed. Last summer, the Barclay hosted live outdoor jazz, rock and folk concerts at Bayside Restaurant, and continues to hold them this summer. And during the downtime, the theater formed a partnership with the Orange County Philharmonic Society to bring new artists to the venue, installed new seating, and upgraded the air conditioning and filtration systems.
With its detailed preparation, and with no staff members laid off, the Barclay was ready to raise the curtain soon after the lockdown ended. The first performer to grace the theater’s stage was renowned opera singer Renée Fleming, on June 24. Singing selections by Handel, Schubert, Strauss, Verdi and pop star Joni Mitchell, accompanied by pianist Inon Barnatan, Fleming was exultant, remarking, “This is my first performance in front of a real audience, a large audience.” The audience was equally enthralled, clapping enthusiastically and demanding an encore. Fleming returned to the stage to sing Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro.”
Susan Fries, a professional flutist living in Irvine, remarked that Fleming – who she has met – is incredibly versatile. “She can fill the Metropolitan Opera hall, never amplified, with her powerful voice, and at another time become an intimate singer, as during her performance at the Barclay Theater. At the beginning of the concert, alone on the stage, with solo voice for ‘And the People Stayed Home’ by Corigliano, commissioned by Renée, she appropriately and meaningfully touched her audience, especially considering the long, difficult pandemic that so many have been through.”
Mandell added, “Hearing Fleming rehearse was a gift from God. She is as nice as you think she is,” and her performance “was one of the greatest excitements of my career.” He explained that the 755-seat Barclay Theater is ideally suited for recitals and chamber music concerts.
On June 27, the theater hosted the debut of chamber music group “Trio Barclay,” comprised of Pacific Symphony concertmaster Dennis Kim, cellist Jonah Kim (no relation) and pianist Sean Kennard. They played piano trios by Shostakovich, Dvorák, and performed the world premiere of “Piano Trio” by their friend from the Curtis Institute of Music, Sheridan Seyfried.
Fries explained, “The piano trio is one of the most written for and exciting types of chamber music. The piano evokes the fullness of an orchestra, while the violin and cello create beautiful melodies and duets on top of the beautiful piano textures. Pianist Sean Kennard played with crystal clarity, as he created beautiful ‘carpets’ for the soloists to ride on. He also emerged as a soloist with color and energy. The performance of Dvorak’s famously difficult ‘Dumky’ Trio was particularly spellbinding. I noticed that the audience was completely still during the performance of that piece, and I think that everyone was living the adventure from beginning to end.”
Audience members look forward to several more concerts over the months by the Barclay Theater’s resident ensemble.
Future concerts at the theater will include rock, pop, blues, jazz and Hawaiian music, along with dance programs and performances by UC Irvine’s Drama Department. The theater is also a community resource, inviting outside groups to use the Barclay for events and performances.
Here is a selection of the Irvine Barclay Theater’s impressive and varied upcoming musical presentations.
Sept. 9, The Gatlin Brothers, country music with No. 1 records and country classics
Sept. 23, Jake Shimabukuro, “the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele”
Oct. 1, Pat Metheny Side-Eye with James Francies & Joe Dyson, acclaimed jazz ensemble
Oct. 7, The Wailin’ Jennys, international folk act with show-stopping harmonies
Saturday, Oct. 9, An Evening with Michael Feinstein, performing songs by Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, and Duke Ellington
Oct. 22, The Black Market Trust, combining gypsy jazz with the Great American Songbook
Oct. 23, Croce Plays Croce, piano player performing pop songs
Oct. 29, Eric Marienthal, Grammy-winning contemporary jazz saxophonist and composer
Jan. 21, 8 pm – Kulāiwi, featuring Lehua Kalima, Kawika Kahiapo, Shawn Pimental with Pono Fernandez, hula, Hawaiian music
Jan. 23, Laurie Berkner Greatest Hits Solo Show, the “queen of kid’s music”
Jan. 29, The Fabulous Thunderbirds Celebrate 35 Years of Tuff Enuff, fusion of blues, rock & roll, and R&B
Feb. 24, Joey DeFrancesco, organ jazz
Feb. 25, Linda Eder: By Myself – The Songs of Judy Garland
Feb. 26, Storm Large and Le Bonheur, singing the Great American Songbook
March 10, 8 pm – Stacey Kent, Grammy-nominated jazz singer
March 11, Live from Laurel Canyon: Songs & Stories of American Folk Rock, music from 1965 to 1975.
March 25, Bessie, Billie & Nina: Pioneering Women in Jazz, celebrating the enduring legacies of these music icons
March 26, Jersey Boys & Girls, celebrating New Jersey’s musical legends
April, 16, Waipuna, mixing Hawaiian classics with original songs
April 21, John Pizzarelli and Catherine Russell: A Tribute to Nat King Cole and the Ladies of Song
April 23, Sheléa: Natural Woman – A Night of Soul, blending traditional pop, jazz, R&B, and soul
April 29, Complexions Contemporary Ballet: STARDUST: From Bach to Bowie, showcasing two dance pieces inspired by musical masters
May 13, Makana: The Gift of Slack Key Guitar, weaving the roots of Hawaii’s vast musical palette into a universal sound.
June 9, John Beasley’s MONK’estra, Grammy-nominated jazz pianist and composer
To order tickets for Irvine Barclay Theater performances, check out its Get Ready It’s Showtime brochure. Or go to: https://www.thebarclay.org/. To order by phone or have questions, contact the Box Office, 949-854-4646, Mon-Fri: 10 am-4 pm; Sat-Sun: noon-4 pm. Irvine Barclay Theater, 4242 Campus Dr, Irvine, CA 92612