Joshua Bell with Academy of St Martin in the Fields at The Soraya on April 4, 2024. (Photo: Luis Luque, Luque Photography )

CSUN President Emerita Jolene Koester is honored at The Soraya on April 4, 2024. (Photo: Luis Luque, Luque Photography)

A celebratory evening ended in a joyous flurry of notes, as virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell led the Academy of St Martin in the Fields chamber orchestra in the fourth movement of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73.

Bell said the group normally wouldn’t play the movement apart from the whole symphony, but the group was getting hungry, he joked. A fundraiser dinner for the Younes and Soraya Center for the Performing Arts would follow the show. 

The April 4 gala at The Soraya, which featured the concert and dinner, included tributes to two key figures in the history of San Fernando Valley’s sparkling arts venue — CSUN President Emerita and former interim CSU Chancellor Jolene Koester and Bell, whose nine Soraya appearances, largely as music director of London-based Academy of St Martin in the Fields, are the most of any artist.

The fundraiser benefitted the new Jolene Koester Music and Arts Education Endowment, and it was a grand success. The gala realized more than $2.5 million to sustain a program that provides K-12 students in the region with enriching experiences such as matinees and in-class workshops, as well as master classes and engagement opportunities for CSUN students. 

An initial gift of $500,000 from the Perenchio Foundation was announced at the dinner.

Koester, who served as CSUN president from 2000-2011, is credited with driving the project to build The Soraya and getting buy-in from community leaders. She reflected on a vision come to life. The academic connection between The Soraya and the programs in the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication endures to this day, as does the university’s mission to serve the region, bringing the world’s greatest artists to the stage. 

“My … moment of pure thrill and satisfaction is to be able to stand up at the end of the performance and turn around and look at this hall filled with people, because they too have felt the muse of the arts and have experienced The Soraya as a pulse and heart,” Koester said. 

A video tribute to Koester featured praise from current and former CSU trustees and other CSU presidents, including CSUN President Erika D. Beck. The educators noted Koester’s compassion, ability to connect, and skill at making big plans and seeing them through. 

“Your legacy stands tall, and it will endure,” CSU Chancellor Mildred Garcia told Koester onstage.

That legacy includes the thousands of students who will be engaged through the arts. Soraya Executive and Artistic Director Thor Steingraber noted the dozens of students in attendance at the benefit concert. 

“This is an important part of our music and arts education programs, to include them,” Steingraber said. “During the daytime when you’re not here, K-12 students are often sitting in these very seats, and tonight we are launching the Jolene Koester Music and Arts Education Endowment to make that program sustainable long into the future.”

A tribute video to Bell featured praise from an all-star lineup of musicians who expressed admiration for his kindness, talent, incredibly fast mind, and commitment to arts education.  

The night was also something of a tribute to the center itself, which opened in 2011. Many of The Soraya’s founders and champions were in attendance, including the building’s namesake, Soraya Sarah Nazarian, and her family, including David ’82 and Angella Nazarian; gala chairs Milt ’68 and Debbie Valera; and many past and present CSU trustees and CSUN Foundation Board members. 

And the venue shined during the performances. Bell’s virtuosity and the skill of the orchestra sounded crystal clear, especially during Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64. Internationally performing baritone vocalist Edward Nelson, a Santa Clarita Valley native, joined the orchestra for Gioachino Rossini’s aria “Largo al Factotum” from “Il barbiere di Siviglia.” 

“We love it here: the audience, the staff, the acoustics,” Bell said. “We just love coming here.”

To make a gift in support of the new Jolene Koester Soraya Music and Arts Education Endowment please contact Cameron O’Hanlon at


Write A Comment