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SAN DIEGO COUNTY SOCIETY : Symphony Ball Serves Up Rock 'n' Roll Instead of Bach 'n' Beethoven

March 28, 1985|DAVID NELSON

SAN DIEGO — Roll over, Beethoven.

The Symphony Ball, an annual event that in years gone by also has been known as the Viennese Ball, often has taken the form of a night-long tribute to the classical composers whose works constitute the core of symphony repertoires worldwide. The evening frequently has seemed like one long, graceful glide down the blue Danube, with guests waltzing late into the night to the liquid strains of Ravel, Berlioz and the Strausses.

Not this year.

Last Saturday night, they substituted rock for Bach, and boogie for Brahms, and everyone seemed to like the change.

Held in the Sheraton East's Grand Ballroom under the sponsorship of the Auxiliary Council of the S. D. Symphony Orchestra Assn., the 36th annual Symphony Ball definitely danced to a different drummer than it has in the past. Co-chairs JoAnn Knutson and Elaine Marteeny carefully avoided giving the ball the trappings of a theme, opting instead for a free-form, lighthearted party that breezed along merrily from start to finish.

The attendance, which numbered some 240, was smaller than in some recent years, but it did include a good proportion of the symphony's most fervent loyalists, including association president Det Merryman, with wife Crystal and daughter Ashley, as well as Carol Randolph and Bob Caplan, Kay and David Porter, Bea and Bob Epsten, Veryl Mortenson with Aage Fredricksen, George and Martha Gafford, Joan and Irwin Jacobs, and Dorene and John Whitney. A group of late-hour revelers, known as the Night Owls, helped to fatten the attendance figures; these guests arrived after the dinner, in time to share in a dessert buffet and then while away the evening on the dance floor.

Traditional music was not entirely absent from the ball--Gary White's Strolling Strings serenaded the guests during the cocktail hour--but generally the mood was quite contemporary. The Bill Green Orchestra played during and after dinner and seemed devoted to keeping the formally dressed crowd in a semi-perpetual state of rock 'n' roll.

There were breaks in the music, of course, conveniently spaced so that the guests could sit down to a multi-course dinner that began with lobster consomme and continued with beef medallions and an indulgently rich chocolate cake. Songstress Margie Gibson provided a sort of after-dinner pick-me-up by belting out a series of Big Bands-era songs that took a fair portion of the crowd back to the days of its youth. Additional interest was given the evening by the silent auction, which included several pieces of extravagant gold jewelry.

A number of patrons made the ball into a family affair, among them the party's chairmen. Elaine Marteeny brought daughters Annette, Correne and Jennifer, and JoAnn and Lee Knutson were accompanied by their daughters and sons-in-law, Vicki and David Wallace and Sarah and Mike Buskirk, and a third daughter, Beth, who was escorted by Vita Chippenberi.

Also present were symphony general director Dick Bass and his wife, Jean; Lynn and James Kinder, Elaine and Walter Steidle, Mim and Al Sally, Shirley and David Rubel, Lillian and Bill Vogt, Auxiliary Council president Joyce Oliver with husband John, Lynn Schenk and Hugh Friedman, Gail and Bob Arnhym, Barbara and Neil Kjos, Nina and Robert Doede, Judy and Steven Smith and Jean and George Watson.

Jack O'Brien, the artistic director of the Old Globe Theatre, has watched the curtain rise on so many productions that he might reasonably be considered immune to any sort of first-night excitement.

Yet the moment he took the stage at last Friday's final dress rehearsal of George Kelly's "The Torch-Bearers", it became obvious that Jack had succumbed to the same emotions that held the sizeable crowd in thrall. It was an evening of firsts, and everyone--the audience, the actors and the Old Globe staff--seemed to savor the evening with the same relish with which some people greet a preliminary sip of champagne.

It was the first time, for example, that the theater had ever donated a performance as a fund-raiser for another organization. And it was the first time that that organization, the St. Germaine Auxiliary of the Child Abuse Prevention Foundation of San Diego County, had ever hosted a major event. Both groups seemed to find the experiment successful.

O'Brien greeted the audience with words that alluded to the serious purpose that underlays the Auxiliary's existence. "I and every member of this company welcome you with our hearts," he said, adding "It is a great, distinguished and unprecedented pleasure to welcome you tonight." After explaining that the audience's reaction to each scene of the dress rehearsal would help him to streamline the production for opening night, he turned the stage over to the actors.

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