The criticism leveled at local concert-goers since the Orange County Performing Arts Center opened Sept. 29 did not apply to those attending last Thursday night. Unlike previous crowds, there was no clapping by these cultural sophisticates after the first movement of the symphony, in this case, Beethoven's Eighth. For this was opening night for the Orange County Philharmonic Society--the music-under-any-conditions faithful who have been attending concerts in basketball courts and high school auditoriums since 1954.
On this night, the Philharmonic Society celebrated the new hall with a concert that truly seemed worth the wait: the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Kurt Sanderling conducting and violin soloist Isaac Stern, followed by an elegant black-tie gala at the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach.
"We have been wanting this for 30 years," said society president Eva Schneider, who said she feels like a pioneer in Orange County. "I've been to supermarket openings and shopping center openings. I remember when Freeway 57 was finished to Lincoln Boulevard and there was an enormous party under the overpass."
Schneider couldn't recall the freeway's inaugural date, so she called upon a fellow pioneer, past Arts Center president Elaine Redfield for help, but to no avail. "I don't know. It all swooshes together," was Redfield's response.
But this evening's gala was not for a supermarket or freeway. The Four Seasons Hotel proved an ideal setting for a champagne and dessert gala to mark the Arts Center's opening. "This is uptown," said party-goer Tom Doan.
"Classy," corroborated Center supporter Charles Huegy.
Some may have preferred more substantial fare, but most delighted in the three types of champagne and tables overflowing with strawberry mousse tartlettes, mocha eclairs, mini-strudels, 10-layer cakes and bite-size nectarine turnovers (6,000 pieces in all, according to the hotel's executive assistant manager, John Stauss).
Pianist Played Requests
As guests grazed the pastry platters, pianist Rodger Whitten played requests for Gershwin and Cole Porter tunes but eventually worked his way to Stephen Sondheim. "I've exhausted the 40s and 50s," he said by midnight.
Kitty McCoy chaired the gala, wearing dazzling, diamond-embedded lucite drop earrings, a gift from jeweler-escort Charles Weinstein. McCoy's guest list numbered 450, including Stern, who ventured into the Grand Ballroom just long enough to munch a few desserts. "A brief moment," Philharmonic Society executive director Erich Vollmer called it and later confided, "We were lucky to get him at all."
Although Vollmer didn't think it fair to criticize previous audiences, he commented on the applause subject, as did others that night. "If the music moves you, you applaud, but there is such a thing as music etiquette."
So much has been said of Orange County's lack of musical sophistication that coaching suggestions ranged from flashing "No Applause" signs at the audience to dispensing "applause-buster" buttons to the Center's ushers. (A variation of the Ghostbuster emblem, with clapping hands to replace the ghost.)
Dorothy Doan seemed particularly tolerant. "If they want to applaud, let them applaud," she declared.
Concert Main Topic
But the new hall, and the evening's superb concert, were the group's main topics of discussion.
"Who could not feel ecstatic about being in such a hall?" Vollmer wondered.
"There's a clarity here that we've never heard before," commented Georgia Spooner.
Accolades for the hall continued through the evening, from Philharmonic Society members such as Jack and Nancy Caldwell, Milton and Jane Grier, Ed and Floss Schumacher, Richard and Pat Allen, the Robert Lowrys, Kit and Stephen Toth and Jean Tandowsky.
But despite the improved acoustics, comfort and elegance of the new Center, some OCPS members said they would always harbor a fondness for the Santa Ana Auditorium, the rickety-seated site of their previous musical seasons.
"I miss the intimacy. The noises. You had a feeling of closeness with the orchestra," admitted Superior Court Judge Bob Knox.
His wife Ardis agreed, but then explained, "It's not a negative. It's just different."
When party-goers filed into the Center Club Sunday night, there was cause for celebration. The Master Chorale of Orange County was about to launch its 31st season, this year for the first time at the new Performing Arts Center.
The evening, in fact, was distinguished by "firsts" for both the chorale and the Center. Never before had the Master Chorale teamed with the Joffrey Ballet and never before had a dance company performed on the Center's stage.
Without question, this night deserved a special gala. And so, for 500 guests, the party began with a black-tie pre-performance buffet and ended with dancers and chorale members joining in for post-concert champagne and desserts.