Friends of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra greeted 1991 wearing funny hats and twirling noise-makers, smooching loved ones, lifting glasses of bubbly and batting at a cascade of black-and-white balloons dropped to the dance floor at the stroke of 12. The musical promise of happy days (here again) filled a ballroom at the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel on Monday as the symphony's auld-fashioned New Year's romp reached its inevitable crescendo. " Ten ... nine . . . eight. . . ." Bandmaster Barry Cole led the countdown for 375 dressy guests who paid $150-per for the long night's journey.
Or "moving forward," as party planners dubbed and defined their Italian-themed bash.
"It's about the changes we've made with this year," explained Marcy Mulville, chairwoman of the symphony board. (Notable among those changes was the appointment of maestro Carl St. Clair, whose New Year's duty it was to conduct a Leonard Bernstein tribute in New York.)
The gala started moving forward with a champagne hobnob in the hotel lobby, followed by a charmingly eclectic concert that included an aria from Puccini's opera "La Boheme" and the theme song from "The Godfather." The pared-down orchestra was led by guest conductor Theodore Plute, with soprano Evelyn De La Rosa--a longtime symphony collaborator--as soloist.
During the hourlong concert, guests munched antipasto and sipped more champagne, then dined on hearts of romaine salad, linguine with seafood, stuffed veal loin and tiramisu (Italian sponge cake layered with a light, creamy cheese). From prosciutto at 8 p.m. to espresso at 11, the meal proceeded at a leisurely pace.
Not so on the dance floor--where tux tails flew and beaded ball gowns shimmered. Yes, one of Barry Cole's orchestra members put on a mask and sang the theme from "The Phantom of the Opera" (the thinking man's "Feelings"). And yes, the dancers dipped and twirled to "New York, New York"-style pops. Then along came "Hang on Sloopy," then "Louie, Louie," then "Heard It Through the Grapevine," and finally--just moments before the countdown--the rap hit "U Can't Touch This" by M.C. Hammer ( "Hammer time!" ).
"You won't see the Philharmonic Society doing that!" grinned symphony staffer Gerry Ansel, as he watched the rap-time booty-shaking on the crowded dance floor.
Diva De La Rosa joined the party after her performance--eating, drinking, dancing, toasting, smooching, the whole shot. ("I love this!" enthused the personable soprano. "In opera, there's a third wall between artists and audience. This is just fun.") Conductor Plute also joined the fun, dining with executive director Lou Spisto and symphony supporters John Flake and Ismael Denenburg.
Carol and Randy Johnson (he's president of the board) sat with Anne and Tom Key, Michael Gilano and Tom Stephenson. Also attending were Meredith and Bill Chiles, Carolyn and Richard Casey, Alicia and Bruce Furst, Renee and Robert Rosenberg, and Nily and Abraham Mor.
Lorraine Lippold organized the event. ("It's easy," said the two-time ball chairwoman, "now that I have a computer.")
Among guests were Linda Such of San Francisco and Bill Long of Corona, who had read about the party in the newspaper that morning and bought their tickets at the door that night. Did they think a party hosted by an Orange County symphony would give them a shot at a sweaty workout to M.C. Hammer?
"Pretty crazy," said Such, as she strolled from the dance floor fanning herself. "It's a crazy world."