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R S V P : A Big Happy Birthday to Philharmonic

October 26, 1994|BRIDGET BYRNE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Do you know this one?" jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin teased the Los Angeles Philharmonic as he riffed the players and audience into a rendition of "Happy Birthday" at the conclusion of the orchestra's 75th birthday concert.

It was a "have your cake and eat it too" night at the Los Angeles Music Center as, following the rousing performance led by past and present music directors Zubin Mehta and Esa-Pekka Salonen, the onstage ceremonies concluded with the cutting of a giant cake.

Then a spillover crowd of more than 750 flowed into the Grand Hall of the Founders' Circle and the loge level foyer of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for a celebratory black-tie dinner that raised more than $250,000 for the Musicians' Pension Fund.

David Jones had transformed the dining areas into a parterre , the tables decorated with mini citrus trees in white crates, the balcony railings festooned with fruit-laden garlands.

Robert Stack ably stepped in to emcee the evening after Gregory Peck dropped out because he had hurt his leg and first substitute Michael York was called back to Prague for retakes on a movie.

Stack, a fifth-generation Angeleno who admitted to being six months older than the orchestra, regaled the audience and his table companions (his wife Rosemarie, Nancy Daly and Mayor Richard Riordan, and Founders' Board of Directors President Curtis Tamkin and his wife, Priscilla) with stories about the early musical life of Los Angeles.

Stack's great-grandfather owned an opera house in Downtown Los Angeles. By literally cutting off at the pass and offering generous hospitality to a European opera company traveling up from Mexico, this cultural pioneer managed to put one over on the then more sophisticated San Francisco by staging the American premiere of Puccini's "La Boheme" in 1897.

"Of course, many of the miners and homesteaders who came to that performance thought they were going to see 'The Bohemian Girl,' " Stack said, "but it is reported that after they paid their 25 cents and had not seen any dancing girls, they nevertheless exclaimed 'Well, we're not sure what opera is all about, but those people sure could sing.' "

At the next table, record executive Joe Smith teased Dodgers' owner Peter O'Malley. Would his stadium be available to rent for rock concerts next spring? O'Malley answered it would be busy with baseball.

Mehta was not able to attend the dinner, having taken a red-eye flight to conduct the Israel Orchestra today in celebration of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty signing.

Salonen and his wife, Jane, were among the diners, as were Shinji and Ryuko Sakai, Joan and John Hotchkis, Felisa Vanoff, Suzanne Marx and Judi and Gordon Davidson.

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