WASHINGTON — From an up-close look at the Liberty Bell to a private tour of the White House, last week's trip to Philadelphia and Washington was a singular treat for Pacific Symphony donors.
Organized around music director Carl St.Clair's debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the six-day sojourn included a dinner with the maestro and his new bride, Susan Cunningham St.Clair, at the Hotel Atop the Bellevue, a tour of historic Winterthur--a Delaware estate once owned by the Duponts--and an intimate peek at the First Mansion with curator Rex Scouten.
Not to mention excursions to the Philadelphia Museum of Art--where guests saw the acclaimed Barnes Foundation exhibit of French masterpieces--or Mt. Vernon, the State Department and dinner at one of the capital's in spots for power-dining, Citronelle in Georgetown.
Tour-goers such as orchestra board President Ron Hanson and his wife, Joyce, admitted feeling anxious about St.Clair's debut with one of the country's "Top Five" orchestras (namely, those in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington).
Riding to the matinee performance at the Academy of Music aboard a tour bus, Joyce Hanson pulled her concert ticket out of her handbag and waved it in the air.
"Isn't it exciting to see Carl's name here?" she asked fellow symphony buffs, who included Bill and Judi Moss, Arlene Cheng, Chancy and Vicky Heston Lott and Jim and Velma Emmi. "I bet Carl's feeling nervous about now. I'm as nervous as a cat!"
Not to worry. The audience gave St.Clair's performance an enthusiastic ovation, and music critic Peter Dobrin's review in The Philadelphia Inquirer the following day called the 42-year-old maestro "a solid and often imaginative leader" who handled Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe" with "skill and elegance."
Also showcased at the concert was "Radiant Voices," a work by Frank Ticheli, 37, the Pacific Symphony's composer-in-residence. Dobrin called Ticheli's fantasy for orchestra "a stunning work."
After the concert in the Main Hall--so elegant with its gilt-drenched opera boxes and sanguine-hued upholstery that it was used in the movie "The Age of Innocence"--symphony supporters gathered backstage in the Green Room to toast St.Clair.
He entered the private room--hung with a painting of the Philadelphia Orchestra's late conductor, Eugene Ormandy--arms outstretched, jubilant. "I could feel you out there somewhere. It's great to see everybody," St.Clair said, adding, "this is Susan St.Clair, my wife."
Supporters Bill Thornton, Carl Schultz and Anne and George Schopick applauded as the maestro shook hands with the orchestra's executive director, Louis Spisto. "It was an exciting concert," Spisto told the crowd. "The audience response was exceptional for Carl and very heartening for Frank Ticheli.
"I could hear people in the audience buzzing, 'Isn't this exciting, young people in music!' "
That evening, donors who included Audrey Stumberg and her sister Katherine Wiley, Ed and Louise Van Dell and Wilbert Smith gathered at the Barrymore Room on the top floor of the Bellevue to sip cocktails and mingle with the St.Clairs.
With the City of Brotherly Love sparkling at their feet, tour-goers sat back and listened to two music students from the Curtis Institute--"the finest music conservatory in the country," Spisto said--play cello and piano.
Afterward, guests feasted on their choice of salmon, beef tenderloin or stuffed veal and danced cheek-to-cheek on a parquet floor.
St.Clair said that he had conducted "10 different concerts in three countries" since February. "Everywhere I go, I take what I have learned with the Pacific Symphony with me," he said, sipping red wine from a crystal goblet. "It is a growing experience for an artist."
Susan St.Clair was looking forward to their return to Orange County. "I can't wait to get home," she said. "The traveling has been fascinating, but now we will have two months of just being together." The couple honeymooned in Israel after being married on Feb. 25 at the Tivoli Terrace in Laguna Beach.
Besides St.Clair's debut, a highlight of the trip was the tour of the White House conducted by curator Scouten.
Not only did the orchestra's guests go beyond the velvet ropes that corral everyday visitors, they took leisurely strolls through the East Room, the First Ladies' Gallery, the newly restored Blue Room, the State Dining Room, the Diplomatic Reception Room--even the Map Room, from which President Roosevelt followed the course of World War II.
"This is a room where people don't usually go," said Scouten of the Map Room. "And the May, 1945, map you see above the fireplace is the last map used by Roosevelt before he died. Winston Churchill spent most of his time in this room when he was here."
Also accompanying the tour group was Janice Johnson, the orchestra board member who arranged the White House visit. Johnson, who is from Laguna Beach, lives in Georgetown with her husband, Roger Johnson, director of the General Services Administration.
The couple had just returned from a trip to California with President Clinton and his entourage aboard Air Force One. "It was a thrilling time," Janice Johnson said.
As a member of the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, Johnson helped plan the restoration of the Blue Room, where saffron-colored walls are accented by cobalt-blue draperies festooned with large silk tassels.
"The Clintons often receive guests here," explained Scouten, who recently introduced the renovated Blue Room on a CBS special. "And this is where we put the Christmas tree; we take down the chandelier, and it stands, right here, in the middle of the room."
Vicki Heston Lott was awe-struck by the experience. "This visit to the White House," she said, "this trip , has been above and beyond any and all expectations."