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O.C. 'Culture Vultures' in Tune With Austria's Best

September 09, 1996|ANN CONWAY

SALZBURG, Austria — Welcoming guests to his chalet on the hills of upper Austria, Georg Randlkofer gave a toast: "These are the roots of Mozart. . . . This is the place you come to understand him, his music, his ideas!"

His guests--patrons of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County--raised their glasses to Randlkofer, saluting his hospitality as they stood in the flower-dotted meadow behind his home. Slowly, they sipped champagne as the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wafted from the house.

There were many such toasts for participants in the Philharmonic Society's first excursion to the Salzburg Festival, an annual four-week cultural event.

The group of donors and board members returned last week after a 12-day tour of Salzburg and Vienna, where they took in concerts by world-class musicians, dined privately with members of the Vienna Philharmonic and visited revered conductors Sir Georg Solti and Zubin Mehta backstage after their engagements.

In early March, as part of its "Vienna Week," the Philharmonic Society will present the debut of the Vienna Philharmonic in Orange County. "That will be a historic event," said Dean Corey, executive director of the Philharmonic Society. "The Vienna Philharmonic plays almost every year in New York, but rarely on the West Coast."

The weeklong festivities in Orange County will include a gala in the Viennese style, two performances by the orchestra at Segerstrom Hall and a private dinner for ball patrons prepared by Austria-born chef Wolfgang Puck.

The trip to Austria was a musical feast for the supporters of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.

"We're culture vultures. That's why we're here," joked Judy Jelinek as she sipped champagne at the summer residence of Georg Randlkofer in the Salzkammergut area near Salzburg. Randlkofer, a Munich businessman, hosted the group at the request of his cousin John Benecke, a Philharmonic board member.

Benecke, a Newport Beach interior designer, told the crowd how he happened to have relatives in Austria: "My dad was in the [U.S.] Army during World War II and ended up in Salzurg," he explained. "My mother had a summer home on the lake here.

"One day, she rode her bicycle into my dad's jeep. A week later, they were formally introduced at a cocktail party. . . . The rest is history."

The visit to the Randlkofer home was a rare day in the country for the group, which spent most of its time in Salzburg's festival houses and historic haunts, such as Mozart's birthplace.

Three days into the tour the entourage had already experienced Solti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in a program of Haydn, Bartok and Beethoven and attended a performance of "Elektra," an operatic masterwork by Richard Strauss.

Before the musical adventure was over, they would hear operas by Arnold Schoenberg ("Moses Und Aron") and Mozart ("The Marriage of Figaro"), experience Mehta conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 8. Not to mention the private recitals arranged for the group at palaces and cathedrals.

"This is the Super Bowl of music festivals," said Corey, after watching "Elektra." "Seeing that was one of the biggest nights of my life."

(And one of the most pricey. Tickets were a heady $320 apiece. But this was the Vienna Philharmonic, "the finest orchestra in the world," Corey said.)

It was Corey's idea to bring leaders of the O.C. Philharmonic Society to Salzburg, and then on to Vienna where they would dine at the famous Steirereck restaurant and tour the Haydn Academy at Schloss Esterhazy in Eisenstadt.

The trip was expensive--participants paid about $5,000 each, $1,700 of it for concert tickets alone.

But such an experience is invaluable for Philharmonic activists, Corey believes.

"When we hear music played with the highest standards in the world, it gives us a watermark of what we need to aim for when we bring orchestras to Orange County.

"If we don't do this kind of thing, we become complacent--unknowingly--and do the minimum to please an audience."

Philharmonic board President Jim Alexiou called Corey's success in bringing the Vienna Philharmonic to Orange County "a near-miracle."

"I was persistent," Corey explained. "I felt it was high time we stopped looking at the East Coast first, the West Coast second. We need to develop our own traditions here."

The orchestra agreed to play at Segerstrom Hall after Corey convinced its leaders they needed to be represented on both coasts.

"Next year, they're playing here, then at Carnegie Hall," Corey said. "Orange County will be blown away. It will be like nothing they've ever heard."

It was this new relationship with the Vienna Philharmonic that enabled Corey to land some of the best seats at the Salzburg Festival. Knowing the Philharmonic was booked in Orange County, festival director Gerard Mortier was eager to help. At every performance, the group sat mid-orchestra.

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