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ANN CONWAY

Waltz-to-Waltz Gemutlichkeit in Imperial Style

March 03, 1997|ANN CONWAY

In the grand style of the glittering court balls staged in Imperial Vienna, supporters of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County gathered Saturday to launch "Vienna Philharmonic Week," a series of concerts and gala receptions.

At its heart: the premiere Orange County appearance Tuesday and Wednesday of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa.

Five hundred guests swept into the ballroom of the Newport Beach Marriott for the "Golden Baton Viennese Gala," a night of gourmet dining, fast-paced waltzes and giddy toasts.

Coming on the heels of last week's announcement that the Vienna Philharmonic had admitted a woman to its traditionally all-male ranks, the gala saw philharmonic supporters feeling "a little relieved," noted Dean Corey, the society's executive director.

Still, members of the National Organization for Women, along with members of the International Alliance for Women in Music, plan to demonstrate here and at Carnegie Hall in New York against the orchestra's historic refusal to admit female musicians.

News in recent weeks of the planned protests caused some dismay in philharmonic society circles, whose goal, they said, was to bring the world's greatest orchestra to Orange County.

But things are cordial between the society and the protesters, Corey explained. In fact, he invited one of the women to a concert. "She said, 'I don't think so,' but she was real close."

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The second guests stepped from their cars, they knew they were in for a night of Gemutlichkeit (German for a "sweet-soul experience," explained gala orchestra leader Murray Korda): servers stood sentry with tulips of champagne and a small band played European-style classics such as "Edelweiss."

Once inside the grand ballroom, guests waltzed to Korda's music before, during and after they dined on veal loin and Sacher torte at tables festooned with pink and white rose centerpieces.

Thrilled at the prospect of the concerts, guests buzzed about the orchestra: "The Vienna coming here gives the Philharmonic wonderful credibility," said Dr. Fritz Westerhout, chairman of the philharmonic board. "We used to have to look for other orchestras to come here; now, orchestras are calling us."

Said board President Jane Grier, who has heard the orchestra perform at the State Opera House in Vienna: "The orchestra is absolutely magnificent--there is nothing like it in the world."

With all of the talk about the protests, the quality of the orchestra "has gotten second fiddle," Corey observed. "I think people will be in an absolute state of shock when they actually hear this orchestra."

During the festivities, Corey presented philharmonic donor and arts activist Richard M. Reinsch of Laguna Beach with its prestigious Golden Baton Award. "This is the highest honor we can bestow on someone in the Philharmonic Society," Corey said of Reinsch, who served on the board for seven years, holding positions as president and chairman. Past recipients have included Henry T. Segerstrom, Zubin Mehta, Donald L. Bren, Floss Schumacher and Elaine Redfield.

"I would like to accept this award on behalf of the philharmonic volunteers, subscribers, and donors," Reinsch said. "I applaud all of you who have worked so hard, contributed so generously over the past 43 years."

Also recognized by Corey were representatives of the A. Gary Anderson Family Foundation, which has contributed "in excess of $50,000" to Vienna Philharmonic Week, said Corey, who estimated the celebration's total cost at "half a million."

Said Erin Lastinger of Anaheim Hills, who heads the foundation named for her father: "We did our research and felt this week was one of the most incredible things that has ever happened to Orange County."

After the ball was over, guests adjourned to a Viennese-style "coffeehouse" where they were serenaded again as they sipped fragrant coffees and fine liqueurs.

Also on the scene: gala chairwoman Mary Kay VanderMolen with her husband, Dr. Louis VanderMolen; gala vice chairwoman Dorothy Taylor, with Lloyd Taylor; Fred and Eva Schneider; John Benecke; Elaine Westerhout; Bill and Bobbitt Williams; Jack and Nancy Caldwell; Howard and Judy Jelinek; Sharon McNalley; Elizabeth and John Stahr; Milton Grier; Helen and Dr. Edward Shanbrom; and Erich Vollmer, former director of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.

Also attending: Don and Eugenia Thompson; William and Barbara Roberts; Dierdre and Doug Smith; Jim and Elaine Alexiou; and Don and Karen Evarts.

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