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ANN CONWAY

Symphony Chief Conducts Himself With Taste--Eclectic Taste

March 30, 1998|ANN CONWAY

NEW IN TOWN

Symphony lover, 32, romantic, naturalist, foodie, sports fanatic. Seeking music lovers of all kinds.

*

No need to call. If you're on the Orange County arts scene, you're going to be seeing a lot of John E. Forsyte, the newly chosen executive director of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra.

Arriving Sunday in Orange County for a visit from Michigan, where he managed the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, his dance card is already filling up.

* This morning: Breakfast at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach with symphony board president Janice M. Johnson and members of the orchestra staff.

* Noon: Luncheon--minted pea soup, rotisserie chicken and lemon tart--at the Pacific Club attended by mega-donors to the orchestra. On the guest list, some of the county's leading arts philanthropists: Mary and Peter Muth, Sharon Lesk, Mel Dultz, Bill Gillespie, Marcie Mulville, Arlene and George Cheng.

* Tuesday: Breakfast with Orange County Performing Arts Center President Jerry E. Mandel at the Center Club in Costa Mesa.

* Wednesday, free time: House-hunting.

"Initially, I'll be looking for an apartment so I can survey the territory," says Forsyte, who will join the orchestra May 25 to fill a vacancy left by the departure of Louis G. Spisto. "Eventually, I'd like to end up in one of Orange County's coastal communities."

* Official social debut: The Symphonic Dance of Diamonds, the orchestra's black-tie gala on June 13 at the Hyatt Regency Irvine.

Forsyte is no stranger to formal affairs. You don't spearhead a $6-million capital campaign--as he did in Kalamazoo--without slipping into a few penguin suits.

In fact, he loves wearing black-tie, he says. "Some people say I was born in the wrong era. I'm a modernist in the sense of art, but I think of myself as someone who loves traditional experiences. There's room for informality in the concert hall but also formality. I love the idea that there's a certain reverential quality to dressing up."

Who will be on his arm? Perhaps his gal from Kalamazoo, a university professor who is moving to New York about the same time he lands in Orange County.

"We're struggling now with how we'll make it work, planning our bicoastal strategy," he says.

"But she will have the summer off, so she'll probably spend time with me while I get acclimated."

When it comes to Forsyte's social style, think eclectic. He prefers dinner parties for four to six but also relishes formal occasions for hundreds.

Loves to chat and tell music-related stories (like the time he took taxis around Europe to find the perfect espresso for a touring Philadelphia maestro).

Also seeks out quiet time with nature. There was that dreamy day, for example--"one of the great experiences of my life"--when he took a recording of the Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss into the Swiss Alps and listened to it as he walked.

"What you realize is that even the genius of Strauss pales--we all pale--in comparison to the

awesomeness of nature," he says. "I love to get out into the forest; it puts things into perspective."

He's passionate about symphonic music. "The great orchestra repertoire--that's No. 1," he says. "If you sat close to me [during a concert], you'd see my hands were sweaty, my pulse was racing and I was unconsciously conducting."

He's also an enthusiastic sports fan. "I'm a fanatic supporter of the Chicago sports teams, so when the Dodgers play the Cubs, or the Anaheim Angels play the White Sox, I'm going to be first in line," he says.

Ask him what he wants for supper and you'll probably get an order for sushi. Anything French--especially Thai-French--is OK too.

While Forsyte is mostly easygoing, he'll likely lose his cool if you exhibit an outright prejudice against classical music.

"The typical quote I get from thirtysomethings is: '[Classical music] just doesn't have the energy that rock music has."

His standard reply: "What's more powerful than 100 musicians breathing, sweating, plucking their instruments and creating an enormous mass of sound?"

"Is that any less impressive than someone plucking one string as 110 watts of energy is powering through it?"

One of Forsyte's missions during his tenure in Orange County will be to help people develop "an aesthetic sensibility" toward classical music, he says.

"When I see millions of people attend a Monet exhibit in Chicago, while symphonies and opera companies are struggling to attract audiences, that says to me that their aural aesthetic hasn't been fully developed--unlike generations before them who listened to the radio," he says.

"What I try to do [to develop audiences and funds for the orchestra] is just to communicate a vision--my love for the art--and hopefully excite people about the art form."

"You don't get artistic credibility because you raise a lot of money. It's the other way around: You are artistically credible first, therefore, people believe in you. People give to something that they feel is going to make a difference."

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