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'Thank You' Put to Music for the Future

November 17, 1998|ANN CONWAY

It's official: A $100-million-plus expansion of the Orange County Performing Arts Center "will be a reality," arts philanthropist Henry Segerstrom told a group of major donors.

His comments at a reception last week for those who have given at least $50,000 to the Performing Arts Center marked the first time Segerstrom has publicly acknowledged the expansion, now planned to include an 1,800- to 2,000-seat concert hall on vacant land owned by the Segerstrom family.

Center officials had been reluctant to discuss the plans in deference to the family, which donated the land for the existing arts center complex in Costa Mesa.

Center sources say that before year's end, expect the family to sign an agreement to donate the 7.5-acre parcel at Town Center Drive and the Avenue of the Stars. And expect center Chairman Mark Johnson to launch a fund-raising campaign for the new concert hall at the beginning of the year.

Speaking to donors at the center, Segerstrom--managing partner of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, owner of South Coast Plaza--praised their past generosity.

"I think the most neglected words in the English language are 'Thank you,' " he said. "You have created something here that has changed this community.

"I like to think that in the first 100 years of Orange County's history that this is probably the most remarkable achievement of our society for ourselves--the privately funded operation of a great cultural center. We have made a difference."

Center President Jerry Mandel presented Donor of Esteem medals to Segerstrom, Johnson and philanthropist William Gillespie of Laguna Beach in recognition of their contributions of $1 million or more.

The event was the first of what will probably be many such donor recognition events as center officials seek to raise money for the project.

"Every 'thank you' is a cultivation situation readying [donors] to be asked again," center director of development Terry Jones acknowledged.

While major-league arts centers such as the Music Center of Los Angeles have many donors of a million or more, Jones said, Orange County has only five--Segerstrom, Johnson, Gillespie and the Leo Freedman and Harry and Grace Steele foundations.

"Los Angeles has a rich history of families that are used to being philanthropists," Jones observed. "Orange County is so young and new that philanthropy is still a value that is being inculcated.

"When we look at why giving in Orange County can be so low, we have to remember that there are many entrepreneurs here who are just accumulating their first wealth," he said. "They are plowing it back into their own businesses and don't have a lot of expendable income yet. They're just starting to enjoy the trappings of being able to buy the house, the car, the vacation."

As plans for the center expansion unfold in coming months, Jones said he is "confident that those who have given a million will give another million."

"They have already invested in what's here. They're excited about what we're doing and want to be part of the new plans."

Gillespie, a supporter of about 80 Orange County charities, hopes to give another $1 million to the center. "I need to talk to my money manager--then I'll know how much more I can give," he said.

Gillespie shares his wealth, he said, because he believes it is the right thing to do. "I just feel like I'm in a bucket brigade--my grandparents were very poor; they were lima bean farmers.

"But they ended up founding Farmers Insurance and became very wealthy. So I'm just passing on what they passed on to me. Why should I be at the very end and take it all?"

Generosity not only elevates a community's quality of life, Gillespie says, but also helps a man sleep at night.

"Danny Thomas once said that in life there are givers and there are takers. The takers eat better; but the givers sleep better. I sleep beautifully every night."


The world on a string: The Philharmonic Society of Orange County launched its "Beethoven: The Age of Revolution and Romance" festival Friday at Segerstrom Hall with a concert featuring solo violinist Frank Peter Zimmerman and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Afterward, orchestra leaders and philharmonic supporters were feted during a reception at the Center Club in Costa Mesa. Guests included orchestra conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen--music director of the L.A. Philharmonic--and Zimmerman.

The concert marked the 145th time that Zimmerman had performed Beethoven's Violin Concerto, he said. "I played this concerto the first time when I was 15. I have played it all over the world; I am a German violinist, so they always ask me to play it. This may be the greatest violin concerto ever written. It never gets boring. I discover new things each time."

The festival will conclude in May when Beethoven's nine symphonies are performed on period instruments by John Eliot Gardener's Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique.

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