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ANN CONWAY

Orchestra Takes Five to Chat It Up

October 20, 1998|ANN CONWAY

It was the last thing you'd expect from an orchestra: a social gathering without music.

But it happened Sunday when Mark and Barbara Johnson of North Tustin welcomed musicians with the Pacific Symphony to an alfresco luncheon at their home.

Fresh from a rehearsal in Segerstrom Hall, about 50 musicians parked their instruments in a guest bedroom, then swept onto the pool area for cocktails, gourmet fare and the chance to chat with orchestra benefactors.

"We're just going to eat, drink and talk," orchestra board member Barbara Johnson said. It was her idea to honor the musicians with a party--the first time such an event has been staged in the orchestra's 20-year history.

"It occurred to me that, here I was, going to all of these events for the orchestra, and I didn't even know the musicians. I wanted an opportunity to meet them and thank them, because they are the talent--and if they care about us, they're going to do even better onstage."

First violinist Mark Robertson, 28, of Los Angeles welcomed the opportunity to talk with the business leaders who spearhead the fund-raising efforts that keep the orchestra alive.

"It's great to be able to show our appreciation--sit down and have a conversation with them," he said. "It's just as fascinating for us to hear about the business world as it is for them to hear about music."

Being a first-rate musician takes more effort than people may realize, said Robertson, who studied at the Juilliard School in New York City. "It's a lot of work and a lot of pressure--there's a lot of preparing that we must do, even on our own. When we show up for rehearsal, we'd better show up prepared."

During the reception, board president Doug Freeman spoke of the orchestra's progress.

"In this, our 20th anniversary year, we're celebrating the orchestra's level of achievement," he said. "We're about 26th largest in the country, and we're considered the third best in California--behind San Francisco and Los Angeles--as rated by the California Arts Council."

The party buzzed with talk about the concert hall that orchestra leaders hope someday will be built across from the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

"As good as it is, the Pacific Symphony Orchestra can't become all it would like to be until it can play a lot more," said host Mark Johnson, chairman of the Orange County Performing Arts Center. "When the center can expand, then the orchestra can rise, become even better.

"Right now, the center can't give the orchestra any more dates because there's no room at the inn. They have things they would love to do, but [the center has] no time. For an orchestra to become a Boston Symphony, a New York Symphony, an L.A. Philharmonic, they must play a lot more, practice a lot more than the Pacific Symphony is currently able to do."

*

A break with tradition: After 17 years of staging a fashion-show benefit featuring neighbors as models, members of the Huntington Harbour Cancer League brought a taste of Sin City to the ballroom at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim on Saturday night.

Onstage: Las Vegas female impersonators lip-syncing to hits of Judy Garland, Cher, Bette Midler and others.

"People were bored seeing the same people up there every year," event chairwoman Lauren Claus said. "It was time for a professional show."

Though guests limply applauded the ultra-raw humor of show emcee Frank Marino--dressed as Joan Rivers--they were mostly enthusiastic for the other impersonators.

"I've only had a couple of people tell me they wouldn't come tonight because they weren't into cross-dressing," Claus said.

It was her love for a favorite aunt that inspired Claus to chair the benefit, expected to net more than $150,000 for the Orange County Chapter of the American Cancer Society.

"My Aunt Peggy was diagnosed six years ago with Paget's disease--a type of breast cancer--and had a double mastectomy when she was 76," Claus said. "Now, she's 82 and cancer-free. She went on a five-year chemical-treatment program that was discovered through research--the kind of research made possible from the fund-raising we're doing here."

In keeping with the "Viva Las Vegas!" theme, guests posed for souvenir photos with an Elvis look-alike in a Chapel of Love before trying their luck at "gaming tables."

Nice touches:

Several small tables--instead of the typical banquet table--were set with silent auction items, allowing guests to mingle freely as they bid.

Reception appetizers came in the form of individual shrimp cocktails served in champagne glasses.

Among guests: Diane Dietsche, executive director of the Orange County Chapter of the American Cancer Society. "Early detection is still the key to surviving cancer," she said. "If you catch it early, the cure rate goes up by leaps and bounds."

Cancer of the lung and breast--in that order--are the biggest killers of women, Dietsche said. For men, "it's cancer of the prostate and the lung."

What that says, Dietsche added, "is that men have gotten the message about quitting smoking and women haven't."

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