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Music Maverick

Dean Corey Is Taking the Philharmonic Society of Orange County on a Wild Ride, Sprinkling the Likes of Frog Operas and Muddy Waters Tributes Among Performances by the World's Greatest Classical Performers

September 01, 2002|RANDY LEWIS | Randy Lewis is a Times staff writer based in Orange County.

There are plenty of things about Dean Corey that wouldn't surprise you. The head of an organization such as the Philharmonic Society of Orange County is supposed to be erudite, energetic, creative and, above all, sophisticated.

Corey is all of those things.

How else would he be able to persuade the mighty Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras, singers Cecilia Bartoli and Bryn Terfel, conductors Daniel Barenboim and Claudio Abbado, composer Tan Dun and choreographer Mark Morris to include unassuming little Costa Mesa on their tour itineraries?

What sets Corey apart from the garden-variety arts administrator is that he's equally comfortable chatting about the instrumental wizardry of Isaac Stern or Jimi Hendrix, analyzing the dramatic subtext of the New Testament or the Harry Potter books, or hobnobbing with Abbado or The Lady Chablis, the real-life transvestite hero/heroine of John Berendt's bestseller, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." He's not above the occasional bad pun--he named his beloved black Labrador Luc de Chateau Lafeet and calls him a "juvenile doglinquent." And few who travel in his circles can pull off the rock 'n' roll attitude Corey exhibits when sizing up fast-rising musician Andreas Staier as a "kick-ass harpsichordist."

The straight-talking Texan, who came to the Philharmonic Society in 1993 after three years as director of development for the San Diego Symphony, has been steadfastly, and not so quietly, helping to redefine what "culture" means in Orange County. At the same time, he's working to reshape attitudes outside the county about the validity of what goes on behind the Orange Curtain, and he's transformed the Philharmonic Society, which was a respected but staid group when he came aboard, into a forward-thinking arts organization. In the four years since the 48-year-old society launched its annual six-week Eclectic Orange Festival, Corey has brought numerous works more typical of the Brooklyn Academy or Lincoln Center to the community best known to the outside world as the home of Disneyland and the South Coast Plaza shopping center. The eclectic programming reflects Corey's sense of adventure. Some examples:

--The world premiere of Dun's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" concerto.

--A tribute to blues great Muddy Waters.

--The Southern California premiere of Morris' staging of Jean-Philippe Rameau's "Platee"; in Corey's words, "an opera about a frog."

--The West Coast premiere of Philip Glass' Symphony No. 5, a work co-commissioned with Brooklyn's Next Wave Festival, the Salzburg Festival and the Flanders Festival in Brussels.

--One highlight of Eclectic Orange Festival 2002--which runs Oct. 11 through Nov. 10--will be the first West Coast performances of "La Pasion Segun San Marcos," a treatment of the gospel of St. Mark using idiomatic Brazilian music by Argentine-born, Boston-based composer Osvaldo Golijov.

Neither hipness nor money alone are enough to lure the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras, which have made exclusive West Coast visits to Costa Mesa in recent years and are expected to return. The Vienna Phil's concerts for the Philharmonic Society have been its only West Coast appearances since 1987.

"This is a group of people who are dedicated to music," says Clemens Hellsberg, president of the Vienna Philharmonic. "That usually starts with one certain person, and here it is Dean. He is like a shepherd out of the Bible.

"Not that the people he leads are sheep," Hellsberg adds with a smile. "They are real music lovers, and they trust him."

Some subscribers have groused about part of what Corey brings them, although most have hung in. "I like it when our die-hard subscribers go, 'I wasn't sure about that, but I really liked it,' " Corey says. "I love to open their world up a little bit." Attendance for Eclectic Orange has been rising since it began, and is expected to jump markedly for this year's festival because of heavy advance sales on the centerpiece event, the U.S. premiere of the Paris-based equestrian troupe Theatre Zingaro's "Triptyk."

Corey is open to trying just about anything--from that opera about a frog to punk rock. Eclectic Orange Festival-goers spent an evening in 1999 and again in 2000 at Linda's Doll Hut, a 100-year-old roadside bar in Anaheim that has been home to hundreds of roots-rock, punk, alternative, country and rockabilly bands over the years. "That was great," Corey says, laughing at the memory of luring high-society types into a bona fide dive bar. "It was a good group--a real mixture of people who hang around the place and never leave, and our subscribers, who never would have gone there if they hadn't been with our group."

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