Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet plays arts fete for Henry Segerstrom; now it’s his turn

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Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet will be inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame (along with Donna Summer and the Carpenters) at Friday’s Bowl season-opening concert, but as a warm-up on Wednesday, the honoree-in-waiting helped do the honors for another arts figure, philanthropist Henry Segerstrom.

The venue was a little off the beaten musical path: the Louis Vuitton store at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, the high-end shopping center that Segerstrom owns with his family across the street from the Orange County Performing Arts Center and South Coast Repertory, the foci of their arts patronage.

Segerstrom, 87, received Carnegie Hall’s annual Medal of Excellence for arts philanthropy on June 7 in New York City, along with a proclamation from Mayor Michael Bloomberg designating the day as ‘Segerstrom Center for the Arts Day’ in Gotham. The dinner thrown by Louis Vuitton in Costa Mesa gave Orange County locals who couldn’t make it to the Carnegie gala at the Waldorf Astoria a chance to savor the occasion.

Among those attending were David Emmes, producing artistic director of South Coast Repertory, which benefited from Segerstrom’s first big arts gifts of land and cash in the late 1970s, and Dean Corey, president of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, which has taken the lead in forging an unusual bicoastal partnership with Carnegie Hall that debuted with last year’s Carnegie-organized ‘Ancient Paths, Modern Voices’ Chinese cultural festival and will continue in October with the JapanNYC and JapanOC festivals.


Trial lawyer Wylie Aitken, the South Coast Repertory board president whom Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently appointed to the California Arts Council, was on hand too. Some delicate cultural diplomacy may be needed on Aitken’s account when the JapanOC festival comes to Costa Mesa: His Santa Ana firm is representing plaintiffs in a huge class-action suit against Toyota in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, over deaths and injuries allegedly caused by the sudden acceleration of Toyota vehicles.

After a dinner prepared by L.A.-based chef Ludovic Lefebvre, Thibaudet approached the grand piano. With displays of luxury handbags and shoes mounted on one wall, and a montage of 20th century photos of Segerstrom and 19th century photos of the original Louis Vuitton in his luggage factory on another, Thibaudet began with two Chopin nocturnes, continued with Eric Satie’s first ‘Gymnopedie,’ and finished with an unpublished, lushly romantic composition that Thibaudet’s friend, the late Russian American pianist Shura Cherkassky, had written when he was 14. Thibaudet, born in Lyon and based in L.A., dedicated the Chopin to Segerstrom’s Polish-born wife, Elizabeth, noting that ‘we just had a long conversation’ about the composer, who was part of the Polish intelligentsia that went into exile in France after Russian rulers put down a revolt in 1830-31.

Representing Carnegie Hall was its head fundraiser, Susan Brady, who noted that the venue’s executive and artistic director, Clive Gillinson, was in Japan working with conductor Seiji Ozawa on the coming Japanese cultural festivals. As for the East Coast-meets-West Coast benefit gala honoring Segerstrom in New York, which featured a performance by mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and drew a bevy of fancy retailers as sponsors, Carnegie Hall says it raised $1.5 million for its artistic and educational programs.

‘There’s been a great spirit here tonight,’ Segerstrom said, thanking guests and the evening’s host, Charles Delapalme, Louis Vuitton’s senior vice president for the western region. Then, with a grin, Segerstrom quipped that, for an encore, ‘you’re all going to have a shopping spree’ on Louis Vuitton.

-- Mike Boehm


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