SAN DIEGO COUNTY SOCIETY : Symphony Ball Serves Up Rock 'n' Roll Instead of Bach 'n' Beethoven

Roll over, Beethoven.

The Symphony Ball, an annual event that in years gone by also has been known as the Viennese Ball, often has taken the form of a night-long tribute to the classical composers whose works constitute the core of symphony repertoires worldwide. The evening frequently has seemed like one long, graceful glide down the blue Danube, with guests waltzing late into the night to the liquid strains of Ravel, Berlioz and the Strausses.

Not this year.

Last Saturday night, they substituted rock for Bach, and boogie for Brahms, and everyone seemed to like the change.

Held in the Sheraton East's Grand Ballroom under the sponsorship of the Auxiliary Council of the S. D. Symphony Orchestra Assn., the 36th annual Symphony Ball definitely danced to a different drummer than it has in the past. Co-chairs JoAnn Knutson and Elaine Marteeny carefully avoided giving the ball the trappings of a theme, opting instead for a free-form, lighthearted party that breezed along merrily from start to finish.

The attendance, which numbered some 240, was smaller than in some recent years, but it did include a good proportion of the symphony's most fervent loyalists, including association president Det Merryman, with wife Crystal and daughter Ashley, as well as Carol Randolph and Bob Caplan, Kay and David Porter, Bea and Bob Epsten, Veryl Mortenson with Aage Fredricksen, George and Martha Gafford, Joan and Irwin Jacobs, and Dorene and John Whitney. A group of late-hour revelers, known as the Night Owls, helped to fatten the attendance figures; these guests arrived after the dinner, in time to share in a dessert buffet and then while away the evening on the dance floor.

Traditional music was not entirely absent from the ball--Gary White's Strolling Strings serenaded the guests during the cocktail hour--but generally the mood was quite contemporary. The Bill Green Orchestra played during and after dinner and seemed devoted to keeping the formally dressed crowd in a semi-perpetual state of rock 'n' roll.

There were breaks in the music, of course, conveniently spaced so that the guests could sit down to a multi-course dinner that began with lobster consomme and continued with beef medallions and an indulgently rich chocolate cake. Songstress Margie Gibson provided a sort of after-dinner pick-me-up by belting out a series of Big Bands-era songs that took a fair portion of the crowd back to the days of its youth. Additional interest was given the evening by the silent auction, which included several pieces of extravagant gold jewelry.

A number of patrons made the ball into a family affair, among them the party's chairmen. Elaine Marteeny brought daughters Annette, Correne and Jennifer, and JoAnn and Lee Knutson were accompanied by their daughters and sons-in-law, Vicki and David Wallace and Sarah and Mike Buskirk, and a third daughter, Beth, who was escorted by Vita Chippenberi.

Also present were symphony general director Dick Bass and his wife, Jean; Lynn and James Kinder, Elaine and Walter Steidle, Mim and Al Sally, Shirley and David Rubel, Lillian and Bill Vogt, Auxiliary Council president Joyce Oliver with husband John, Lynn Schenk and Hugh Friedman, Gail and Bob Arnhym, Barbara and Neil Kjos, Nina and Robert Doede, Judy and Steven Smith and Jean and George Watson.

Jack O'Brien, the artistic director of the Old Globe Theatre, has watched the curtain rise on so many productions that he might reasonably be considered immune to any sort of first-night excitement.

Yet the moment he took the stage at last Friday's final dress rehearsal of George Kelly's "The Torch-Bearers", it became obvious that Jack had succumbed to the same emotions that held the sizeable crowd in thrall. It was an evening of firsts, and everyone--the audience, the actors and the Old Globe staff--seemed to savor the evening with the same relish with which some people greet a preliminary sip of champagne.

It was the first time, for example, that the theater had ever donated a performance as a fund-raiser for another organization. And it was the first time that that organization, the St. Germaine Auxiliary of the Child Abuse Prevention Foundation of San Diego County, had ever hosted a major event. Both groups seemed to find the experiment successful.

O'Brien greeted the audience with words that alluded to the serious purpose that underlays the Auxiliary's existence. "I and every member of this company welcome you with our hearts," he said, adding "It is a great, distinguished and unprecedented pleasure to welcome you tonight." After explaining that the audience's reaction to each scene of the dress rehearsal would help him to streamline the production for opening night, he turned the stage over to the actors.

Billed as "Dinner and Debut," the event was planned by co-chairs Sarah Burton and Ellie Ehlers as an unusual type of theater party that would combine the usual sorts of entertainment (a pre-performance dinner and a post-performance champagne reception) with the chance to get an insider's view of the making of a theatrical production. The topic of the play, which comically treated the efforts of a group of Jazz Age socialites to mount a "little theater" production, neatly dovetailed with the interests of a number of the auxiliary members, since many in this predominately La Jolla group have been associated with the La Jolla Stage Company.

The event began quite early in the evening, with a cocktail reception and dinner hosted in Balboa Park's Hall of Champions. Sarah Burton explained that she had chosen the location after searching the park for a spot that was "not just another hall," and was most pleased with the Hall of Champions, since it was "bright and cheerful, just like children."

The hall, like many of the evening's details, hinted at the children who benefit from the St. Germaine activities without ever pointing to them too specifically. The sports memorabilia that crowd the museum made an amusing back-drop to the party; dinner tables were interspersed between famous racing craft and display cases, and the only spot the Walter Fuller Trio could find in which to position itself was in the midst of a Stonehenge-like grouping of display columns. Rainbow-like arches of brilliantly colored balloons framed the entrance to the party.

The San Diego Museum of Art's Sculpture Garden Cafe catered the dinner, which included shrimp and asparagus vinaigrette, poulet a l'etoile and French pastry. Throughout the course of the meal, auxiliary members circulated among the tables selling raffle tickets for a host of items, among them a trip to Mexico and an opal and diamond ring.

Enjoying it all were Anne and Bill Williams, Judi and Randy Strada, Dorothy and John Andrews, Pauline and Dan Condrick, Arlee and Charles Delk, Mary Cobb, Dian and Ray Peet, Jane and Virgil Danielson, Tracy and Andy Nelson, Mary and Bruce Hazard, Jamey and Chip Murphy, Jane and John Murphy, Norma Hirsh, Melanie Cohrs, David Chadwick, Sandy and Tom Melchior, Barbara and Bud Murfey, Jim Ehlers, David Burton and Barbara and Charles Christensen.

The evening netted $22,000, a sum which St. Germaine founder

Barbara Christensen said would be sufficient to equip the new Child Protection Unit in Vista. An extension of a similar unit at Children's Hospital, this facility will bring to North County a specialized sort of care designed specifically to treat children who have suffered abuse.

Barbara, a native La Jollan, said that the auxiliary was formed in response to a need that used to be more sensed than admitted, but that has become more obvious and urgent in the last few years as child abuse has become a topic of public discussion. She hopes that the group one day will have chapters county-wide, an expansion that she sees as completely reasonable in light of the fact that the current auxiliary, founded just five months ago, has already grown from eight to 207 members. Although St. Germaine, the patron of abused children, (which she herself had been) is a Catholic saint, Barbara stressed that the group has no religious affiliation.

Its affiliation instead is to the thousands of children who annually suffer emotional, physical and sexual abuse, frequently at the hands of family members. "The topic is so appalling to so many of the women in the organization that they feel the only way they can help is to support us in our fund-raising efforts," said Barbara. She added, however, that there are those who want a closer, one-on-one relationship with the children, and that the auxiliary is creating a number of volunteer postions that will allow this contact.

The group spends its funds in areas that support the aims of the Child Abuse Prevention Foundation, but does not give any monies directly to that organization. And although child abuse may seem a problem only partly susceptible to alleviation through the infusion of money, Barbara Christensen believes otherwise. "It sounds strange to say that if you throw enough money into it, the problem will be solved. I know that isn't true, but money is such an intricate part of it all--it's really the bottom line. The problem won't be solved until people are taught that they don't have to abuse. They need teachers and doctors and leaders, and that all costs money."

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