Symphony Had Cause to Celebrate, This Year

Something interesting happened along the way to Saturday’s Symphony Ball. And it almost kept the ball, a hardy annual in the seasonal social garden, from taking place.

That something interesting was the financial crisis in which the San Diego Symphony Orchestra Assn. found itself at the beginning of the year, a nasty fiscal pickle that temporarily relegated to limbo the Symphony Auxiliary Council’s plans for its annual bash. A successful crash fund-raising campaign, supported by hundreds of San Diegans, including a few who made six-figure contributions, revived the symphony and put the ball back on track.

The evening-long fete, which drew more than 300 patrons to the U.S. Grant Hotel, was titled “Renaissance,” a theme that, interestingly enough, was chosen by chairman Virginia Chasey before the symphony crisis struck. In its original concept, Renaissance referred to the orchestra’s move into Symphony Hall and to the general revitalization of downtown San Diego. But the crisis and its resolution expanded the theme considerably, so that it also encompassed what several principals called the rebirth of the San Diego Symphony Assn. Auxiliary Council President Joyce Oliver acknowledged this in her program message, which mentioned Renaissance as an appropriate title for “this celebration of one of the most historic, dramatic, excitingly eventful years in our recent past.”

Many of those present claimed already to have found the year more than sufficiently dramatic and were grateful that the ball was given over to the usual fun and nonsense of a major social event. But time was taken to honor Muriel Gluck and Judson and Rachel Grosvenor (and, in absentia, Murray and Sue Hutchison and Roger and Ellen Revelle), whose sizable gifts to the symphony kept it afloat.


The party opened with a cocktail reception in the Grant lobby, which had an amusing side effect--the crowd swelled at times when guests bound for other receptions in the hotel stopped by for cocktails and canapes. But Chairman Chasey was not daunted by the occasional unexpected guests. “We’re celebrating the end of our season and our first year in Symphony Hall,” she said. “We started the season with a gala but we’re ending it with a ball .”

The committee evidently knew its guests well and ordered extra-large dance floor space in the ballroom. The Dick Braun Orchestra kept feet moving through most of the evening; many guests even seemed to prefer dancing over sitting down to the dinner of seafood salad and beef steamed in pie crust.

A formal program chased the guests off the floor for an hour or so. First, new Symphony President Herbert Solomon welcomed the crowd. Then the California Ballet pranced into view to perform selections from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” In one final formality, the winning bidder was named for the Jeff Yeomans painting “Proscenium: Symphony Hall,” which was reproduced on the party invitations.

The ball committee included Ralphine Greaves, Roberta Hill, Maxine Trimble, Diane Metzler, Lillian Vogt, Rochelle Felitti, Leonor Craig, Katy Rogerson, Dorie Wynn, Beulah Giovanazzi, Kay Porter, Margaret Hilbish, Phyllis Parrish and Louise Guarnotta.


Among those attending were Maestro David Atherton, Dean and Marie Dunphy, Peter and Peggy Preuss, Walter and Elaine Steidle, Barbara Walbridge, James and Lynn Kinder, Aage and Veryl Frederiksen, Symphony board Chairman Det Merryman and his wife, Crystal; Fred and Wanda Kaufman; Ghassan and Lisa El-Khoury; Cleve and Barbara Branscum; John and Jane Groebli; Jules and Teddie Pincus; Shirley and David Rubel; Linc and Mary Ward, and acting Mayor Ed Struiksma, who stumbled across a misplaced diamond bracelet when he entered the room and became an instant hero to its grateful owner.

RANCHO SANTA FE--Luba Johnston and Alma Spicer had a little surprise Sunday at the backyard barbecue they gave at Johnston’s rural digs for the benefit of the summer school program for homeless children at San Diego’s St. Vincent de Paul Center.

They had hoped for an attendance of 250 but found the crowd growing like Topsy throughout the day, until more than 400 casually dressed guests populated the terraces and lawns that look over Johnston’s hillside orange groves. Neither of the party sponsors was quite sure why the attendance exploded in such an unexpected fashion, but neither showed the faintest sign of displeasure.

Probably the casual summer motif had much to do with the party’s popularity. Christened an “All-American Backyard B.B.Q.,” the event included everything but three-legged races; guests chowed down on hot dogs, popcorn and watermelon, danced to the Yankee Air Pirates Dixieland Band and basked in bright sunshine that fortuitously was moderated by cooperative breezes.


Bill Spicer speculated that a fair portion of the crowd had come to witness his wife’s swan song fund-raising benefit. “Everywhere you look, you see members of Alma’s organizations,” he said. “They’ve all come to see her last act.” And Alma indeed did insist that the barbecue was her last foray into the battle for charity dollars. After decades spent volunteering for dozens of cultural and charitable groups, she plans to spend most of her time catching salmon and raising bulls at the new Spicer ranch on Oregon’s Rogue River. (She proved a trooper to the last, however. Her first grandchild was born the evening before the party, and eager as she was to see it, she waited until after her party duties were discharged.)

Guests doubtless also were drawn by the prospect of sampling hamburgers flipped by the battalion of celebrity chefs that good-naturedly sweated in the smokey environs of an immense charcoal grill. Among the burgermeisters were astronaut Wally Schirra, restaurateur Bertrand Hug, industrialist George Walther-Meade, architect Henry Hester (he built architectonically sound burgers), attorney Don McVay, San Diego Charger Eric Sievers and developer John Desha.

Father Joe Carroll, director of St. Vincent de Paul Center, strolled in somewhat late, having gotten up before 5 a.m. to attend a St. Vincent-sponsored triathlon. He said that funds raised by the barbecue will ensure that homeless children who reside at the center--for up to two weeks at a time--will be able to study in the center’s school room as well as participate in outings to the San Diego Zoo and other child-oriented places.

The committee included Ted Lambron, John and Lucille Lindsay, John Urquhart, Mag White, Teresa Schaffer, Kate Adams, Tish Alexander, Connie Desha, Denise Hug, Deuee Mulanix, Herschel and Pamela Price, Pat Cagalj, Carlene Bunn, Cheri Myron and Judi Bergt.


Evelyn Truitt brought actor Jonathan McMurtry, who headlines the cast in the Old Globe Theatre’s current presentation of “Tartuffe.” Also attending were Dixie and Ken Unruh, Kathi Diamant with Spencer Johnson, Heather and Jack Metcalf, Joann and Jack Finley, Mary and Walter Smyk, Joanne and Frank Warren, Virginia and Jack Monday, Georgia and Blair Sadler, Jeanne Larson, Jacque Powell, Jeanne Jones, Rene Taubman, Diana and Dan Butler, Rosemarie and Al Frowiss, Sue Teasdel with Brick Allison, and Carol and Robert Tuggey.