Squeezing Out the Old Year With 2,000 Intimate Friends in Pacific Symphony Benefit

Hold onto your party hat: After enjoying a concert by the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, more than 2,000 guests herded into the Westin South Coast Plaza ballroom to ring in the new year.

Starving after a 90-minute, no-intermission performance, guests were asked to flash their ticket stubs before they received paper tiaras, plastic leis and buffet-style party fare.

"It's horribly crowded," said Pacific Symphony board president John Evans, attending with his wife, Ruth Ann. "We may have to refine our approach next year."

Chalk it up to beginner's luck. The sellout gala marked the first time for "New Year's Eve in Old Vienna," a concert-cum-party package Pacific Symphony hopes to market annually.

Guests, who paid $50 or $65 to attend, arrived at the Performing Arts Center at 9 p.m. to enjoy Viennese classics such as Johann Strauss Jr.'s "Tritsch-Tratsch" Polka and "On the Beautiful Blue Danube," and Franz Lehar's "Vilia" from the "Merry Widow"--trilled exquisitely by coloratura Roberta Peters. Peters, whose career has spanned three decades, dazzled the crowd in a romantic cloud of fire-red taffeta.

A lump-in-the-throat sing-along of "Auld Lang Syne" topped off the concert.

"I couldn't keep the tears from falling during that last song," said one guest afterward, trekking along the serpentine pathway that leads from the center to the hotel.

"I know," her escort whispered. "Where did 1987 go?"

A reprise of "Auld Lang Syne" was sung by gala guests when the clock struck 12. For John Evans, who took his post with the symphony in June, the new year will mark the emergence of the symphony as "a professional orchestra."

"An orchestra firmly in place as the resident orchestra of Orange County," he said.

Though the event was not billed as a benefit, the symphony netted proceeds of $3,000 to $5,000.

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