Roomful of Chamber Music Benefactors Get a Taste of Real Thing

“To hear music played like that--in a room-- that’s what chamber music is all about!” said Frieda Belinfante, seconds after world-renowned cellist Mischa Maisky performed for benefactors of the Laguna Beach Chamber Music Society on Saturday night.

At that, Maisky and his accompanist, pianist David Gross, took deep bows in the living room of Tom and Elizabeth Tierney’s sprawling Santa Ana Heights home. Smiling, the Russian-born cellist told guests that the first thing he noticed about the Tierney house was their fondness for animals (a taxidermic tiger, resting on a table top, provided a ferocious backdrop for the musicians).

“So, for an encore, we’ll play something from ‘Carnival of the Animals’ by Saint-Saens,” he said.

“What could top this?” asked one guest afterward.


What indeed. About 18 benefactors and their guests had been treated to what chamber music society director Bobbie Minkin said was a rare occurrence for chamber musicians. “They’re usually on stage,” she said. “Rarely do they perform in a home.”

But Maisky had heard about the society’s new Young Artists Series, a program that showcases emerging talent. He liked the idea. He wanted to support it by pleasing its benefactors. And he knew all about the series’ founder, Frieda Belinfante. He had married one of her cello students.

“My student fell head over fists in love with him,” Belinfante told guests, laughing. “That’s the way I got him here!”

Chatting during the champagne reception, Belinfante said chamber music should not intimidate the uninitiated. “It is nothing special,” she said. “It is just beautiful music written for instruments--single, duet, trio, quartet or up to 20 for an orchestra--to be performed in a small auditorium or room.”

Belinfante conducted her own chamber orchestra in her native Holland, she said. “Then I played the cello with orchestras in Europe.

“And then, in 1949, I decided to come here. I chose Orange County because I thought there was some (musical) work to do here, some pioneering that needed to be done.”

So Belinfante founded the Orange County Philharmonic Society, an organization that annually brings music to thousands of local schoolchildren. “And I conducted the Orange County Philharmonic orchestra for 8 years.”

How does she see Orange County now? “It is trying very hard to come of age. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet done enough to educate a sizable audience with the knowledge of what we are trying to do.”

And it is to that end that she still works, Belinfante said. Take her new project, the Young Artists Series. Besides performing in the Laguna Beach High School auditorium for adult audiences, the artists bring their classical music to schools. “That is the way I have always thought it would work,” she said. “We must continue to teach the young.”

After Saturday’s concert, benefactors enjoyed a buffet supper whipped up by Dan Rogers, chef at Neiman Marcus in Newport Beach. On the menu: sauteed duck breast with green peppercorn sauce and cheese tortellini with mussels and clams.

Faces in the crowd: Sam and Pam Goldstein, just back from Ixtapa (“I had to learn to like chamber music,” Pam Goldstein said. “Sam was the one who loved it. But I love it now.”); Mary P. Locatelli, board president of the society; Marjorie Rawlins, a donor of $10,000 to the society’s piano fund (last year, the group purchased a $40,000 Steinway); Maryann and Curt Blankenbiller; Marguerite Bodger; Earl Dore; Philip and Julia Gold; Becky and Joie Jones; Joan and Gregory Benford; Linda King; Dick Minkin; Marsha and Sol Wiener; Virginia Snyder, and Susan and Michael Pinto.