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‘Family Party’ at the Music Center : Founders Share Memories at Anniversary Luncheon

Times Staff Writer

Zubin Mehta remembered that Jack Benny was a violinist groupie, always hanging around backstage to catch a glimpse of his idols.

Esther Wachtell recalled the early days of fund-raising when contributions were collected in a shopping bag.

And Gordon Davidson reminisced about the lasting partnerships formed over the years that have endured.

“This is,” Nancy Livingston declared, “a family party.”

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It must have felt that way to the 500 guests who gathered Monday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the Historical Founders Luncheon, part of the the Music Center’s 25th anniversary celebration.

‘Incredible Vision’

Those involved with the Music Center’s earliest days, when Bunker Hill was just a hill, included civic leaders, donors and artistic directors who recounted vivid details about everything from opening night performances to the “incredible vision” of Dorothy Buffum Chandler, who was unable to attend the luncheon.

Mrs. Chandler, whose vision it was to create a cultural center for Los Angeles, was praised by virtually all of the speakers.

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“She had an ovation that has not stopped for 25 years,” said Mehta, the first conductor (chosen by Mrs. Chandler) of the Los Angeles Philharmonic when it took residence at the Music Center.

“This is a very poignant afternoon,” said an emotional Esther Wachtell, president of the Music Center, “to see so many of Buff’s team assembled here. Buff started me by giving me this,” she said, holding up a blue shopping bag held together with tape. “It was designed by Walt Disney, and it was called a ‘Buck Bag.’ They were given to the Music Center volunteers to raise the last bit of money. So Buff sat me at the Safeway and said, ‘Collect the money you need dollar by dollar.’ And I know if she were here, I know she’d say to me to go to you, table by table, because there’s still a need for funds at the Music Center.”

‘Worth Every Gray Hair’

Gordon Davidson, the Mark Taper Forum’s artistic director, said his tenure at the center has “been worth every gray hair” and talked of feeling part of “an incredible tidal wave that has been building over the years.”

He praised the audiences, too, who were willing to “go on a roller-coaster ride, willing to take chances” and brave the highs and lows, the triumphs and the failures.

There were remarks from the newer members of the family, including John Currie, music director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale; Peter Hemmings, general director of the Music Center Opera, and Gerald Arpino, artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet, who affirmed the Music Center ties of the Los Angeles/New York company. “People ask where the Joffrey is going,” Arpino said. “I say we’re going West.”

Who’s Who in L.A.

The event’s guest list read like a Who’s Who of Los Angeles: former Gov. Pat Brown; Ernestine and R. Stanton Avery; Ernest Debs; Kathy and Robert Ahmanson; Dr. Simon Ramo; Bill Severns; Nancy Mehta; Charles Schneider, chairman of The Music Center Operating Company; Mia and F. Daniel Frost; Casey Cole; Carole and Lod Cook; Michael and Arianna Huffington; Terry and Dennis Stanfill; Betsy Bloomingdale; Jean and William French Smith; Keith and Bill Kieschnick; Douglas Cramer; Museum of Contemporary Art Director Richard Koshalek; Joanne and Roger Kozberg; Franklin Murphy, Philharmonic Managing Director Ernest Fleischmann; Los Angeles County Supervisors Ed Edelman, Deane Dana and Mike Antonovich, Andrea Van de Kamp, Stacey and Henry Winkler and Sam Yorty.

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Honorary chairmen of the event were Grace and Henry Salvatori, and the co-chairmen were Bettina and Otis Chandler, Dorie and Joe Pinola and Maggie and Harry Wetzel.

“This is the only event we’ve planned to share memories of the past,” said Nancy Livingston, co-chair of the 25th anniversary of the Music Center. “Be sure to look over the list of the historical founders in the program. You’ll find names like Mr. and Mrs. Howard Hughes, Mr. and Mrs. Nat (King) Cole. That list, to me, is a blueprint of Mrs. Chandler’s genius.”

As guests filtered out of the Grand Hall, Zubin Mehta glanced up at the black and white photo collage suspended on the back wall.

Mehta Remembers

“I’m so glad I played here last night,” he said. “It inspired me more. It showed me again what a great hall it is. Hey, there’s Jack Benny,” he said, pointing at one of the photos. “He was like a groupie. He liked to hang around backstage, especially when the great violinists were playing--Itzhak Perlman or Isaac Stern. He was so in awe of them.”

“He was a founding member!” Livingston said.

“You see,” Mehta said, “this center brought together different parts of Los Angeles. They all wanted to be part of their city.”


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