SummerFest Benefit Opens Doors by Going Informal

Musicians, like actors and prizefighters, make it a rule to dine after the show, since nodding off on stage while in the throes of digestion is considered rather bad form.

Even so, several of the musicians who performed at Sunday's benefit concert for the La Jolla Chamber Music Society's SummerFest '89 put off tuning their instruments in favor of attending the pre-performance dinner given by the music society at the La Jolla Women's Club.

Among those joining some 90 concert benefactors for the interesting menu of fish mousse and braised beef were SummerFest artistic director Heiichiro Ohyama and violinists Andres Cardenes and Eugene Drucker.

The venue and casual tone marked a radical change in format for the annual SummerFest benefit, which in past years was given as a private concert and gala supper at the Preuss estate in Rancho Santa Fe. Those formal evenings, which also hosted a total of 100 guests and musicians, were highlighted by the precious fragments of music that streaked across the night-shadowed gardens like shooting stars while an obbligato of crickets supplied a racy back beat.

SummerFest general chairwoman Joan Bernstein said the informal dinner, followed by a concert in the nearby La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art's Sherwood Auditorium, was part of an effort to broaden the music festival's support base. The gala ticket price accordingly was slashed 50% from the $1,000 per couple charged in past years.

"We wanted to open our fund-raising opportunity and our music to a wider range of people, and at a variety of levels so that they could find their own comfort level," said Bernstein. "The response has been outstanding."

She added that an unusual rapport has developed over the years between concert supporters and SummerFest musicians.

"I love our artists," she said. "They know they are cherished, and they respond by giving us an extra measure of their talents. We've achieved a unique friendship with them over the years, and now at our concerts we have an ambiance of friends playing for friends. I adore SummerFest."

Olivia Werner co-chaired the dinner and emphasized the brio lent by the attending musicians, whose ranks included composer Mel Powell (the evening's performance included his String Quartet (1982)) and violinists Cho-Liang Lin and Ralph Kirshbaum.

"It's so very special to have the artists here tonight," she said. "We've spread them among the tables so that every guest can speak to someone who's playing in SummerFest. It's a wonderful opportunity for everyone."

(Chairing the dinner was not the only activity of the day for Werner, who, with her husband, Bill, is a member of the crew that every three years takes the Star of India for a spin around San Diego Bay. Both spent the morning applying tar to the historic ship's rigging--and to themselves. "Scrubbing the tar off my hands so I could show up here tonight was the most frightening moment of the day," she said.)

"I love SummerFest, and I think it's an enormous gift to the community," said music society President Marie Olesen over the dessert of berry sorbet. (Olesen and her husband, Merrel, were two more attendees who had spent the day with other affairs, primarily cooking for the 20 members of the Stanford University Women's Volleyball team which has descended upon their home for two weeks. This is the second year that Merrel Olesen's daughter Laura, a star volleyball player, has brought the group down for a La Jolla training session, which for the Olesens means preparing three squares a day for the team before retreating to temporary digs in their neighbor's guest cottage.)

After the meal, the group crossed the street to Sherwood Auditorium and settled in for a program of Debussy's Sonata in D Minor for Cello and Piano, followed by the Colorado String Quartet's performance of the Powell composition and ending with Brahms' Piano Quintet in F Minor, Opus 34.

Among the guests were Roger and Ellen Revelle, Peter and Peggy Preuss, Laura Galbraith, Irwin and Joan Jacobs, Janet Windle, Roger and Marilynn Boesky, Stuart and Isabel Brown, Tom and Nell Waltz, Jack and Bonnie Sipe, Kenneth and Dorothy Hill, Lois Kohn, Robert and Sally Fisher, Joe and Rita Neeper, George and Varda Backus, Gerald and Viviane Warren, and Edward and Joy Frieman.

There was a frantic run on bean sprouts the other evening at Shirley and retired Rear Adm. David Rubel's seventh annual Mongolian barbecue, but, by the time the smoke cleared, there was still sufficient Chinese fare left for the pair to send carry-out cartons home with each of their 150 guests.

"We run out of something every year, but can you imagine running out of bean sprouts?" asked Shirley, who spends more than four months preparing for the annual Chinese blowout.

Invitations to the mid-August banquet have become so coveted that the Rubels, who traditionally have emptied several rooms of furniture in order to make room for their guests, this year stuffed most of the contents of their La Jolla home in the garage to clear space for an expanded list. A fair number of the additional invitations were sent to board members of the UC San Diego Cancer Center, of which David Rubel is president.

As always, a coy dragon breathed smoke upon the gardens while a gilded, flower-bedecked Buddha floated in the pool, and tables were formally set with the Rubels' astonishing collection of Chinese tableware and decorations. The main attraction remained the cuisine, a full-scale Mandarin barbecue manned by five high-hatted chefs. Guests walked both sides of a 30-foot buffet spooning various meats, vegetables and any of 10 sauces into bowls, which the cooks slapped on the sheet-metal grill in a kind of deluxe short-order burlesque.

The meal started, however, with a wide selection of dim sum, or Chinese appetizer pastries, which the Rubels assembled and froze during the months preceding the barbecue. David said that Shirley had started on the pastries in May and that he had begun slicing and freezing the various meats--five were offered--in June. "We didn't start on the vegetables until two days ago, though," he said. "This year, we brought in three assistants to help us with the work, but we still did plenty of it ourselves."

The hosts' son, Cmdr. Rick Rubel, and his wife, Ginna, flew in from Washington to help organize the event.

The guest list included Marian and Wally Trevor, Jeanne Brace, Dottie and Pat Haggerty, Athena and Charles May, Dixie and Ken Unruh, Jeanne Jones, Tijuana socialites Afife and Sirak Baloyan, Mim and Al Sally, Joy and Jim Furby, Wanda and Fred Kaufman, Mary and Bruce Hazard, Anne and Michael Ibs Gonzalez, Dottie and David Garfield, Virginia and Jack Monday, Audrey Geisel, Colette and Ivor Royston, Charmaine and Maury Kaplan, Elsie and Frank Weston, Harriet and Dick Levi, Alyson and George Goudy, and Betty and Walt Zable.

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