New Tune Along the Border

If you can remember Throlf . . . you're a few years older than you used to be, and also a member of an extremely small and select set of (in some cases former) San Diego Symphony supporters.

The annual Throlf tournaments, of which there were three, were given from 1982 through 1984 by a support group called Symphony 1000. Members donated $1,000 annually and were invited to various special events, including the unusual "throwing golf" (hence "Throlf") competitions at a lavish Rancho Santa Fe estate.

Fund-raising has grown ever more sophisticated and competitive since then, but some organizations have returned to the idea of small, select support groups as a prime source of extra revenue. The Mainly Mozart Festival, already unique in the sense that it presents so short and specific an annual season of performances, is showing itself to be especially innovative in the area of developing new sources of funds.

Because money fuels the final equation, there is a numerical nicety to Mainly Mozart's efforts, of which the linchpins are a group called Club 1250 and another that, while nameless, easily could be designated the Mexican 3 (Tijuana, Mexicali and Ensenada).

Club 1250, whose current membership of 52 will ultimately be restricted to 100, functions on a fairly straightforward basis. In exchange for an annual donation of $1,250, members and spouses or guests are given several private entertainments and concerts in lavish settings, as well as other perks.

It is the Mexican connection, however, that may well cause a stir in local fund-raising circles. While efforts to foster trans-border relationships in the arts have been undertaken in recent years, they generally have met with failure. By taking an unusual approach, Mainly Mozart has developed mutually beneficial agreements with independent groups in Tijuana and Mexicali, and is working on a similar arrangement with parties in Ensenada.

The essential--and fascinating--difference between the Mainly Mozart cross-border program and others is that the point is not to lure Mexican supporters or their money to San Diego. Instead, in the cost-cutting mood that has gripped many entities, Mainly Mozart hopes to reduce expenditures by sharing the costs of presenting the music festival with the Mexican presenters, who assume part of the performers' salary when the musicians play in Mexico.

"I've seen a lot of San Diego organizations court Mexicans and say, 'Come to San Diego, spend your money and go home,' " said Arthur Porras, an internationally known decorator and furniture designer who serves on the Mainly Mozart board as director of development. "I wanted to bring the Tijuanans in as equal partners because we don't want their money."

Porras, who claims Mexican descent and has decorated the homes of several prominent Tijuana families, added that the beauty of the plan resides in the fact that because the musicians will already be here, the festival will be able to "just literally hand (Mexicans) this wonderful orchestra."

"We need the cross-border support to keep the festival healthy and make it work," he said. "People who wouldn't return our phone calls in the past suddenly realize that there's a synergy going on, that we're supporting them and they're supporting us."

Mainly Mozart general manager Nancy Laturno described the effort as "the festival taking on two homes, one in San Diego and one in Mexico."

"Because of the size of the population across the border, it makes sense for us to look in that direction," Laturno continued. "We knew that past overtures had not been successful, so we looked for a different sort of relationship than those that others had attempted in the past. We want our festival supporters in Mexico to be part of the decision-making process and to be on our board of directors."

Laturno stressed that the ultimate benefit on this side of the border is financial, and on the other side, cultural.

"Since the world-class musicians we bring in for the festival will in any case be here, our Mexican partners can present them at extremely low cost, relatively speaking. For us, it reduces the burden of our production costs, and for them, it presents a cultural opportunity."

A variation of the Club 1250 concept was used to initiate support in Tijuana, and with unexpected results when a group in Mexicali heard about the possibility of partnership and wanted in on the deal.

Briefly summarized, Club 1250 guarantees members a minimum of three private recitals, given through the year at luxurious private homes, VIP seating at the June Mainly Mozart Festival concerts, opening night parties and similar entertainments. While the Tijuana Mainly Mozart guild does not require a membership fee, it has used similar attractions to gain support.

Solomon and Maria-Juana Cohen, owners of Tijuana's Dorian's department stores, hosted an "exploratory" event in May of this year at which 180 guests were invited to a private concert at their home. One result was the birth of a guild, now grown to 25 members, which meets twice monthly as opposed to the San Diego board's monthly meeting. More important was the practical working arrangement entered into by Mainly Mozart and the Tijuana guild, which will present concerts at that city's Centro Cultural.

The Mexicali connection, managed by the private Cetys University, was another outgrowth. Because "Mainly Mozart" does not translate blithely into Spanish, the festival will be known south of the border as "Festival Internacional de Mozart."

The Club 1250 concept continues to bolster the Tijuana group's finances. On the evening of Nov. 6, the group took over downtown San Diego's chic Paladion shopping center for a fund-raiser and private concert. The event sold out at 330, with about 220 of those from Mexico (Mainly Mozart board and Club 1250 members made up the balance), and a prime attraction was the treasure hunt for baubles and gifts hosted by the center's luxury shops.

"We are very excited about the opportunity to bring a little culture to Tijuana; we need it there," said Maria-Juana Cohen, who, with fellow prominent Tijuanan Alida Cervantes, organized the event. "We plan to bring the poor people who don't have the money to attend philharmonic concerts to our concerts for free. This is a beautiful adventure between Tijuana and San Diego, a beautiful mixture of the two cultures. We need more of these exchanges."

In a surprising twist, not only the music festival itself benefits from the cross-border participation, but fund-raising efforts themselves. Some Club 1250 concerts, for example, will be "recycled" in Mexico.

"I'm finding myself able to take double or even triple advantage of the artists I bring to San Diego for Club 1250 by booking them into Tijuana and perhaps Mexicali," said festival manager Laturno. For example, Tim Day, the festival's principal flutist, will perform at a Club 1250 concert in December at the home of board chairman Blaine Quick. At this point, he also has been booked to perform privately in Tijuana the day before his San Diego appearance, and tentatively in Mexicali as well.

"The bottom line is that expansion into Mexico benefits us on several fronts," said Laturno. "We can share the costs of production as well as developing audiences, donor bases and guilds in the three cities. This is a huge boon that has enormous significance for us."

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