Gene Leyton had more to celebrate than Independence Day when he dined with his wife, Nadine, before a Pacific Symphony concert at Irvine Meadows on Sunday.
"We balanced the budget!" said Leyton, the orchestra's vice president of development. (In a country where a rocky economy has orchestras struggling to make ends meet, balancing the budget is big news. On June 30--the end of its fiscal year--the orchestra ended up with a small surplus in funds.)
Sharing a congratulatory handshake with Leyton at the kickoff of the orchestra's Summer Series was orchestra chairman Randy Johnson, who attended with his wife, Carole. "We did it!" Johnson said, beaming.
Music lovers who pay $2,950 each ($1,600 of it being an orchestra donation) to attend the five concerts dine in style before the festivities.
Taking their seats in the orchestra pit (before some 11,000 concert guests) symphony lovers sipped bubbly at tables spread with crisp white linens. Centerpieces were tiny American flags and sprays of gold stars. Dinner, which was served on gleaming white china, was roast boneless Cornish game hen, spring salad with raspberry vinaigrette and baguettes with herb butter.
Dessert was supposed to be a rare treat: chocolate fettuccine. But when the caterer attempted to create the exotic item, she threw it out. "It didn't taste chocolatey enough," she said.
So instead, guests had fresh raspberries served with sour cream and blueberry ravioli. (Talk about red, white and blue. Guests almost saluted this dish.)
"I love the summer series," said Peggy Cotton, who attended with her husband, Les. "The concerts are fabulous, and at the end of this one we get fireworks. At the Tchaikovsky concert in September, we get the boom of a cannon--the 1812 Overture, you know."
Richard Kaufman conducted the orchestra with selections that included "Carousel Waltz" and the theme from "A Summer Place" before Jim Brown (entertainment correspondent for NBC's "Today Show") took the stage to salute John Wayne. The orchestra followed with musical salutes to his movies.
Among them: the overture from "The Cowboys" and theme music from "True Grit," "The Quiet Man," "The Alamo" and "The High and the Mighty." Wayne's son, Patrick, read a poem about America written by his father.
"Ahhh, John Wayne," sighed Nadine Leyton. "I loved everything about the man."