R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : Ringing Up Support by Ringing In Year of the Pig

The year of the pig--a symbol of prosperity in China--was ushered in by members and supporters of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra's Chinese-American League at a Chinese New Year Celebration on Sunday.

About 150 guests, many dressed in red and gold, Chinese colors of good fortune, showed up at the Hyatt Regency Irvine for the league's "Year of the Pig" dinner and dance. The $100-per-person gala was expected to net about $10,000 for the orchestra's educational programs, particularly the league's Showcase for Young Musicians competition.

Bridging the Culture Gap

"The pig is a very good omen. I'm in Orange County, right?" asked U.S. district Judge Ronald Lew, making light of county finances. "I hope this indicates we all prosper this year."

Cultural barriers, he said, are easily bridged through the common language of music.

As if to prove his point, composer-violinist Elisabeth Waldo and her ensemble entertained guests with music inspired by her many trips to China. One song captured the sound of bicycle bells ringing in the streets.

Red and Gold

Guests sat at tables adorned with gold coins for good luck, red napkins and a pile of tangerines, which they peeled and nibbled on after dinner.

Firecrackers such as those adorning the stage are traditionally set off to ward off evil spirits, Lew explained.

Sumptuous meals are part of Chinese New Year celebrations, and this one was no different. The five-course meal included a spicy won-ton soup, beef tenderloin in a peppercorn sauce, Vietnamese spring rolls, salad with seared ahi and a large fortune cookie surrounded by banana chocolate mousse and strawberry puree for dessert.

While the crowd ate, models from Escada in South Coast Plaza showed off the boutique's spring-summer collection; many of the vivid red and pink suits and jackets they wore complemented the party decor.

The model who got the most applause, however, was PSO music director Carl St.Clair. He took an impromptu turn on a pedestal to show off an elaborately embroidered jacket given to him during dinner by PSO supporter Henry Hwang. Hwang bought the jacket in Beijing two years ago but never wore it because "it was too flashy."

"On the way here my wife said she was embarrassed to be seen with me," he told the group.

When St.Clair admired it, Hwang immediately handed it over.

"I love the way it feels when you move. I've been talking a long time about changing my conductor's attire," St.Clair said.

St.Clair promised to wear the jacket at the Showcase for Young Musicians concert June 4 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre's Cheng Hall. The league-sponsored showcase competition is open to 14- to 21-year-old Chinese American pianists, violinists and cellists from California, and winners get to perform at the concert with the PSO.

League of Their Own

This is the third Chinese New Year celebration staged by the league, which was founded in 1992.

"The league draws the Chinese community to the PSO. It encourages them to attend concerts and to participate in all musical activities," said Ellen Ong, league president.

As a child, league founder Arlene Cheng loved celebrating New Year's. She used to receive lucky money when she paid respect to her elders.

"I thought we should have some type of celebration here," said Cheng, dressed in a red Mandarin robe. "It brings back our culture."

Among the guests were: Marcy Mulville; Danni Graham and Vanessa Joe, event co-chairwomen; Lou Spisto, executive director of the PSO; Gloria Cheng, Jim and Velma Emmi, Ken Goldman, Gloria Jones, Victor Lee and Carol Combs, Hua-Fang Lu, Tammy Lin, Harold and Maggie Liu, Don and Margaret Quon, Wickham and Minnan Smith, Michelle Vicale, June Yeung and Leonard and Madeline Zuckerman.

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