A grand time, a grand cause

Times Staff Writer

Out went the family piano and the living room furniture. In came the Steinway concert grand and dozens of velvet-cushioned chairs. And there was even more heavy lifting to do at the Beverly Hills estate of director-producer Irwin Winkler and his wife, Margo, before the couple could welcome American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to a benefit gala starring Chinese pianist Lang Lang. The den furniture also had to be whisked away, making room for a dozen tables for the formal post-performance supper. The home's "denuding," as Margo Winkler playfully dubbed it, was unsettling, she said, only minutes before the couple welcomed about 70 guests, including Israel Philharmonic Orchestra music director Zubin Mehta and Nancy Mehta, and philanthropists Eli Broad and Edye Broad. But worth it: "What could be better than having Lang Lang appear in your home?" the Winklers chimed.

Nothing, it seemed. Dedicating his performance to the Mehtas, Lang, 20, thrilled the crowd with powerful renditions of Haydn's Sonata in E, Lecuona's Malaguena and Balakirev's Fantasie Orientale. Guests jumped to their feet to applaud the young artist, who would make his debut at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion the following evening. "He is a meteor, a rocket who has just taken off!" Zubin Mehta exclaimed. After the performance, guests retired to the den-turned-dining-room to feast on roasted chestnut soup, rack of lamb and chocolate truffle cake -- catered by Wolfgang Puck -- at tables topped with antique silver teapots filled with white peonies. The Dec. 4 "Evening of Musical Dreams" raised $300,000 for orchestra operations and education programs.

"I came back yesterday from Israel, after opening the orchestra's season," Mehta told guests, who also included Sidney and Joanna Poitier, Susan and Leonard Nimoy, Maurice and Nathalie Marciano and Peter and Annette O'Malley. "Life is going on, unusually so. Just this past March, when the orchestra was playing with Japanese pianist Mitsuko Uchida, a bomb just 15 blocks away exploded before the performance, and yet the hall was filled. People need this incredible 2 1/2 hours in a concert hall." The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra will return to Los Angeles on Dec. 10 of next year to appear at the new Walt Disney Concert Hall, Mehta said.

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