The Crowd: Candelight Concert nets $1.3 million for Segerstrom Center

It is the most glamorous social event of the year in Orange County. It may also be one of the most elegant parties on America's annual event calendar.

Last week's Candlelight Concert to benefit the Segerstrom Center for the Arts celebrated its 25th anniversary in grand style.

The 2011 gala was the 38th installment of the annual fundraiser for the Costa Mesa arts center and netted a smashing $1.3 million. The money will be earmarked for the center's artistic and educational programs.

For gala chairwoman Dee Higby, resplendent in an elegant holiday inspired shimmering ball gown, and her co-chairs, Betty Huang and Elizabeth Segerstrom, the party was a superb triumph. Some 450 dressed-to-kill donors were awe-struck by the transformation of the cavernous 3,000-seat Segerstrom Hall into a chic, multitiered night club setting.

Adorned with spectacular crystal chandeliers, including a painstakingly created and hung ceiling piece that was truly magical, designers set a tone of silver, black and red for an evening of holiday romance. Tables draped in silver-white cloths that were appliquéd with fabric roses supported carefully selected vintage crystal votives. These surrounded centerpieces overflowing with verdant velvet-pedal "Black Magic Roses" in deep red hues.

Event co-chairwoman Betty Huang, wife of center patron S. L. Huang, dressed in a classic black sequin and lace-capped sleeved evening gown, greeted adoring guests praising the beauty of the party.

"It's in the details," she whispered, adding, "Details are my forte."

Indeed, to take it one big step further, in the words of famed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, "God is in the details." Surely this was the case for Candlelight 38.

The evening began with a lavish cocktail reception on the second tier foyer followed by a four-course gourmet dinner overseen by the legendary Joachim Splichal, chef and founder of the Patina Restaurant Group.

Patina Executive Chefs Ross Pangilinan and Gregg Wiele created the dinner that began with Muscovy duck and potato cannelloni followed by an exceptional veggie dish of sweet corn agnolotti, chanterelle mushrooms and lime brown butter.

The entrée was a rustic selection of venison loin in sauce grand veneur, a bold choice but appreciated by all, and for dessert, "Chocolate Caramel Symphony," and a second selection of vanilla strawberry surprise. If that was not enough, a truffle bar with row after row of chocolate delicacies tempted partygoers with a demanding sweet tooth.

The presenting sponsor of the grand evening was Cartier, represented by the elegant and gracious Caroline Jones. Guests were gifted with lavish Cartier holiday surprises. Major support also was provided by East West Bank, represented by President and Chief Operating Officer Julia Gouw, and Center partners Jane and Jim Driscoll and Elizabeth and Henry Segerstrom named as honorary executive producers of the program.

One of the most exceptional aspects of the night was the incomparable flow of the evening program. The entertainment was world-class, beginning with a lovely performance by Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth. Mid-dinner, a Christian gospel group of some 30 young voices came out of every corner of the theater in a "flash mob" style took the crowd on a wild musical ride.

After the dinner service, 1960s pop star Frankie Valli and his new troupe of young, handsome male backup singers, known as The Four Seasons, got the crowd up and dancing to his now classic rock n' roll songs including "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Swearin' to God."

Generous patrons sharing in the Candlelight tradition were Wylie and Bete Aitken, Elizabeth An and Gordon Clune, Carol and Kent Wilken, Sally and Randy Crockett, Marta and Raj Bhathal, Charles and Twyla Martin, Patti and Jim Edwards, Harriet and Sandy Sandhu, Catherine and Jim Emmi, Susan and Tim Strader, Julianne and George Argyros, Marie St. John Gray, Liz Merage, Maralou and Jerry Harrington, Eve Kornyei, Terry Goldfarb-Lee, and Leslie and Dino Cancellieri to name a few.

Center President Terry Dwyer joined Lawrence Higby, chair of the center's board, in welcoming past and present donors and special patrons, including significant arts advocates Elaine Redfield, Roger Kirwan, Mark Chapin Johnson, Tim Strader and Michael Gordon.

THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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