The Crowd: Open the wallet and strike up the band

Can you think of a better way to offer music enrichment courses in financially challenged public schools than purchasing and providing musical instruments for students desiring to learn? A practice violin costs just $150. A cello runs $300, and an upright piano can be purchased for $500. That's just the beginning. Students want flutes and saxophones and yes, even a tuba.

Enter the Philharmonic Society of Orange County. Founded in 1954, the society of passionate men and women dedicated to fostering generational interest in the preservation as well as the future of classical music is one of the premiere resident companies associated with the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. On a grand scale, the society has sponsored many of the region's most celebrated concert performances, including many internationally acclaimed artists. On a grass-roots level, the Philharmonic Society buys violins and flutes and pianos and even tubas for O.C. youngsters enabling the study of music. One child, one instrument at a time.

Last Saturday night in Costa Mesa, the faithful gathered in the Samueli Theater at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts for an annual dinner gala to renew friendship and pledge both allegiance and funding for Philharmonic programs, including the purchase of those much-needed instruments. Chaired with class, first class, by Marsha Anderson and Marta Bhathal, the glamorous evening was created around a performance by Monica Mancini, the stunning raven-haired daughter of the late prolific composer Henry Mancini.

Following cocktails — including the specialty elixir of the night, fittingly named "The Pink Panther" (vodka and cranberry juice with lime) — the dinner crowd was seated at fabulous tables decorated by the talented Sunny Ravanbach of White Lilac fame, as the Patina Group catering crew served a first course of creamy butternut squash agnolotti with black truffle parmesan.

Philharmonic Society CEO Sabra Bordas introduced chairs Bhathal and Anderson, and then it was time for Mancini to enter stage left. The graceful singer sauntered on stage in a stunning crème-colored jumpsuit that moved with her like a floating angel. Backed up by a phenomenal group of musicians, most notably a killer gal on the grand and a tenor sax beyond compare, Mancini performed some of the classic melodies that made her dad a worldwide household name. Among the best was a rendition of "Two for the Road," the theme song from the film of the same title starring the late Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. Mancini shared with the audience that the song had been her parents' favorite personal love ballad, and more importantly, that her mother, Virginia Mancini, was in the audience that evening.

Unfortunately, Monica did not introduce her to the crowd. It would have been a nice touch. Overall, her act is professional and her voice is solid, but she lacks emotional connection with her audience and definitely needs a writer to work on the patter.

Organizers also did Mancini a disservice by splitting her show into two acts, separated by a live auction and the dinner entrée service. Auctions are vitally important to charities, but they can also kill an evening. They are like Tabasco sauce — just the right amount works, too much is too much. Philharmonic boss Dean Corey interjected some sarcastic humor to save the timing and give the crowd a chuckle as well as impress with the news that a matching donor would double all monies raised at auction that night, up to $1 million.

Underwritten by sponsor Mikimoto, the Saturday night revelers included the beautiful Sally Crocket and husband Randy Crocket, Pamela Paul and Jack Cancellieri, Joyce and Tom Tucker, Kathy and Noel Hamilton with Kathy's parents Virginia and David Reed, Nadine and Robert Hall, Sharm McNalley, Carol and Kent Wilken and husbands of the chairs Raj Bhathal and Darrel Anderson greeting the enthusiastic crowd who had paid $1,000 per ticket and more to support the programs of the Philharmonic Society.

In the end, the $175,000 net raised at the gala will buy a busload of instruments for O.C. school kids.

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

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World