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Column:: The Crowd: ‘Speakeasy’ event benefits Philharmonic Society of Orange County

Donors R.J. and Adrienne Brandes help raise $115,000 for the Philharmonic Society of Orange County’s Youth Music Education Programs at their annual “Speakeasy” gala.
(Photo by Drew A. Kelly)

The dynamic duo of Donna Kendall and Carol Perry produced an amazing evening for the Philharmonic Society of Orange County’s 2019 annual benefit gala, “Speakeasy.” The Samueli Theater at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, one of the finest artistic venues in the county, welcomed some 100 devoted Philharmonic Society patrons for a special evening, which netted $115,000 for music education and artistic programming.

The society has been active since 1954 with the mission of bringing music education to youth and world-renowned performances to O.C. It is a key resident company in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Hall at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. In addition, the society presents concerts at the Irvine Barclay Theatre as well as other venues.

The roster of celebrated artists attracted by the society is stellar. Performances from Sir Georg Solti, Itzhak Perlman, Jacqueline du Pre, Daniel Barenboim, Lorin Maazel and Cecilia Bartoli have captivated local audiences. Renowned composers delivering magic for the society include Tan Dun, Philip Glass, Osvaldo Golijov, John Adams, Edgar Meyer, Burhan Öçal and Mikel Rouse.

Of equal importance, and impacting the community in a direct and meaningful way, are the Philharmonic Society’s nationally recognized Youth Music Educational Programs. For more than half a century this outreach has impacted local schools, free of charge, each year touching the lives of some 160,000 K-12 students.


The music education programs are considered among the most extensive of their kind in the United States.

In 2017 a collaboration between the Orange County Youth Symphony and the Philharmonic Society enabled the young musicians to engage in performances with some of the celebrated artists brought in by the society.

The early summer evening gala at the Samueli began with a cocktail reception as the handsome crowd, including event co-chairs Sabra Bordas, Debra Gunn Downing and Marlene Nielsen welcomed the invited donors, joining chairs Kendall and Perry, including Marta and Raj Bhathal, Dee and Larry Higby, Sally and Randy Crockett, Ruth Ann and John Evans, Carol and Kent Wilken, and Judy and Terry Jones, all toasting the society with signature martinis and cosmopolitans.

Also front and center, Newport-Corona del Mar real estate agent Adrienne Brandes on the arm of her entrepreneur husband, R.J. Brandes, said, “I’m a great believer in the Orange County Philharmonic Society. R.J. and I support the mission of providing instruments and music education to young aspiring musicians so they can realize their dreams.”


A three-course dinner prepared by executive chef Greg Stillman of Patina Restaurant Group, beginning with the “Bee’s Knees” course: an heirloom tomato salad, with buratta, basil, saba salt and parmesan crisp. For the main course, guests were treated to the “Bootlegger’s Flat Iron,” which included a flat iron steak, with Italian bean ragout, bloomsdale spinach, oven roasted cherry tomatoes, chimichrri and black garlic puree.

Dinner concluded with “Misbehaving,” a chocolate cake rocher with coffee Chantilly, chicory meringue and toffee brittle.

A live auction and “fund the need” followed dinner bringing in significant dollars for the cause.

Gala honorary committee members providing much-needed time and treasure for the evening event were France Campbell, Jackie Glass, Barbara Hiller Johnson, Anne Rosenberg, Dr. Ishani Dhillon, Jean Felder, Barbara Roberts and Kim Weddon, to name only a few.

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B.W. COOK is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.