It was a grand night on the Orange Coast. The 40th anniversary celebration of Candlelight Concert on Dec. 6 exceeded all expectations, raising an impressive $2.2 million for the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
The remarkable financial milestone is a testament to the skill and talent of Candlelight chairwoman Betty Huang and her partner and vice chairwoman, Dee Higby. The dynamic pair rallied 400 of the most influential citizens in Orange County to support the Segerstrom Center and honor the past chairs of the Candlelight Concerts.
The list of honorees is long and impressive and includes many women who have made an indelible mark on Orange County culture. Included in the tribute were Carol Wilken, Catherine Thyen, Elizabeth Tierney, Barbara Glabman, Marta Bhathal, Eve Ruffatto, Sally Crockett, Ruth Ding, Ronnie Allumbaugh and Elizabeth Segerstrom, to name only a few.
Chairman of the Segerstrom Center, Larry Higby — husband of Dee, who was beautifully dressed in a Dubonnet-toned strapless ball gown — welcomed the guests in the main theater in Segerstrom Center, following a lively cocktail reception held in the center foyer complete with an extravagant caviar bar generously provided by center founder Henry Segerstrom and his wife, Elizabeth.
Higby's eloquent address set the tone for the classy evening. He paid tribute to all of the donors as well as the center staff, who year after year, event after event, ensure that the Segerstrom Center for the Arts is the most important cultural icon in Orange County.
Funds raised at Candlelight Concert are earmarked to support the center's nationally recognized educational programs, which offer performing arts experiences to an estimated 300,000 students, teachers and families in the community each year. Center President Terry Dwyer followed Higby in thanking generous underwriters and acknowledging the presenting sponsor of Candlelight Concert 2013, Piaget.
As in recent seasons, the décor of Candlelight Concert was built around the removal of all of the orchestra seats in Segerstrom Hall, with party designers setting up tiered dining facing the performance stage and dance floor at the front of the center. The extravagant setup is always an awesome reveal as the crowd makes its entrance into the theater.
The 2013 design scheme was more of a minimalist approach. Decorators used thousands of twinkling white and multicolored lights to illuminate the massive walls of the interior. Round dining tables were adorned with verdant arraignments of white roses and orchids set with artistic contemporary flatware, crystal and china.
To put the crowd in a holiday mood, the party began with a performance on stage that included a massive lineup of students from the center's "Six Days of Broadway" program singing carols with 13 of the past Candlelight Concert chairs joining in.
A four-course dinner, prepared and served by Patina, took the crowd by surprise. The unusual selection included a menu that could only be described as ultra nouvelle. Diners were most impressed with the second course of lobster soup. The main course was a very rare and tender filet mignon, accompanied by a delicate sweet potato pie and seasonal vegetables.
Dessert was shocking. The Patina staff served oversized white china platters dressed in a multitude of sweet treats all combined, creating a smear of sugar that included caramel, chocolate, vanilla, whipped cream, bites of cookies of various flavors and much more. Meanwhile, on the top tier of the theater, planners set up the world's best truffle bar, enticing partygoers scared by the table offering of dessert.
There is no question that Candlelight Concert is the most important charitable fundraiser of the year in Orange County. It is the culmination of a year of painstaking planning and diligent fundraising that requires the diplomatic skill of intelligent and concerned citizens who believe deeply in the importance of the arts in the community.
Creating a party worthy of the cause is in and of itself a monumental undertaking, especially when year after year it must exceed the expectations of an audience contributing multiple thousand dollars per person to attend. The importance of this event, the cause aside, is that it brings together community members who wish to be counted among a group of people who consistently put their resources in a community treasure that is arguably the cultural beacon that has elevated Orange County as a whole to an enviable national status.
Otherwise stated, becoming a member of the Candlelight Concert family of donors places a citizen in a rarified position in the Orange County social, business and cultural strata.
Among those who are part of this elite confederation are Jane and Jim Driscoll, Deborah and Larry Bridges, Mark and Barbara Johnson, Sally and Randy Crockett, Eve and Michael Ruffatto, Julia and Ambassador George Argyros, Ronnie and Byron Allumbaugh, Harriet and Sandy Sandhu, Marta and Raj Bhathal, Patti and Jim Edwards, Terry and George Schreyer, JoAnn and Tony Fanticola, Maralou and Jerry Harrington, Barbara and Alex Bowie and Joan and Wally Gayner.
Inasmuch as Candlelight is always a fashion extravaganza, best-dressed nods go to numerous elegant ladies. Party chairwoman Huang was exquisite in her red gown. Elizabeth Segerstrom looked like a movie star in her emerald green satin evening dress and her platinum blond hair. Patti Edwards was ultra-sophisticated in her Grecian-inspired red gown accented with moon rocks of diamond roundels.
The high-energy evening concluded with a performance by the legendary Beach Boys singing all of the surf songs that made the Orange Coast famous back in the 1960s. The nostalgia factor overshadowed the aging voices. It didn't matter. The audience loved them just the same and danced until midnight.
THE CROWD runs Fridays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.