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Joining me at the Candlelight Concert luncheon at AnQi were past chair Ruth Ding (center) and current chair Betty Huang

Joining me at the Candlelight Concert luncheon at AnQi were past chair Ruth Ding (center) and current chair Betty Huang

It was such fun attending a small, intimate luncheon at AnQi Restaurant celebrating the past chairs of Candlelight Concert, one of the most anticipated charity events of the year. I remember the first Candlelight Concert 40 years ago because I was one of the more than 170 singers in what was then called the Orange County Master Chorale (later the William Hall Master Chorale) and the Trinity United Presbyterian Chancel Choir, who performed that evening with Carmen Dragon and The Glendale Symphony. You might have heard the story that the first Candlelight Concert was so named because it was held at The City shopping center in Orange in a vacant Kresge’s five-and-dime store that didn’t have electricity. Candlelight was the order of the evening, hiding the ugly space and lending a romantic glow to guests raising champagne toasts to the mission of building what was then called the Orange County Music Center, later renamed the Orange County Performing Arts Center, and more recently, Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

I sang many Candlelights following that auspicious beginning. The cherished Christmas tradition spent many years at the Disneyland Hotel, introducing Pacific Symphony to the mix, and after that, at such varied venues as the Arrowhead Pond (now Honda Center), various hotels in the area, and finally, in 1996, landing at Segerstrom Hall itself, where it has remained ever since. Along the way, I became a society writer for Newport Beach [714] and Coast magazines as well as the Orange County Register and thus a guest covering Candlelight for those publications.

Having sung in or attended most of the Candlelights in its 40-year history, I really enjoyed reminiscing with the past chairs at the luncheon, which was graciously hosted by AnQi co-owner Elizabeth An for the entire Candlelight committee at the South Coast Plaza location. Patricia Marshall remembered her year featured an Art Deco theme with floating gardenias on the dinner tables, while Joan Riach Gayner loved her New York penthouse theme. Carol Wilken, who chaired Candlelight in 1986, the year the Center opened, remembers how the excitement of the opening in September carried over to the big night.

Gradually, the choir performance segued to special guest artists, with recognizable names. Eve Kornyei Ruffatto loved Smokey Robinson’s performance the year she chaired, and Dee Higby remembers Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons at the 25th anniversary party bringing guests to the dance floor in droves. Marta Bhathal’s year featured Diana Ross and Elizabeth Tierney’s white Christmas theme brought Johnny Mathis to Segerstrom Hall singing his signature “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” Other artists over the years have included Tony Bennett, Kenny Loggins, Harry Belafonte, Donna Summer, Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, and more.

Betty Huang, this year’s Candlelight chair with Higby her vice chair, has chosen a ruby theme, in honor of the 40th anniversary. Ruby is the chosen gemstone for 40-year anniversaries, you see. She has asked her committee to wear red in honor of the occasion, and Piaget, Candlelight’s Presenting Sponsor, represented at the luncheon by South Coast Plaza store manager Marc Gravanovic, adorned many of the past chair honorees with their jewels at the luncheon. Other past chairs attending included Barbara JohnsonTerry Goldfarb-Lee, Patricia Poss, Dorothy Stillwell, and the amazing Ruth Ding. Ruth, who was on the founding committee and later chaired Candlelight, remembers husbands of chorale members pouring champagne at the first Candlelight and committee members using borrowed Christmas decorations from Bullock’s and Buffum’s (remember those stores?) to hide the ugly facility. Later dubbed the “Million Dollar Concert in a Ten-Cent Store,” there was only one way to go, and that was up!

P.S. Did I mention Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famers The Beach Boys are entertaining this Friday at Candlelight? Surf’s up at Segerstrom!

Selected photos by Steve Dawson