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Joining me at the Philharmonic Society of Orange County's "60th Anniversary Celebration Dinner" honoring its beloved President/Artistic Director Dean Corey (pictured)

Joining me at the Philharmonic Society of Orange County’s “60th Anniversary Celebration Dinner” honoring its beloved President and Artistic Director Dean Corey (pictured)

I know a lot has been written and voiced in the past year about the departure of the beloved leader of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County. Dean Corey was the “Man for all Seasons” at the Philharmonic for 21 glorious years. He steered the nonprofit through some perilous times (that goes without saying in the nonprofit arts world!) but mostly just putting the organization on the map for hosting the world’s top conductors, orchestras, solo artists, chamber groups, and choral ensembles. I can’t thank him enough for that. Having a degree in music myself and, thus an appreciation for experiencing the finest musical performances, it was a terrific 21 years!

After all the accolades, the Philharmonic saluted Dean one last time at its “60th Anniversary Celebration Dinner” with a tribute to him as its President and Artistic Director extraordinaire. Held at the Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach, the evening drew 194 guests, including some of Dean’s performing arts friends – Irvine Barclay’s Doug Rankin, Segerstrom Center’s Terry Dwyer, Baroque Music Festival’s Burton Karson, past Segerstrom Center President Jerry Mandel, and Chapman’s Musco Center for the Arts’ William Hall. I even spotted the Philharmonic Society’s second Executive Director Erich Vollmer, who preceded Dean.

Philharmonic Society Board Chairman/CEO Noel Hamilton welcomed everyone and announced that the $1 million challenge grant offered by a generous anonymous friend of the Philharmonic Society a year ago had been met and that a new matching challenge grant of $250,000 was being provided by Jim and Catherine Emmi to continue the 60th anniversary gifts. The Emmis were presented medals welcoming them into the Society’s esteemed group of Esterhazy Patrons. Hamilton then announced that the Society was establishing a fund in Dean’s honor called the Dean Corey Fund for Artistic Excellence and Innovation that will support future program growth.

Sabra Bordas, the Philharmonic Society’s immediate past board chairman, recognized event chair Kathy Hamilton and her committee for orchestrating the evening with its springtime in Paris theme, in tribute to Dean and Kaly’s retirement destination in a little village in the south of France. The French-themed dinner with escargot and a beef tenderloin entree topped with Bearnaise and red wine sauces was delicious, and Youngsong Martin’s Wildflower Linen’s provided elegant green silk tables covers topped with silver sequined overlays, white chiffon/green ribboned chair covers and purple, pink and white floral centerpieces. It was a lovely ballroom!

In lieu of the 60th anniversary, Bordas asked the following to stand – past board of director chairs, past presidents of the 800-member strong Volunteer Committees, current board of directors members, the Esterhazy Patrons, and concert series sponsors, which included the Segerstrom Foundation, Shanbrom Family Foundation, Sam Ersan, and the Donna L. Kendall Classic Series. And, in conclusion, Bordas thanked the Golden Baton group of donors, “who consistently support the Society,” she said.

Preceding a black and white 60th Anniversary Video showcasing the Philharmonic Society’s history, Hamilton opined on the Society’s beginnings in 1954, “Orange County boasted some of the fastest growing cities in the nation, but we still didn’t have a freeway. Walt Disney was still planning his Magic Kingdom, From Here to Eternity won the Oscar for Best Picture, and a group of music-loving Orange county citizens gathered in Elaine Redfield’s living room to lay the groundwork for the Philharmonic Society.” The group firmly believed that Orange County citizens needn’t have to depend on Los Angeles-based cultural organizations for their artistic needs but that the best could be offered here. Within its first decade, according to Hamilton, the Society transitioned from being an orchestra to a presenting organization and within two years of its founding, dedicated committees of volunteers sprang up to support the the Society’s youth music programs, which continue today to educate and enlighten 150,000 students annually.

Following Grammy-nominated French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s endearing performance of Chopin nocturnes, a Brahms intermezzo and a special request from Dean for Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” three people offered tributes to Dean. Judith Jelinek, President of the Committees when Dean arrived in 1993, spoke for all the volunteer committee members when she said, “Thanks for the memories.” Mitzi Tonai, who served as the Society’s Director of Development for 18 of Dean’s 21 years, spoke for the staff when she said, “We admired your creative mind, even when you deviated from the agendas, and loved your great sense of humor and endless ‘Deanerisms.’ Your infectious laugh always lifted our spirits.” Don Evarts, past board president, said, “Dean, you have put us on the international map and have enriched our lives and been an inspiration to all of us.”

Hamilton and Bordas presented Dean with the Society’s greatest honor, the Golden Baton Award, after which Dean recognized the Philharmonic Society of Orange County staff, one by one, and then had some advice for the future of the Society and classical music in general. “Give your new president a lot of support and make him feel welcome, as you did to me 21 years ago,” he said. “Keep the quality high,” he said, regarding the musical presentations, the program for young people and the trust of the ticket buyers and contributors. “And, enthusiastically embrace technology. It is the greatest tool for furthering our mission that has ever come along.” Concluding, Dean said, “Love the music, live the music and pass it on.”

It was left to Hamilton and board member Dave Rosenberg to offer a champagne toast to the revered retiree. “Dean’s wonderful stories and his love of life have made him a delightful leader and companion on this musical journey – whether it’s sharing a meal, a bottle of wine or embarking on a musical adventure in the U.S. or abroad,” Hamilton said. Dave added, “As Michael Levine said of Dean in the introduction of Dean’s book, Beethoven, The Late Great, ‘one day at a performance of Mahler in tuxedo, the next day at a football game in jeans and a ball cap’ – wide grin on his face at both, having the time of his life and making those around him feel welcome and happy and comfortable. Dean is indeed a rare human being and will be missed.”

As I write this, Dean and Kaley have just departed for France and their new life. With the internet making everyone so available these days, we will definitely keep up with them – many in person, since the Coreys have invited any and all to visit them – but, I for one, will miss seeing the man in person with his thatch of white hair and horn-rimmed glasses, always a little askew, and his beautiful dissertations on classical music only he can impart. And, no one can tell a story like Dean! He truly is a bon vivant and raconteur of the highest order! Continue to love life, my friend, and farewell, until we meet again.

Selected photos by Nick Koon

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