- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Above all else, Christmas and the holiday season are about tradition. So it was with great delight that supporters of the Choral Arts Society of Washington returned Monday to the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel's grand ballroom for the society's annual post-concert dinner-dance after several years in larger settings.
"A better choice; the room is more intimate than most in Washington," said investment counselor Peter Ladd Gilsey against a backdrop of fox trots, Latin numbers and classic rock 'n' roll that kept dancers moving in quick step past the midnight hour.
A "return to Old World elegance" was integral to the plan this year, benefit chairwoman Ginger Pickle noted approvingly as guests exclaimed over the glittering Christmas trees, spectacular candlelit floral centerpieces and holiday greens covering every available wall, pillar and balcony railing.
The evening, aptly named a Celebration of Light, began with a 90-minute concert of Christmas music in the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall by the 175-member chorus, led by founder and Music Director Norman Scribner. The music was unusually diverse in origin this year, embracing traditions as far-flung as those of the Caribbean and Hawaiian islands, Israel (for Hanukkah) and Belgium. The latter was in homage to Belgian Ambassador Alex Reyn and his wife, Rita, the evening's honorary chairmen.
Mr. Scribner, whose songfest was about "Celebrating the Past, Embracing the Future," explained his selections during the gala's reception and silent auction. Made final by late October, the program was designed to have "an uptempo quality and at the same time be respectful" in the aftermath of the September 11 tragedies. "If Christmas is anything, it is hope, joy and love," Mr. Scribner said. "And it is one world, after all. We thought to make that a statement."
Also unusual: The articulate, ebullient director said he had refrained from any comment during the program, afraid that he "might start faltering and begin to cry."
"Given the world situation, the point was to focus more on common concerns," said tenor-cum-benefactor David Petrou, echoing Mr. Scribner's words. "What better way to do this than through music, and what is light but hope and understanding?"
The group's public appearances are worldly as well, with almost yearly travel abroad, a schedule Mr. Scribner said he hoped would allow it "to take 2003 off." The group's next European tour starts in July, he said, and he very much would like it to be part of the 2004 Olympics in Greece.
The presence of the ambassadors of Spain, Brazil and Finland (all previous sponsors) added to the cosmopolitan atmosphere, as did the women's fashion selections. Every variety of red fabric was on show, including the strapless red gown worn by soprano soloist Ying Huang for her Choral Arts Society debut.
The rose bouquets presented to current and past event chairwomen midway between the filet mignon and the fruit mousse dessert were red as well. All had been donated by Ecuador's glamorous Ambassador Ivonne A-Baki.
Despite initial fears of a recessionary impact on the event's bottom line, organizers reported a healthy $600,000 raised from corporate and individual donors. The event is always sold out with a substantial waiting list, so there was no objection to raising individual ticket prices from $350 to $425 this year.
"This is the event to be at if you're in the business world. It kicks off the holiday season," said Velocita Corp. President Buddy Pickle, who reported no discernible slacking off on the corporate side, even from supposedly hard-hit high-tech contributors. As all good chairmen's husbands are wont to do, of course, Mr. Pickle primed the pump himself with a hefty $25,000 "major sponsor" donation. Another 20 companies lent support at the $10,000 and higher levels, with First Union National Bank, the benefit's lead underwriter, kicking in $50,000.
Among the 700 guests: businessmen-philanthropists James Kimsey, Jonathan Ledecky, Russell Ramsey and Gregory Earls; opera singer Linda Hohenfeld Slatkin; former gala chairwomen Denise Alexander, Connie Lawson, Mary Haft, Cindy Jones, Barbara Burris and Lorraine Wallace; David and Janet Bruce; Lucky Roosevelt; Andy (Mrs. Potter) Stewart; Wiley T. Buchanan III and Janice Buchanan; Henry and Diana Cashen; Tom Korologos and Ann McLaughlin Korologos; BP America executive Larry Burton and wife Rebecca (who are moving to London); Charles and Evelyn DiBona; Suzanne Cooke; and Patricia Bennett Sagon.

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