- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2002

"It won't matter if you drink enough," said a laughing Nurit bar-Josef, concertmaster of the National Symphony Orchestra, as she mingled with guests at the National Symphony Orchestra Ball last Friday night.

The youthful violinist was reacting to a question about how ball patrons would like the decidedly short program Music Director Leonard Slatkin and the orchestra were offering at the $1,200-per-couple extravaganza. Indeed, maestro Slatkin gave the grandly dressed fleet of foot just 2 1/2; minutes to waltz to Johann Strauss' "Blue Danube" amid the towering pillars of the National Building Museum.

Alas, those expecting an evening of symphonic fox trots, mambos and rock 'n' roll oldies but goodies were disappointed. As one amused wag pointed out: "One could hardly expect maestro Slatkin and his 100-piece orchestra to do 'Guy Lombardo on New Year's Eve at the Waldorf. ' "

It didn't seem to matter. Guest artist Marvin Hamlisch, the symphony's principal pops conductor, was on hand, donating his services to play a moving medley of Cole Porter tunes on the grand piano placed stage front at the building's east end.

Having the orchestra appear for even a few concert numbers was memorable enough the first time the present generation of the organization's supporters could remember that happening.

Once upon a time, the U.S. president would attend the ball with his lady, traditionally both honorary patrons, but the last first couple anybody present could remember doing so was President Ford and his wife, Betty.

"I'm so glad they don't come," said ball benefactor Virginia Mars, citing the attendant fuss over security and protocol that follows in a president's wake.

The event produced another innovation: optional black- or white-tie evening garb appropriate for a two-tone-theme, "Black and White Ball." Until last year's black-tie affair, the annual benefit had been one of just two white-tie events on the calendars of le tout Washington (the other being the Gridiron Dinner).

The change brought compliments to ball chairmen Mary and Mandy Ourisman because, apart from easing the dress code, it also inspired original decor under the direction of New York designer David Tutera. The 800-plus people attending helped raise more than $1 million for orchestra activities.

The reception area featured a large, luminous backlighted bar. When curtains parted on the rest of the scene, guests were greeted with custom-made black and white tablecloths alternating under large, mostly white bouquets heavy with sweet-smelling lilies or gardenias. The orchestra sat in front of a sparkling backdrop. Wind fans high up in the interior kept 15-foot-long white fabric streamers undulating through most of the night.

After the dinner's first two courses (Maryland crab pate, breast of stuffed pheasant), there was a change of mood to hot pink, red lights and the booming sounds of New York's Soul Solution setting bodies in motion until midnight. Those less inclined to move in rhythm could satisfy themselves with an elaborate dessert buffet.

Few women were slouches in the dress department, black being Washington's favorite formal choice and white the perfect accent color. "I went back into the archives," patron JoAnn Mason said of her chosen costume. Marlene Malek nodded in agreement.

Mrs. Ourisman did her turn in a black-and-white diagonal-striped Bruce Oldfield gown. Toni Gore had a signature gold-and-white bodice, a collector's special, set off by a cascading black tulle shirt and wrap. Grega Daly's stunning Anouska Hempel number was accented with a diplomatically inspired sash and faux orders and stars, all in diamonds, of course. (Husband Leo Daly's Italian, Jordanian and Knights of Malta insignia were the genuine articles.)

The evening marked a changing of the guard, with Ann Jordan taking over as orchestra chairman from Michael Brewer. "It's great of you to come out tonight in spite of the weather," the new chairman said in upbeat remarks about the orchestra she called "the best in the world."

Mr. Slatkin thanked "those gentlemen who chose to come in our work clothes now you know what it feels like," a reference to his orchestra's normal white-tie wardrobe. He also joked about how his high-profile group had become for the evening "the world's largest big band."

Just producing Mr. Slatkin is a big deal in itself because he is booked three years in advance, Mr. Brewer noted. And what's a ball without a queen? Queen Noor was present as guest of all-around arts patron Jim Kimsey (although they didn't hang around long enough to boogie down to "Bad Girl," and other bawdy Soul Solution numbers).

In addition, ambassadors galore were on hand, representing the far corners of the globe Argentina, Belgium, Singapore, Morocco, Israel, Finland and Russia, to name but a few. Also on the list of grandees: Catherine B. Reynolds (whose $100 million gift to the Kennedy Center was announced officially the next day but already was old news to those in the know), White House adviser Karl Rove, Redskins owner Dan Snyder, Bitsey Folger (worried she might lose her jewels during a dance-floor romp with Dr. Sidney Werkman), San Francisco real estate mogul and Democratic fund-raiser Walter Shorenstein (with conservative writer Jennifer Grossman), Britty Cudlip and John Damgard, Lucky Roosevelt, Roger and Vicki Sant, Samia and Huda Farouki, Philip and Nina Pillsbury and ever-glamorous Houston socialite Lynn Wyatt.

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