- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2002

Organizing a benefit party is an enormous undertaking. Putting together a "first ever" gala doubles the trouble and requires extra preparation to inform potential guests about the nature of the cause and why their support is needed. When the cause is "transformational" changing hearts and minds through cultural interchange the obstacles can seem overwhelming.
But not if you are Venezuelan-born Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg. She's president of Strategic Investment Group and chairman of the new Youth Orchestra of the Americas, which this summer brings together 105 of the best musicians in the Americas from ages 13 to 25 for study and performances in 10 cities across North and South America.
Ole! The undertaking, which had its social inauguration Thursday evening with a sit-down dinner at the International Monetary Fund, may be the first of its kind to span more than one continent. (A youth orchestra of Europe and one for Asia already exist.) With renowned tenor Placido Domingo as artistic adviser and an arm of Deutsche Bank as underwriter, such a scheme would seem foolproof except that the cost to carry off the project comes to about $10,000 per student.
It officially begins July 7 with a three-week residency at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music and concludes Aug. 16 with a concert in Caracas, Venezuela. (The orchestra performs July 30 at Wolf Trap in Vienna with guest artist Yo-Yo Ma and conductors Leonard Slatkin and Benjamin Zander.)
The fund-raiser Thursday, From Mahler to Mambo, drew 230 people at $350 a ticket and had rum, rumba and just about every other reminder of Latin life under the glass-ceilinged atrium of the IMF headquarters which Chilean-born IMF Deputy Managing Director Eduardo Aninat described as a "humane building."
The space came free, as did the servers of a meal that included corn pudding, fried plantains, black beans and rice, and a trio of salsas, along with margarita salad, which Mrs. Brillembourg called a "melange of every Central and South American dish." A Latin jazz band played for some fast dancing after the meal and award ceremonies, which honored Carlos Padula of Deutsche Bank (it's always good to recognize your sponsor) and a surprised Mrs. Brillembourg.
Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy enjoyed the scene to the utmost. He had been invited to the fund-raiser by his close friend Colombian Ambassador Luis Alberto Moreno, who supplied flowers and paintings. "At least there will be no questions about the Mideast," he remarked. "Normally, on a free night, I would choose to stay home, but here I don't have to work. There aren't many free dinners and lunches in Washington."
He meant, of course, that an ambassador on social rounds invariably becomes a sitting duck for policy questions. Other diplomats present included Canada's Michael Frederick Kergin, Spain's Javier Ruperez, Paraguay's Leila Teresa Rachid Cowles and the Dominican Republic's Roberto Saladin Selin.
"This is the first time that people from all of the Americas truly are one," said an enthusiastic Mr. Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, who is lending his talents as teacher and conductor for the youth orchestra. How exactly did he become involved in what Mrs. Brillembourg described at one point as a "dream I didn't know I had"?
"Hilda is a force of nature," he said. "Like a whirlwind, you get captured in her vortex."
It also helps that the theme of cultural unity as expressed through music is central to Mr. Zander's life. "Music, like water, is irresistible," he said.
The maestro isn't exactly shy himself. He guided the youth orchestra's string quartet in a master-class exercise Beethoven rather than Mahler to illustrate what he called the transformative experience of music, or "what can't be expressed through words."
Bounding about like an elfin pied piper, he led the audience through successive versions of "Happy Birthday" that depended on increasing emotional and physical involvement each time. It gave Mexican-born Enrique Marquez, 21, a viola player, a tough lesson on his instrument.
"One of the dangers of playing very well is you can get comfortable," Mr. Zander said, urging Mr. Marquez to "play harder," because "if you shock yourself, you'll probably shock [the audience]. Beethoven was not a pretty composer. He shook his fist at complacency. You are supposed to get inside their heads and shake them up. Don't make it sound beautiful. Be willing to go for broke to do anything to make the music come alive."
When a musician takes advantage of the possibilities of the instrument, player and listener may both be transformed, and an orchestra such as the youth orchestra can bring about the same transformation, he suggested.
No argument there.

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