- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 25, 2005

Big money, major jewels, high fashion — who could have doubted Washington society would celebrate the National Symphony Orchestra’s 75th Anniversary in haute style Saturday night?

The NSO’s annual ball is always the toniest party of the fall season, but this time chairmen Alma and Colin Powell had a giddy reason to celebrate: philanthropists Roger and Victoria Sant had pledged $10 million, the largest single gift in the orchestra’s history and one that earned the donors a huge ovation during the pre-dinner concert.

It will certainly buy a lot of violin strings.

But the Powells and Sants were hardly the glitzy evening’s only stars.

Maestro Leonard Slatkin’s stellar program was highlighted by a joyful Itzhak Perlman on the violin, the ever-bouncy Yo-Yo Ma on cello and Emanuel Ax on piano. The virtuosos received two standing ovations for their performances of Weber’s “Der Freischutz Overture” and Beethoven’s “Concerto in C Major” from the VIP audience, which included Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (looking svelte in a black and white strapless gown by German couturier Rena Lange), National Security chief John Negroponte, and Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman.

The Powells actually joined in on stage when the orchestra played “Lincoln Portrait,” the only one of composer Aaron Copland’s works to include a spoken text. Needless to say, their performance was flawless (they must have been practicing over breakfast) and one that moved many in the jaded crowd.

“The words by Alma and Colin made me cry,” Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta confessed.

After the concert, guests streamed into a tented dining area on the South Plaza filled with full blown red roses, tiny votive candles and dance music by the Count Basie Orchestra. The food was fab: champagne cured smoked salmon with fennel and red pepper, cognac marinated filet of beef and sinfully rich chocolate and raspberry bombes.

Well-heeled patrons shelled out $1,000 apiece, with some paying $25,000 for a table that included complimentary parking (every little bit counts). Table hopping was mandatory, of course, to greet all the luminaries who were blinded at times by the camera strobes. Sighted: Buffy and Bill Cafritz, Jean Kennedy Smith, White House honcho Josh Bolton, Rima al-Sabah (tres Euro-chic in black silk floral Ungaro), Jim Kimsey escorting Queen Noor, Mercedes and Sid Bass, George and Liz Stevens, former Sen. John Glenn and lots of diplomats.

Vernon and Ann Jordan, who ponied up $75,000 for the cause, wrangled handsome Wall Streeter Ray McGuire as a date for Miss Rice, who told us she’s been working out a lot lately before she cut out early to “return some phone calls.” As she is a gifted pianist, we wondered if she might play with Messrs. Perlman and Ma some night. She let out a giggle. “Not unless I can practice more than I do.”

We also managed to snag Mr. Ma from a crush of admirers to ask about his on-stage rapport with Mr. Perlman, who was tooling about the party in his motorized chair. Their affection for each other was obvious: two buddies having a ball onstage trading licks.

“We were like guys at a frat house,” he said with laugh.

— Stephanie Mansfield

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