- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2006

Klingelingeling. The ring of Tyrolean Christmas carols filled the Kennedy Center’s wreath-decorated Concert Hall at the Choral Arts Society of Washington’s annual holiday concert and gala Monday night. One of the choristers even offered pronunciation tips before the audience rose to sing “Silent Night” — in German, naturlich.

Accompanying the choir for the first time was the American Youth Philharmonic under the baton of Cuban-born maestro Luis Haza, who took turns conducting the young musicians with the society’s Artistic Director Norman Scribner. “Sometimes, late at night, I worry about the future of classical music,” Mr. Scribner said after a whip-cracking “Sleigh Ride,” pausing to note the impending demise of WGMS, Washington’s only remaining classical music radio station. “Then I listen to this group, and I realize the world is safe and secure.”

After a rousing “Jingle Bells,” 750 of the well-heeled and well-dressed (the event was “white-tie and decorations” optional) headed upstairs to the Roof Terrace dinner dance, where the concert was assessed during the lengthy silent auction. Particularly pleased with the musical selections was statuesque Austrian Ambassador Eva Nowotny, the honorary patron of the event with husband Thomas Nowotny. “I have a great love of simple songs that come from the countryside,” she said, also praising the choristers’ singing of Schubert’s “more sophisticated” “Ave Maria” in her native tongue.

Afghan Ambassador Said Jawad said the caroling “brought back good memories” of his law school days in Munster, Germany. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg cited mezzo-soprano Jennifer Larmore’s concert arias by Mozart and Bach before bidding $2,200 for a fur-trimmed cashmere cape. “She has the most beautiful voice. She was wonderful in [the Metropolitan Opera’s] ‘American Tragedy’ last year.”

Themed as “Tales From the Vienna Woods” (the Strauss waltz played during the holiday concert), the auction included such Austrian luxuries as Swarovski crystal flutes and a cruise down the Danube.

“I’ve seen ‘The Sound of Music’ 62 times, so I hope I win this,” said Lynda Webster, wife of former CIA and FBI Director William H. Webster, before placing the winning bid of $5,500 for a six-night stay at Schloss Leopoldskron, the Salzburg castle where the movie was filmed. Nina Pillsbury was already dressed for the trip in an Austrian dirndl. (Husband Philip Pillsbury opted not to appear in lederhosen.)

Crowding around the auction tables during cocktails were United Service Organizations President Edward Powell, noting that “Al Franken has traveled to Iraq four times”; newscasters Nina Totenberg, Chris Wallace and Barbara Harrison; Sen. Pat Roberts; Finlay and Willie Lewis; Singapore Ambassador Heng Chee Chan; Marta Istomin; Kay Kendall and Jack Davies; Frank and Tricia Saul; Bill and Dorothy McSweeny; William Howard Taft IV; and Paul Tagliabue.

Arts supporters Gilbert and Jaylee Mead sat in an adjacent room talking about their $35 million gift to Arena Stage. “We believe in giving while you’re living,” Mr. Mead said. “Hopefully other people will be encouraged to give, and the construction of the new theater will start soon. There’s nothing like it in the country.”

A Viennese feast of beef tenderloin, potato salad, red cabbage and overly aged Linzer torte — only the Pilsner beer was missing — followed a welcome by board Chairwoman Anne Keiser and gala chairwoman Anne Hatfield Weir. Then a rock-‘n’-soul band played “I Will Survive” and other oldies while guests, including Sen. John Warner (looking rather dashing in tails), swept onto the dance floor or headed to the elevators.

The choir certainly will survive: The gala raised $650,000 to ensure more concerts here and abroad next year.

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