- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2007

Thursday evening’s debut performance of Symphonica Toscanini at the Italian Embassy certainly was special and on a less positive note so were the embassy’s dictates for the guests.

The invitation from the Press, Cultural and Congressional Affairs Office, sent on behalf of Ambassador Lorin Maazel, with no mention of a dinner or a reception to follow.

An early evening rendezvous on a weekday requires some fancy footwork handling traffic and a costume change unless a chauffeur and formal wear are at the ready.

None of this mattered, of course, when, at 7 p.m., Mr. Maazel took to the podium before 60 musicians in white-tie-and-tails, all of them under the age of 35, to perform an exquisite hour-long program of four familiar classics, all connected to Italy in some way except the last Johannes Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance N.1.” “It’s one of my favorites,” he explained afterward.

He also pronounced diplomatically that he found the acoustics in the working embassy’s colorful and dramatic main hall with its metal grid and glass ceiling “very satisfactory. I was surprised.” A stage for the musicians half the normal complement of 120 who are making their U.S. debut this month was positioned in an alcove at one end of the room, where the audience of several hundred guests sat in straight-backed gold-colored chairs.

First Counselor Luca Ferrari introduced the orchestra with some blessedly brief remarks. The group was formed in Rome last year to perpetuate the musical ideals of the late conductor Arturo Toscanini, who had been music director of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala as well as the New York Philharmonic, where Mr. Maazel now is in charge. (They will play tomorrow at a gala evening in New York’s Avery Fisher Hall in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Mr. Toscanini’s death.)

One sympathetic guest surmised the early hour and dress code was Italian custom. An embassy official explained that he had thought it was the custom in Washington especially on Embassy Row to embrace formal affairs even when no dinner is planned (in this case because the dining areas were sequestered for use as the musicians’ green room). Both suppositions missed the mark, since no such rules seem to exist. While most guests stood around chatting stoically over glasses of wine, sparse refreshments were passed. Hungrier sorts brazenly monopolized hors d’oeuvres trays at the source right next to the kitchen door.

Musical savants present included Washington National Opera stalwarts Michael Sonnenreich and Robert Kraft and Argentine-born pianist-banker Maximo Flugelman. VIP enthusiasts were Supreme Court Justices Samuel A. Alioto Jr. and Stephen G. Breyer and Millennium Challenge chief John Danilovich, former ambassador to Costa Rica and Brazil, who recently served as the official U.S. representative at the inauguration of Daniel Ortega as president of Nicaragua. (The decades have somewhat softened Mr. Ortega, a Sandinista scourge of the U.S. government in the 1970s, he reported.)

Also sighted in the throng were former FBI and CIA Director William H. Webster and wife Lynda, Arnaud and Alexandra de Borchgrave, Bitsey Folger and Dr. Sidney Werkman, Ina Ginsburg, Lolo Sarnoff, Francis and Nathalie de Wolf, D.C. Councilwoman Carol Schwartz, Marc and Jacqueline Leland, Arturo Brillembourg and Dr. LaSalle and Ruth Leffall.

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