Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman pronounced Sunday’s National Symphony Orchestra gala “the most successful ball in the history of the NSO,” but he neglected to mention why — presumably a sum of money, of which the Wall Street financier surely was aware.
A record $2.2 million, according to symphony Chairwoman Ann Jordan, who said it all was earmarked for NSO artistic, educational and community outreach.
Also part of Mr. Schwarzman’s intermission remarks to the sell-out crowd at the orchestra’s season opener was praise for young Chinese pianist Peng Peng, something of a musical sensation because he is “all of 15 years old, complete with braces. You wonder what he will be like at 25.”
The evening marked the last “first night” for Leonard Slatkin, the musical director, who is moving on after 11 years on the podium in Washington. Had he any special feelings to share? “It’s just a night to go and enjoy and have a good time,” he said brusquely after the performance and before dinner on the center’s South Plaza. He will continue his association with the Pittsburgh Symphony, where he is principal guest conductor, and London’s Royal Philharmonic and next year will join the faculty of music at Indiana University.
The concert preceded the ball — the institution’s 49th such event — held, like the last two, under an enormous tent filled to capacity for about 1,100 patrons and guests. Not a few loyal patrons groaned at the thought of sitting down to dinner at 10 on a Sunday evening, but nearly all were enthralled by the sight of a candlelit gold-and-pink decor, which ensured a magical setting. Gold balls cascaded from trees at the entrance and from hanging wires on the interior. Table centerpieces were festive arrangements of pink and yellow blossoms.
Some very original and colorful gowns added to the spectacle. Soprano Renee Fleming, who earlier had roused three encores from the audience, appeared onstage in a John Galliano design for Dior that was a form-fitting stunner in glittering green topped by a lengthy green satin stole. The sight inspired vocal awe even before she started singing. Antonia Gore turned heads in a multicolored Japanese bride’s cloak, worn, she said, “after the ceremony.”
The A-list gathering was heavy with ambassadors and longtime symphony supporters, many of whom had spent Saturday evening at the opening of the Washington National Opera season. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson and Ambassador Nancy Brinker, the chief of protocol, were among those in the President’s Box. Ambassadors present included those from Bolivia, Yemen, Argentina, Lebanon, Singapore, Egypt, Korea, Finland, the United Kingdom, Djibouti, Australia, Jordan and Russia.