Two special events closed the year 2002 in style: the National Symphony Orchestra Ball, for34 years a pacesetter for Washington galas, co-chaired this year by Mary andMary Ourisman, and then the Choral Arts Society, a relative newcomer, whichscored again with its 22nd annual Christmas Concert and Benefit underthe patronage of the Embassy of the Russian Federation.
The Symphony Ball Committee broke with tradition this year, authorizing black-tie as an optionas well as the classic white tie that has always been de rigueur for this special event.
Another innovation was Leonard Slatkin conducting the entire National Symphony Orchestrain Strauss waltzes, and the Cole Porter medley by guest pianist Marvin Hamlisch, downfrom New York with his pretty wife Terre. (“That’s with an e, not a y,” said Marvin.)Both musical interludes, alas, were all too brief.
Also here from New York, the ear-splitting sounds of Soul Solution took over as dinner ended,either luring guests to the jam-packed floor, or driving them to the heavily-laden dessert tables.
Seen: Lynn Wyatt, in from Houston; and from Florida, Beverly Fisher White and her husbandArmer White, Willard and Donna Marriott, Carla and Roderick Hills, Shirley and AlSmall, Judy and Ahmad Esfandiary, Lucky Roosevelt with the Dominican Ambassador to the OASOscar Curry, Leo and Grega Daly, Gisele Theberge Jeppson and John Jeppson, and ambassadorsfrom a score of nations. There was a Redskins corner with David Abdala picking up pointersfrom owner Dan Snyder and coach Steve Spurrier, and a legal contingent including SupremeCourt Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor. For regal glamour there wasQueen Noor escorted by Jim Kimsey. Just back from Switzerland was the World Bank’s inveteratewaltzer, Blaise Kikudi, happy to tell the news that wife Claudia Assmann is expecting a weefuture banker within a few months.
The handsome invitations to the Choral Arts Society’s dinner-dance, its main social and fundraisingevent of the year, bid attenders to don “Black-tie, glitter, and a tad of fur, and promisedan “Evening of Russian Enchantment.” And, so it was.
The two-part soiree began with the glorious sounds of the 190-voice Choral Arts Society at theirannual Christmas Music Concert at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Gala-bound listenersthen went on to a dinner dance at the Embassy of the Russian Federation.
As usual, founder and music director Norman Scribner produced an evening of outstanding musicality,enhanced by the soaring voice of soprano Alessandra Marc —she clad in a dress of shimmering redwhich matched her flame-colored hair. Selections ranged from the beloved seasonal sing-alongsthrough Daniel Pinkham’s Christmas cantata “Sinfonia Sacra” to folk songs and carolsfrom old Russia, the latter accompanied by the Washington Balalaika Society ledby Maxwell McCullough.
(One enthralled listener, Catherine B. Reynolds, who with husband Wayne and her eponymousfoundation, had just donated $100 million to the Kennedy Center.) Once inside the embassy, evenhuge as the building is, the crowd thronging the first floor rooms created a “trafficcrisis” with waiters hoisting trays of champagne, vodka and smoked salmon and caviarcanapés above the heads of the crowd.
A big attraction was the silent auction, ably curated by Catherine Trauernicht Scott,which had gala-goers lining up to bid on donated items ranging from the Gartenhaus blacksheared mink to the $27,000 super-special South African safari donated by African Temptationswith first-class British Airways tickets courtesy of Dr. and Mrs. Jerold Principato.
Ambassador Yuri Ushakov and his pretty blonde wife Svetlana, the honorary chairmen,greeted guests waiting to go upstairs to dinner. When the doors opened, the rooms weremagnificently decorated for the occasion, with varied tablecloths of fruit and flower-patternedsilk, and tall centerpieces of sugared fresh grapes and pears that gleamed like Christmasornaments. Dinner, featuring lobster salad and veal medallions, ended with an artfully donelittle chocolate mousse “basket of jewels.” Table favors included tiny rhinestone tiaras for thewomen, and small lacquered boxes for the men. Guests left with goodie bags holding LucyMaxym’s beautifully done book, containing handsome plates of the country’s signature lacquerwork, “Russian Lacquer, Legends and Fairy Tales.”
Chairwoman Christie Weiss acknowledged the help of many who made the evening a success,including Judy Brophy,the Society’s executive director, whose work, along with the leadershipof Norman Scribner, won for the Society the Washington Post Award forExcellence in Non-Profit Management.
PARTY-GO-ROUND: “Warm and charming ” describes the reception at Lydia and Vice AdmiralCharles Moore’s spacious quarters. Among the happy guests: Portia and Mike Davidson,Ariane and Jack Carpenter, and Katti and Dr. Ashaq Ishaq, (of the non-profitInternational Child Art Foundation, who is preparing now for the foundation’s InternationalChild Art Festival to be held on the National Mall in the fall)…Margaret Hodges’ annualChristmas Brunch at the Congressional Country Club always brings together oldfriends, most of them “cave dwellers,” the term for long established society ofWashington according to social arbiter Betty Beale, there with husband GeorgeGraeber. Seen: Anne Camalier, Frances and Marion (Joe) Smoak, Brad and Natalie BunkerStoddard, Barbara and General P. X. Kelley, Suzanne Block, Barbara Sloat, Jorge and JackieCarnicero, and Candy and Jack Summerville …Nicole and Jean-Jacques Reibelpresided over the Willard Hotel’s “Holiday Lobbying Party” with the magnificent food anddrink for which the Willard is noted. (Great evening, said longtime fan John Cosgrove.)The evening’s title harks to early times, when President Ulysses S. Grant coined the term“lobbyist” for the many who importuned him in the lobby for their favorite causes when he lived atthe Willard Hotel…
Gertie d’Amecourt had friends over for a buffet supper, including Mileta Schubert, DCM of theAustrian embassy, Doda de Wolf, Boris de Kisselevsky (who was leaving the nextday for Russia to spend Christmas with his mother in St. Petersburg), Nancy and Jim Hurd,Matt Hastings, Prince and Princess Albert Czartoriski, (who drove up from Annapolis for theevening) and Roberta McCain, mother of Senator John, who was leaving early next morning for atrip to Athens, India, and Morocco, then Auckland to embark on a Silver Seas cruise of a dozenstops including Tahiti, then on to Puerto Vallarta and ending in her “home town” of Los Angeles.Doesn’t all that make us all feel like stick-in-the-muds?
LITERARY LIONS: John Updike sent a heartfelt letter of thanks, and two other major Americanwriters, Norman Mailer and William Styron, arrived in Washington for an evening at theEmbassy of the Russian Federation to pay tribute to a lady of ninety-plus years,Tatiana Kudriavtseva.
Legendary among translators, Mme. Kudriavtseva has translated dozens of American writers fromTwain and Dreiser to the authors listed above, helping millions of Russians discoverAmerica through its literature.
She was this year's honoree at a celebration of the 10th Anniversary of theAmerican-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation, a group founded and ablyheaded by former Rep. James W. Symington. The ARRC has for ten years arranged suchpresentations as the Romanov Treasures exhibition which traveled to nine U.S. cities, andceremonies such as the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the joint victory inWorld War II, among many other cooperative activities. The commanding statueof Russia's immortal poet, Alexander Pushkin, was installed on the campusof George Washington University with the cooperation of President StephenTrachtenberg, to mark the 200th birthday of the world-renowned author.
Dinner co-chairmen for the glittering event (which brought out many fromWashington’s cultural community, as well as a group of former U.S. Ambassadorsto Russia) were Jane Sloat and Sheila Griffin. (Apropos of literary lions, shortlyafter the ARRC evening, a play opened on Broadway chronicling the long-standing feud betweentwo American literary “lionesses” Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman. Witty as itsauthor, the talented screenwriter-director Nora Ephron, the play recounts the lawsuitbrought by Hellman after McCarthy proclaimed to the world that “every word LillianHellman ever wrote was a lie, including “and” and “the” Lillian didn’t like it.)
ALLISON: A light went out on the social scene with the passing of AllisonLaLand. An inveterate hostess, Allison was also one of the area’s most successful realestate agents, engineering maxi-deals such as the $20 million sale to thegovernment of Spain. These facets of her life were well known, but there wasanother side, and you could only find it out by spending much time with her,and then by accident, never from her lips. A woman of profound religiousbeliefs, she was responsible for innumerable acts of thoughtfulness andcharity. It is typical that she asked that there be no funeral service ormemorials for her, asking only that we all do “a kindness for someone else.”
CONFLICT RESOLUTION: It was unexpected, to say the least, that an evening such as the20th Anniversary Celebration of the National Peace Foundation, a group working tirelessly forwhat must be the world's most important concern, could be full of warmth, and so much fun,but it was.
Stephen Strickland spearheads the group, which since 1982 has worked in a broad program ofpublic education in conflict prevention and resolution. Norwegian Ambassador KnutVollebaek opened the evening at the Monarch Hotel with a word about the Nobel Peace Prize.Strickland spoke of the Foundation’s work, and saluted the life and work of Frances HumphreyHoward, whose daughter Ann Howard Tristani was there for the occasion, seated with JanetHoward (no relation, a longtime friend of her mother’s) who is vice president of the Coca-ColaCompany, one of the evening’s sponsors.
Sarah Harder spoke of the work of Peace Links, and former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young,long a worker for peace, was honored with the Lifetime Peacebuilder Award before theaudience of Washington notables.
TRUE DAVIS: Long one of Washington's most dashing men-about-town and a former ambassadorto Switzerland, True sent his season's greeting from St. Joseph, Missouri ("where the PonyExpress was born, and Jesse James was shot," says True.) His card shows a debonairwhite-tie-tails-and-top-hatted True leaning against a twelve-foot high stuffed polo bear, andthe accompanying 2003 calendar bears the motto "New brooms sweep clean, but old rakes have morefun."