News & Politics

A Night in Vienna at the Kennedy Center (Pictures)

A dinner to honor maestro Lorin Maazel featured chandeliers, candelabra, and plenty of classical music lovers.

Setting the stage for the dinner after the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance at the Kennedy Center. The seating arrangement is called “king’s table,” in the spirit of Vienna and “Downton Abbey.” Photograph by Jeff Martin

Slideshow: A Night in Vienna at the Kennedy Center 

It seems only a trained eye could tell that something wasn’t right on stage last night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Most people in the audience experienced a smashing two-hour performance by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by maestro Lorin Maazel. They played a rousing and energetic Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 105 from Sibelius. The encore was a lengthy “Blue Danube Waltz,” which brought the audience to its feet. But it turned out Maazel was under the weather. Sheer professional fortitude got him through the concert. It was the classical connoisseurs who said he was “a little off,” a little slow. In other words, Maazel’s “a little off” is the average person’s tip-top form.

After the performance, Maazel met a few guests in his dressing room and then returned to his hotel, skipping the dinner in his honor. It was held in the Kennedy Center’s rooftop atrium, which was transformed into a Viennese dining hall, with chandeliers, candelabra, long tables arranged in the so-called “king’s tables.” The designer, Roger Whyte, said that in addition to celebrating Vienna he was channeling Downton Abbey. The menu included a frisée salad with Winter Harbor smoked salmon, oranges, and French breakfast radish; and an entrée of apple and chestnut-stuffed duck breast with a bacon-and-celery-root purée and Calvados sauce. Dinner didn’t begin until close to 10:30, so the dessert was thoughtful: a box of truffles to go.

Typically in Washington, a dinner that starts late loses a lot of guests. That wasn’t the case last night. It seemed that most of the 212 invited by the Washington Performing Arts Society lingered at their seats, enjoying the food, the William Hill wines, and one another. It was a group of dedicated music lovers. And generous, too. As couples or individuals, the guests had donated at least $5,000 to the society, and there were a few tables that had given much more.

One of those generous givers was Bitsey Folger, who looked especially vibrant. Maybe that’s because she and Sidney Werkman were just back from a week in Cuba. They spent the full week in Havana and were impressed by the emerging food and restaurant scene.

My dinner partner was Jon Sedmak, a member of the WPAS board but also a tech pioneer, having been there at the revolutionary beginning as a computer design engineer for Apple and Dell. He has lived in Silicon Valley and Austin. He’s retired now, and he and his wife, Nora Lee, divide their time between Washington and London, where they support the arts, especially music and theater. We had a good talk about what’s ahead in the tech landscape; he said that for all kinds of reasons, Windows and Google are both “toast.” But not Facebook. Facebook may be here to stay.

Also at the dinner were Dan Korengold and his wife, Martha Dippell, who were headed to Aspen; Jacqueline Mars, in town from her home in Middleburg; Washington National Opera president K enneth Feinberg; and the ambassadors of Austria, Croatia, Greece, Malta, Bulgaria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Other attendees includedArturo BrillembourgRobin HammerPurnell ChoppinRachel Tinsley PearsonArne and Astri SorensonPaul Stern and Melanie McFaddinSami TotahReggie Van LeeClemens Hellsberg and Dieter FluryJoris Vos and Erica MoreheadDoug and Catherine WheelerEllen Schreiber, Carol Wilner and Susan BuckGary Mather and Christina Co MatherBurton FishmanEric R. Fox, and Nancy Gustafson.

I checked this morning and learned that Maazel was feeling better. Good news, because he’ll be conducting the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall for the next three nights, and next Tuesday is his 82nd birthday. Happy Birthday, maestro.