One of the most grown-up occasions on Washington’s fall social calendar is the annual Symphony Ball at the Kennedy Center. At this year’s ball, more than 700 guests gathered—coiffed, pulled, powdered, and dolled up in evening gowns and black tie, having paid $1,000 per person to attend. (Or more: A “Maestro” level table for 12, plus the concert and other perks, cost $50,000.)
The evening of performances, by violinist Joshua Bell, soprano Kelli O’Hara, and the National Symphony Orchestra, led by maestro Christoph Eschenbach, served as a “welcome to Washington” for the center’s new president, Deborah Rutter. And a nice welcome it was: The ball raised more than $1.4 million.
An event this cultured and expensive is, of course, subdued and well-behaved. Kennedy Center chairman David Rubenstein, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Catherine and Wayne Reynolds, orchestra board chair Jeanne Ruesch, board members Tina and Albert “Sonny” Small, Sidney and Jay Johnson, Bitsey Folger, Ann and Vernon Jordan, Mary and Mandy Ourisman, Congressman Jim Moran, and the ambassadors of Brazil, Finland, Germany, Nigeria, and Thailand were all in attendance. A little graying at the temples is to be expected. Even baby-faced Bell is 46 years old.
The ball is also surprisingly relaxing. As always, Eschenbach started the show by leading the orchestra in a season-opening and rousing national anthem. The audience stood and sang along before sitting back to hear Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide,” as well as works by Saint-Saëns, Ravel, Johnny Mercer, and Barry Manilow.
“It’s great to be back with this incredible orchestra and maestro,” Bell said after arriving on stage to booming applause.
He dedicated a piece, “Ladies in Lavender,” to Rutter, saying he had performed the soundtrack for the English film of the same name “about two great ladies . . . and we wish her many great years ahead.” When the number was over, Rutter walked to the stage apron to shake Bell’s hand.
Before the concert guests enjoyed cocktails and canapés on the terrace overlooking the Potomac River, with a backdrop of a rather painterly late-September sunset. At intermission came Champagne on the box tier. After the performances, the grownups regrouped in an adjacent tent—made much less tent-like with beautiful flowers and lots of candles—for a French-themed meal, Champagne, and dancing cheek-to-cheek.
Find Carol Ross Joynt on Twitter at @caroljoynt.