Monday, May 18, 2009

Washington Social Diary

Ladies gloves, set aside to serve tea at St. Albans School for boys' centennial celebration.
By Carol Joynt

Don’t be fooled by the Technicolor roses, azaleas and rhododendron in bloom all over town. Washington is a harsh and often cruel city. For every time a member of Congress refers to another as “my good friend” on the chamber floor, there are probably several other occasions when the good friend is called an “SOB” behind the back. We have our public manners that cover our private, and often severe means of getting the job done. People don’t rise to the top here because their chief skill is etiquette. Milquetoasts do get eaten for breakfast.

Roses blooming in Georgetown, Thursday, May 14, 2009, 2:30 p.m.
All the more reason to take a moment to focus on the St. Albans School for boys, which sits in the lush hilltop grounds of the Washington National Cathedral. The school is celebrating its centennial year. STA, as its known, is regarded as the school of the capital’s rich and powerful, but not without some controversies. The parents whose sons get admitted – few – love the school. The parents whose sons don’t make the cut – many – have other opinions. And so it goes.

Regardless, St. Albans makes a routine out of practicing civility. When boys enter the school in 4th grade, in addition to reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, they are taught to write “thank you” notes, among many other fine points of etiquette. It is aggressively Episcopalian or, in other words, High WASP. Since the boys also are taught to pummel their opponents on the playing field, it could be said they are getting an ideal Washington education.

A member of the St. Albans family invited me to attend a recent Centennial event, a perfect counterpoint to Washington’s other face. It was a civilized, and delicious, afternoon tea party, preceded, as with almost all school events, by a church service. There was a brief and peaceful service of Evensong in the school’s handsome “Little Sanctuary.” The purpose was “Thanksgiving” for St. Albans founder, Harriet Lane Johnston, who may be best known to others as the niece of bachelor President James Buchanan. In fact, she acted as his First Lady through the four years of his administration in the middle 1800s. Like Michelle Obama, she was popular, an activist, considered a fashion icon, and women copied her look.

Canon Vance Wilson,
STA’s headmaster, told her history to the congregation after several angelic choral offerings from the school’s noted young choristers. According to the program, Johnston made the bequest to found the school “specifically to provide for the free maintenance, education and training of choir boys, primarily those in service of the Cathedral.” The student population has expanded beyond only choirboys, but they still maintain a special place in St. Albans and with the National Cathedral. If you’ve ever watched a National Cathedral service on television – celebrations, funerals, and other state events – you have heard them sing.

It is particularly moving to hear their sweet voices in the smaller confines of The Little Sanctuary, with its stucco walls, rustic pews, high rafters and colorful stained glass. It is a spa experience for the spiritual soul.
The afternoon began with a celebration of Evensong in The Little Sanctuary of St. Albans School. It was in Thanksgiving for Harriet Lane Johnston, who founded the school. The front pew.
The choristers, relaxing before the service.
Violinist Harry Risoleo (Class of '14) performs a moving Prelude.
St. Albans acclaimed choristers perform the The Lord's Prayer.
A most Episcopalian prayer for a most Episcopalian school.
The program for Evensong. The school hymn, in part.
The school hymn, glued inside every hymnal.
The congregation, St. Albans parents, and parents of parents, listen as Canon Vance Wilson, the headmaster, tells the story of Harriet Lane Johnston. Inset: A stained glass window in St. Albans Little Sanctuary - in tune with its flock, boys.
When the service ended, the guests walked the short distance to St. Albans Refectory, which is in the stone Lane Johnston Building. In the lobby they were greeted by a harpist playing “O Susanna,” Women in elaborate hats and white gloves, pastel suits, and a few men, some in period dress, or appropriate afternoon formal dress, gathered at white lace covered buffets for hand made tea sandwiches, scones and tea served by committee members from silver urns.

Who would ever want to leave such a calming environment? But we did, back to the cruel world outside.
Guests walk from The Little Sanctuary to the school's Refectory for tea.
St. Albans' mascot, the bull dog.
The harpist in the Refectory main hall. St. Albans teachers provide the musical entertainment inside the Refectory.
A cheerful St. Albans headmaster, Vance Wilson, greets guests at the tea party after the service. A student dining table in the St. Albans Refectory.
An explosion of beautiful flowers on one of the buffet tables.
There were a few men at the tea, too, of course dressed appropriately. Everyone knows St. Albans celebrates a bygone era, including tea time.
The splendid tea service in the St. Albans refectory.
Clockwise from top left: These little strawberry and mint tea sandwiches look good and tasted even better; The requisite, but not ordinary, Ginger Scones with Clotted Cream and Jam; The cucumber sandwiches; Colorful Jordan almonds.
All tea was personally served by seated members of the host committee. Keeping with Victorian tradition, only lemon and sugar were available. No milk or cream.
Parents, friends and school officials mingled and lingered in the civilized atmosphere of the afternoon tea.
Names, photos and other memorabilia highlight the decor of the St. Albans Refectory; Harriet Lane Johnston died before St. Albans first graduates, the class of 1910, got their degrees. Their names, like the names of all graduates since, are painted on the Refectory's walls.
Clockwise from top left: Important artifacts from Harriet Lane Johnston; Harriet Lane Johnston's photo loomed large over the St. Albans tea party; Ladies enjoying tea time.

The Washington Performing Arts Society gathered their flock Saturday night for an uplifting and French-themed annual spring gala that featured music, romance and dancing cheek to cheek. Dancing has to be mentioned up top because Washington is not known for its dance parties.

Typically, when the dancing starts most guests head for the valet parking. So, what did the WPAS do? They started the dancing before the appetizer, and who did they have playing that most romantic of tunes, “Embraceable You?” The swoony and groovy Wynton Marsalis – who, by the way, contributed his 20-minute performance.
A guest checks out an auction item at the Washington Performing Arts Society gala.
Food during the cocktail party included mushroom crepes.
Marsalis was the headliner at a dinner that also featured moving hymns from the Children’s Gospel Choir of the WPAS, lively foot work from Step Afrika!, and more dancing to DJ Vadim. There were brief remarks from the gala’s “diplomatic patron,” the always charming and soft-spoken Ambassador Pierre Vimont of France.

If there was a disappointment, it was the 11th hour cancellation by White House social secretary Desiree Rogers, robbing the organization of having a high profile administration celebrity in the room. People here like Rogers. She’s second only to First Lady Michelle Obama in the glamour flow, and she’s an impressive presence, but sometimes it seems like she’s coming and going at the same time. This is not the first gala occasion where she’s cancelled at the last minute, and it’s not the first time the organizers have tried to hush it up as “no big deal.” Granted, things happen, duty calls, but I was told her excuse and it’s not that she needed to give late counsel to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on how to keep her notes in order. A WPAS official said, “It’s okay. They are still finding their way.”
Dancers entertained before guests sat down to dinner.
The table settings had a Moulin Rouge flourish in keeping with the French theme.
The first course: not unlike a French picnic.
Some of the guests who did show included Mary Bird, Carol Bogash, Eugene and Gina Adams, Tom and Marcene Broadwater, Sam Dawson, Bruce and Joyce Gates, Zoltan Gabor, Marc Duber, Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing, Jim and Janice Gaines, Franklin and Ruth Hodges, Francesca Craig, Ira and Sydel Hammer, Jay and Robin Hammer, Cordell Hayes and Hilda McIntosh, Carl and Carolyn Hicks, Bynum and Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, David and Sharon Lockwood, Gary Mather and Christina Co-Weeks, Rafat Mahmood, Frank and Susan Mars, Debra Lee, David Neal, Steven Sadeghian, Jayne Sandman and Jeff DuFour, Rachel Pearson, Daren Thomas, Robin and Eileen West, Ted Segal and Joyce Wasserstein, Zelda Segal, Susan Watters, Brian Williams, Dennis and Jean Warnke, Cara Zimbalist, Dennis and Ceci Wraase, David Levy and Carole Feld.
Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, in the crowd during the WPAS auction. Stephanie Green.
Izette Folger. The evening's patron, French Ambassador Pierre Vimont, with new WPAS board member Bruce Gates of Altria.
Sam Dawson whispers something to Eileen West. Neale Perl, President of the Washington Performing Arts Society.
Afghanistan Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad with Rachel Pearson, a executive committee member of the WPAS board. Jayne Sandman.
The ballroom of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel as dinner was served at the WPAS gala.
The featured entertainment was Wynton Marsalis, who contributed his performance.
The dance floor quickly filled up when Marsalis played "Embraceable You."
Robin and Jay Hammer, dancing to the music of Wynton Marsalis. He is chairman of the Board of Directors of the WPAS. Neil and Izette Folger.
David Levy and Carole Feld. Daren Thomas rips up the dance floor.
The WPAS Childrens' Gospel Choir.
Step Afrika! in an exuberant performance.

You’ve laughed with them and loved them as the bandmates of Spinal Tap and The Folksmen, but in real life they are the gifted actors, musicians and funnymen Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and Christopher Guest. The Folksmen appeared in Guest’s film, “A Mighty Wind,” and their heavy metal selves starred in the cultish 1984 improv documentary “This Is Spinal Tap.” Spinal Tap will be on the world stage again in June in London, marking the release of a new album, “Back From The Dead,” but these recent weeks the trio has toured “Unwigged and Unplugged.”

Spencer Joynt, Courtney Prillaman, and Harry Shearer.
They performed at the Warner Theater in Washington this past week and, thanks to a long friendship, they agreed to sit down with me for a rare group interview for my cable program, “The Q&A Café.” (DPC, too, is a past guest). Most of the time they had the audience, and me, in stitches, especially as McKean described life on their tour bus. Good news for fans is that McKean may soon be on Broadway in the Steppenwolf production of “Superior Donuts.”

Guest is putting together a Broadway version of his brilliant “Waiting for Guffman.” Shearer continues as one of the founding stars of “The Simpsons,” about to become the longest running sitcom in TV history, as well as hosting his weekly syndicated radio show, “Le Show,” and trying to keep his part-time home, New Orleans, on the agenda of the Obama Administration.

They did do a bit of personal business for my son, Spencer Joynt, on stage at the Warner. Desperate for a clever way to invite his girlfriend, Courtney Prillaman, to the prom, Harry Shearer had the solution. Between songs he asked, “Courtney, will you go to the prom with Spencer?” The packed audience giggled. Then, Michael McKean said, “What do you think? Should Courtney go to the prom with Spencer?” Loud applause. Of course, she accepted.

The “Unwigged” tour hits New York May 26 and 27 at the Beacon Theatre.
The new Museum of American History lobby made possible by Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History hosted a small and stylish luncheon earlier this week in honor of some visitors from New York – the LeFrak family. It was to formally thank Ethel LeFrak and her late husband, Samuel, who endowed the museum’s newly renovated and reopened lobby.

More than a dozen LeFrak family members, representing three generations, plus friends and associates, zipped in from New York for the day – for the lunch and a brief tour of the lobby and the adjacent remounting of the circa 1814 Star Spangled Banner – the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem.
A view of the LeFrak Lobby with a homage to the Star Spangled Banner at the top of the stairs.
Another view of the History Museum's state-of-the-art Star Spangled Banner.
The LeFrak lobby is a favorite of visitors to the National Museum of American History.
The museum’s director, Brent Glass, and the head of the Smithsonian Institution, Wayne Clough, made brief welcoming remarks to the approximately 60 guests. Francine LeFrak spoke for the family.

“I know today my father would be beaming,” she said. “To him the Smithsonian represented so much of the patrimony of the country. As an immigrant, he lived the American dream.”
The table settings at the luncheon for Ethel LeFrak and family at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
In addition to Francine and Ethel LeFrak, the guests included Michele Ridge, JoAnne Boyle, Holly Andersen, Robert Rose, Faanya Rose, Benjamin Doller, Richard LeFrak, Karen LeFrak, Harry LeFrak, Jamie LeFrak, Jean Bordwich, Fergus Bordewich, Alexis Marks, Richard Kurin, Rick Friedberg, Judy Goldstein, Harold Ickes, Stuart Holliday, Marlene Malek, Howard Safir, Carol Penn, Buzz Aldrin, Noel Lateef, Nelda Lateef, Victor Lateef, Nadia Lateef, Denise LeFrak, John Calicchio, Jennifer Boyarsky, Neil Boyarsky, Allison Koffman, Maggie Webster, Debbie Dolan, Ginny Clark, Marvin Gershengorn, Janet Gershengorn, Teresa Vivolo, Victoria Gray, Jim Gardner, Charles Manatt, Kari Fantasia, Victor Goldstein, Cheryl Harrison, Cathryn Keller, Alice Sessions, Bill Sessions, Judy Gradwohl, Kele McComsey, Jeff Mattusow, Janice Enright, Tess Cardenas, Emanuela Cakirca, Jan Lilja and Bita Javadizadeh.
Ethel LeFrak arriving at the luncheon. Karen and Richard LeFrak.
Wayne Clough, head of the Smithsonian Institution, with Brent Glass, head of the National Museum of American History. Jennifer Boyarsky.
Janice Enright and Melinda Machado. Christine Warnke and Deborah Dolan.
Harold Ickes, Francine LeFrak, and Buzz Aldrin. Jeffrey M. Matusow, VP for private banking at J. P. Morgan.
Brent Glass welcomes the LeFraks, board members and other guests to the luncheon.
The Chilled and Minted Spring Pea Soup. Amish Free Range Chicken with Creamy Polenta, Haricot Verts, Broccolini, Carrots and Tomatoes.
Dessert LeFrak, Citron and Meringue with a special cookie.
Ethel LeFrak. Ethel LeFrak receives a standing round of applause at the luncheon in her honor.

It seems we’ve had nothing but rain these last two weeks, but the other night it broke long enough for Mark Lowham and Joe Ruzzo to serve champagne and cocktails on the stone terrace of their impressive McLean mansion. If anything, the rain enhanced all the spring colors of their gardens and green, green lawn.

The occasion was a dinner to honor sports and spa mogul Sheila Johnson and her role in the Ovation Society of the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival – in other words, one generous rich person who has encouraged other like individuals to be generous, too.
Cocktails on Lowham and Ruzzo's terrace overlooking the lawn and pool.
The view from the terrace.
The Ovation Society’s leader, Steven Stolman, lauded Johnson, who replied to his toast with a plea to the small and exclusive group of guests to open their wallets even more for the June jazz festival. She praised the Duke Ellington program for helping to get music to children in financially challenged schools. “We gotta put the arts back in the schools,” she said. “We reach young people in ways you can’t imagine. Music teaches children to become problem solvers.”
Dinner co-host Mark Lowham with Sheila Johnson and Todd Gambil. David Deckelbaum.
Dinner host Joseph Ruzzo and Todd Gambil. Ethan and Lindsey Drath.
The guests included Charles Fishman, Sunny Sumter, Winston Bao Lord, Lindsey and Ethan Drath, Adam Ozmer, Michael and Linda Sonnenreich, David Deckelbaum, Chuck and Cynthia Vance, Leah Gansler, Dorothy McAuliffe, Shawn and Jocelyn Dobson, Mark Lefkowitz, Giardy Ritz, Roby Penn, Alexandra Beyda, Frankie Lucostic, Michael Golding, Rick Pollack, Kevin Pruitt, Todd Gambill, Charlene Rothwite, Francesca Craig, Beth Murray, Brian Farrell, Justin Klamerus. Entertainment was provided by David Schumann on violin and Harry Appleman on piano.
One of the three tables.
The seating charts for dinner.
The centerpiece.
Guests listen to remarks by Charles Fishman.
Executive producer Charles Fishman praises the generous supporters of the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival.
Clockwise from above: To start, a crab cocktail; The entree, lamb chops; Dessert, chocolate cake with a sugar cookie, ice cream and cherrie sauce.
Steven Stolman gets frisky with Frankie Lucostic.
Alexandra Beyda. Sheila Johnson and Charles Fishman.
Rick Pollack and Mark Lefkowitz deep in dinner conversation. The powder room.
In the dining room.
The den.
The dinner music, jazz on violin and piano.
After sunset, the McLean, Va., home of Mark Lowham and Joseph Ruzzo.

On May 1, international opera sensation Placido Domingo headlined a celebration of Latin music on behalf of The Washington National Opera. The program, “From My Latin Soul,” was an opportunity for Domingo to highlight the music of his Spanish heritage – zarzuela, mariachi and, of course, opera.

He sang duets with Argentinian soprano Virginia Tola, and showcased 28-year-old Mexican conductor Alondra de la Parra, and Mexican tenors Jesus Hernandez and Jose Ortega.
Placido Domingo and Spanish dancer Nuria Pomares.
The concert at Constitution Hall was followed by a gala dinner for almost 400 guests at the nearby Organization of American States, which was decorated to suit the occasion with bright and festive colors. In addition to a Latin-themed dinner, and wines from Argentina and Chile, there was music and dancing.
Placido Domingo and Virginia Tola.
The guests included the gala’s co-chairs, Lucky Roosevelt and Isabel Ernst, Kenneth Feinberg, John Pohanka, Mark Weinstein, Robert and Luciana Duvall, Carmen Petrowitz, Adrienne Arsht, Yaz and Valentin Hernandez, Alexandra Kauka, Anabell Mariaca, Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, Katherine Weymouth, Stuart Bernstein, Wilma Bernstein, Tony Bechara, Julian Zugazagoitia, Vicki and Roger Sant, Jacqueline Mars, Annie Cleland, Michael Pillsbury, Susan Pillsbury, Nina Pillsbury, Mary Mochary, Marian Rosenthal, Sybil Shainwald, Arturo Brillembourg, and Sheila and Sahar Jaha.
Clockwise from top left: Annie Cleland, Jacqueline Mars, and Vicki and Roger Sant; Sheila and Sahar Jaha; Kenneth Feinberg, Sybil Shainwald, and friend; Placido Domingo and Yaz Hernandez; Rosa de la Cruz with Ricardo and Isabel Ernst; Mary Mochary, Gilan Corn, Luciana Duvall, Placido Domingo, and Robert Duvall.
Alexandra Kauka and Sterling Hamil. Alondra de la Parra and Virginia Tola with guests.
All photographs by Carol Joynt, except for Washington Opera. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.