|A MEMORABLE EVENING WITH YO-YO MA
by Carol Joynt
Sometimes it’s just right. That’s a kudo for Neale Perl and his team at the Washington Performing Arts Society, who the other night hosted an intimate, entertaining and private dinner for Yo-Yo Ma in a candlelit nook of a room at the Kennedy Center. It followed an enchanting SRO performance in the Concert Hall by Ma, with Kathryn Stott on piano, playing some Morricone, Gershwin, Mariano, Brahms, Fitkin and Rachmaninoff. It was one of those hectic autumn evenings with lots going on all over town, but this felt like the place to be.
Even with a fragile economy, WPAS, like so many worthy organizations, still has to raise money – now more than ever. When times were robust, each fall they hosted a lavish gala dinner in the Kennedy Center’s large rooftop atrium. Last year, the room remained large while the number of paying patrons shrunk to almost half. It didn’t feel right, and they knew it, and rather than fight the times WPAS came up with a brilliant solution: break it down, make it a bigger ticket in a smaller room, and most of all make it exclusive and special. They achieved their goals.
|At the intermission reception in the Israeli Lounge, soon to be transformed into a dining room.|
|Rachel Pearson and Josephine Cooper at the intermission reception.|
|One of the many bowls of M&M's in the private rooms at the Kennedy Center.|
|Little plaques honoring some of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall's most generous benefactors.|
|No cameras permitted inside, the performance as it appeared on a monitor outside the Concert Hall.|
|Rather than a couple hundred guests paying a couple hundred dollars each, there were only 50, with most of them paying $5000 each. Rather than the vast atrium, the dinner was held in the cozy (for the Kennedy Center) and colorful Israeli Lounge, which is typically used as a members-only retreat during intermissions.
After the intermission for the Ma concert, a team of techs, servers, chefs and party planners got to work transforming the space. Jack Lucky’s exuberant arrangements of autumn roses set the standard. Was it extravagant? No, but still nothing less than what it should be: pleasant wines, good salad, short ribs and a satisfying dessert. The most important item on the menu was Ma, who arrived from his dressing room to a standing ovation. He was happy, lively, even jovial, bouncing up from his seat to thank everyone, and table-hopping with glee.
|The Israeli Lounge, which was given to the Kennedy Center by the government of Israel, gets transformed into an intimate dining room:|
|Pulling in the flowers from Jack Lucky.|
|The seat assignments.|
|The star would sit with the Justice on his right.|
|The room, almost finished.|
|Uncorking the wine, prepping the wait staff.|
|The wines.||Gorgeous autumn roses.|
|Distributing the swag bags.|
|The concert over, the dinner guests begin to arrive.|
|There were the kinds of interesting dinner conversations that a more intimate dinner enables. Meeting Jacqueline Mars for the first time, I blurted: “Do you like M&M’s?” No surprise, she gave me a bit of a look but then smiled. Growing up they ‘”were always around,” she said, and while she likes them they aren’t her top favorite. “What I like the most are the Ethel M boxed chocolates. I get them sent to me from the factory.” The factory is in Nevada, where Jacqueline’s father, Forest Mars Sr., moved in 1981 to retire, even though in retirement he founded Ethel M as tribute to his mother and the art of quality chocolate.
“We get sent lots of different things,” Jacqueline said of the $28 billion family-owned Mars empire that since 1911 has grown from chocolates to other confections as well as food, drinks and food science; they own almost 130 brands. “As a guinea pig, to test them?” I asked, thinking that would be fun. She laughed. “No. They make those decisions on their own,” referring to the Research & Development department, “but they keep us in the loop. It’s a courtesy.” To say the least.
|WPAS Board Chairman Reggie Van Lee with Shirley Marcus Allen.|
|Tibin Zhang, First Secretary for cultural affairs at the Chinese Embassy.||Nicholas Ma.|
|Doug Wheeler and Jacqueline Mars.|
|Reggie Van Lee, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Doug Wheeler.|
|Possibly more than chocolates, Jacqueline likes to talk about her Stonehall Farm in Middleburg, Va., where she lives and breeds champion show horses. That’s clearly her passion, along with the arts. “Are you the reason there are bowls of M&M’s in the private dining rooms at the National Gallery of Art and here at the Kennedy Center?” I asked. She had a one-word answer: “Yes.”
Nicholas Ma has the same good looks as his father, though taller. I asked him, “Which of his instruments did your father play tonight?” I knew Yo-Yo Ma favored two 18th century gems, the 1712 Davidoff Stradivarius and the 1733 Venetian Montagnana. “Oh, it was the Strad,” he said casually, “A few months ago he said that he thought he’d play it through the fall.” The “Strad” was bequeathed to Ma by British cellist Jacqueline Mary du Pré upon her death in 1987. I wondered, “where do these precious cellos sleep,” imagining an elaborate climate controlled secret chamber. “They stay in their cases,” he said. In other words: no fanfare.
|Yo-Yo Ma arrives to the dinner, full of good cheer.|
|Yo-Yo Ma greets Jo Cooper.|
|Greetings from Dongwen Li, Chinese Embassy Minister/Counselor for Cultural Affairs.|
|Yo-Yo Ma happily table hops to greet friends and patrons.|
|But they aren’t permitted to travel to particularly hot or humid climates, like the Amazon or the more steamy parts of Asia. For that, Ma travels with one of two “modern” cellos that were made for him, a Moes & Moes and another made by Mario Miralles. For the inauguration of President Barack Obama, when the temperature barely hit 20 degrees, Ma chose a high tech carbon fiber instrument, and still the cold was so brutal a recorded back-up track was necessary because, as he said, “A broken string was not an option.”
Thoughtfully, when the WPAS organizers placed swag bags on all the chairs before dinner they made sure the gift bag for Ma had different content. Everybody else got Yo-Yo Ma CD’s, but they figured “he hears himself enough.” Yes, but what a pleasure.
|A butter lettuce salad with cashews and blue cheese.|
|The short ribs on a bed of risotto.|
|Those at the dinner included: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Chinese Embassy officials Tibin Zhang and Dongwen Li; Reginald Van Lee, Shirley Marcus Allen, Jill Hornor Ma, Nicholas Ma, Kathryn Stott, Hugh Crompton, Sheryl Handler, Catherine Wheeler, Douglas Wheeler, Laurie Lemley, Ebs Burnough, Carol Bogash, Carolyn Burke, Michelle Rathbun, Kevin Fitzgerald, Catherine Gevers, Larry Monroe, Josephine Cooper, Julie Parks, June Whelan, Mary Moore Hamrick, Bruce Gates, Joyce Gates, Alex Mistri, David Hobbs, Gretchen Hobbs, Amy McKennis, Elisabeth Fraley, Rachel Pearson, Jane Cafritz, Calvin Cafritz, Jacqueline Mars, Annie Cleland, Aileen Richards, Russell Richards, Joseph Suarez, Elizabeth Suarez, Natwar Gandhi, Amita Jha, Tina Co Mather, Annette Kerlin, Grace Hobelman, Gabriella White.
|WPAS board member Rachel Pearson with Ebs Burnough, one of Michelle Obama's top aides.|
|Catherine Gevers, who is Yo-Yo Ma's assistant.||Yo-Yo Ma listens to his introduction...|
|... and talks about how much the WPAS means to him.|
|Rachel Pearson and Yo-Yo Ma.|
|Ma with Jacqueline Mars.|
|A hello for Ebs Burnough.|
|MID-AUTUMN IN GEORGETOWN
The thing about the turning of the leaves is that if you blink once they change color and if you blink twice they come falling to the ground. In other words, enjoy it while it's brilliant.
For whatever reason the autumn of 2010 in Washington is shaping up to be as spectacular as the winter was with its awesome and photogenic blizzards. Maybe the splashy color is due to the heavy snow, or maybe it’s only the current stretch of warm days and cool nights. Whatever the reason, we’ll take it.
I took my camera out for a couple of Georgetown walkabouts, aiming mostly at the trees, the homes, and the river, but also stopping in at the popular Griffin Market, with its stock of cool-weather wines, the made-for-autumn terrace at the Four Seasons Hotel, a romantic hideaway with mums and fire pits, the leafy campus of Georgetown University, and the historic and peaceful C&O Canal.
Whether it’s a gingko or a pin oak, a maple or a dogwood, the trees of Georgetown are at their glorious peak, and at a time when so many residents are out of town on the campaign trail. Well, too bad for them.
|Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.
Visit her at: caroljoynt.com. Follow Carol on Twitter.