Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Washington Social Diary

The National Defense University awarded its first ever International Statesman and Business Advocate award to Brent Scowcroft. L. to r.: Ginni Rometty, Al Zimmerman, Brent Scowcroft, Henry Kissinger, and Walter Stadler.
by Carol Joynt

Just when I think Washington can't show me a new trick, it shows me a new trick. Or, at least it lets me in to where I'm not often let in. That last gate, in this instance, is the black art preserve of the defense industry. They may walk among us, they may be our next door neighbors, their children may be on the Saturday team with our children, and they may look like other humans, but in truth, they are different from you and me. For better or worse, in the realm of how Washington works, they know how it all goes down.

Brent Scowcroft addresses the guests who gathered in his honor at the Ritz Carlton hotel.
What they know that we don't know, how they learn it, how they use it, who they revere and respect is what was on the agenda for a dinner last week honoring Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who navigated the Air Force and retired as a lieutenant general as well as having served on the intelligence staffs of the Nixon, Ford and Bush Administrations in roles that included National Security Advisor. What stands out about Scowcroft is that he seems to be universally liked and respected. You don't hear snark about him. It's not because he's been a kiss ass, which is the typical path to "well liked" in the capital. No. It's that he was honest with power and didn't flinch. At least that's what you hear.

Therefore, no surprise that when the National Defense Foundation decided to award its first ever International Statesman and Business Advocate award the recipient was Brent Scowcroft. The NDU, based at Ft. McNair in Washington, is where they teach the strategy of warcraft to the officer and diplomatic elite. If you're career path is to earn two, three and four stars, leadership roles on the battlefield and in government, it is a stop on the fast track. Scowcroft said he studied there for two "invaluable" years.

The dinner was held in the ballroom at the Ritz Carlton West End. The guest list, numbering 150 (though not released), would make a day trader's head go all gooey. Ginny Rometty, the CEO of IBM, Rex Tillerson, the CEO and chairman of Exxon Mobil; Bob Stevens, chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin; Tom Enders, the CEO of EADS; Sean O'Keefe, the CEO of EADS North America; Jack London, the CEO of CACI, to name only some of the corporate heavyweights. There were government officials, too, including Scowcroft friend and protege, Ash Carter, who is deputy secretary of defense. Carter spoke lovingly (actually) of Scowcroft and called him a "magnetic force" who has attracted people of all ages to the intelligence industry.
Cocktails at the Guarisco Gallery adjacent to the Ritz Carlton West End hotel.
Tickets for the dinner ranged from $25,000 to $100,000 with a "limited number" of individual tickets for $2,500 each. When you play at this level these numbers are not daunting. They are the price of dinner tickets, nominally fundraising for a university, though not just any university. Dinners such as this one go on often — and quietly — in Washington, and possibly will happen more often due to the sequester funding "diet."

Last but not least was the other guest of honor, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who was not an awardee but was the statesman on deck to introduce Scowcroft. There was quite a lot of hoopla around Kissinger — men lined up as if acolytes, wanting a moment of his attention. His wife, Nancy, was at his side — attentive but not intrusive. When a general went to Kissinger to help him up from his seat, Nancy gently but firmly put her hand on the general's arm, as much as saying, "no, he's fine on his own." Kissinger noted the steady hand Scowcroft provided in the critical transition period from the Nixon to Ford Administrations, when the crisis of Watergate could have been interpreted as an opportunity by U.S. enemies. Scowcroft prevented that from happening, Kissinger said.
The Defense Department's Ash Carter, with his friend and mentor, Brent Scowcroft.
Ash Carter and Brent Scowcroft.
Henry Kissinger. Nancy Kissinger.
Henry and Nancy Kissinger.
Henry Kissinger and David Ignatius.
Nancy Kissinger checks in on her husband.
The Kissinger table.
These are old warriors, the veterans of some valiant but also some ugly times. At this point, do we kick 'em in the shins or hand them awards? If it's the defense industry, it's the latter. And the thing is, the old guys get it; today may be more terrible than their day. When Scowcroft arrived at the podium and began thanking people, he thanked Ash Carter in particular "for taking time off from problems I wouldn't wish on anyone."

In other words, our own daunting times. But this was a party. There were strolling strings, roasted duck and good red wine, lots of medals, braids, brass and spit shine. I had a good view — at the Kissinger table with the generals, one over from the Scowcroft table with the corporate titans — where I could watch, listen, be a guest. Later, with friends, I might wonder if such gatherings of defense need and corporate wealth should be viewed in a darker light; do I throw bombs at people who drop bombs?
Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM.
Mary and J. Bennett Johnson, a former senator from Louisiana. Susan Eisenhower talks with a reporter.
Nina and Philip Pillsbury.
Strolling strings entertain during dinner.
At the Scowcroft table, Kelly and Steve Schorer and, on the right, Sean O'Keefe, CEO of EADS North America.
Dinner ended at about 10:30, late for Washington. The corporate people marched back to their jets and their global empires and the military people headed back to the National Defense University to teach more global warcraft strategy.

Todd Wilcox, Brent Scowcroft, Chester Chang, Exxon chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson, and IMB CEO Ginni Rometty.

The annual opera ball — the gala occasion that ends the spring social season — is still weeks away, but the roll out has begun. A week ago, opera was front and center both on the stage and in the hearts of those who adore this high form of musical theater. The stars were a trio of women: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, soprano Angela Meade and philanthropist Connie Milstein. They made their star turns and took their bows individually but each in spotlight of the Washington National Opera.

Ginsburg didn't seek her spotlight. If anything, it was a form of grace that was bestowed upon her. The WNO, after the opening night performance of Bellini's "Norma," transformed the after show black tie supper into an intimate and happy 80th birthday party for the Supreme Court justice, who loves opera and shows up as often as she can at all kinds of musical cultural events at the Kennedy Center. She was sitting with friends at her table when Michael Mael, the WNO's executive director, approached with an open box. In it was an ecru silk shawl, handmade by the Opera's costume studio artisans, in the same mode as shawls worn in "Norma." They also presented her with a chocolate cupcake with one candle.
Clockwise from top left: Celebrating her 80th birthday (March 15th), opera lover and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ... Up close, the exquisite hand made shawl given to Justice Ginsburg by the Washington National Opera ... Justice Ginsburg accepts her birthday present from Michael Mael, who executive director of the Washington National Opera ... Justice Ginsburg delightedly wraps herself in the birthday shawl as she walks to the podium .... Diminutive (but only in height) Justice Ginsburg reaches for the microphone outside the President's box at the Kennedy Center Opera House.
The party was held on the terrace of the Opera House box tier, literally outside the door to the President's private box. A podium and microphone were set up there and when Justice Ginsburg walked up to say "thank you" to the guests, many of them members of the Opera's board, she wrapped herself in her new shawl. She talked about how the WNO had become "greater" with each year and that the "best years are still ahead."

There was strong applause, of course, followed by one more birthday surprise: a serenade by tenor Corey Evan Rotz, who sang "You Are My Heart's Delight" from the 1929 operetta The Land of Smiles by Franz Lehár. A woman whose job often demands a poker face was, for the moment, all smiles. Looking on were Norma's director, Anne Bogart, the production's major funder, Clarice Smith, and visiting New Yorker and opera singer himself, Dwight Owsley, whose also well-known on the UES as the long-time concierge at the Hotel Carlyle.
Corey Evan Rotz serenades Justice Ginsburg (to the right, in the ecru shawl) with "You Are My Heart's Delight" from the 1929 operetta "The Land of Smiles" by Franz Lehár.
WNO artistic director Francesca Zambello, after she'd called the crew and cast of "Norma" up to take their bows. On the far left is the opera's conductor, Daniele Rustioni.
Justice Ginsburg, wearing her birthday shawl, and with her birthday cupcake on the table beside her. Dwight Owsley in a jacket of his own design.
The cast of Norma with Clarice Smith, in the center, the production's major funder. She is flanked by co-stars Angela Meade and Dolora Zajick.
It was Angela Meade's night, too. She sang the role of "Norma," and while her cast mates were uniformly praised for excellence, Meade got a rich standing ovation both in the Opera House after the curtain and at the after party, where she was the last of the cast to be introduced by artistic director Francesca Zambello. Meade's bio already is long, and expectedly will grow longer. She was the 2012 winner of the Beverly Sills Artist Award from the Metropolitan Opera, and next performs in New York on April 8 at Avery Fisher Hall with The Opera Orchestra of New York.
Celebrating their strong performances are Rafael Davila, who plays Pollione, and Mauricio Miranda, who is Flavio.
Visiting from New York, actor Brian Byus, with opera singer and Carlyle Hotel's beloved concierge, Dwight Owsley.
Michael Kahn, the artistic director of the Shakespeare Theater Company, with Dolora Zajick, a sensational mezzo-soprano who co-stars in "Norma."
JFK's iconic bust oversees the opening night supper party, on the terrace of the Box Tier. On the right, in the pale blouse, is Norma's director, Anne Bogart.
The opening night party for "Norma" on the Box Tier terrace at the Kennedy Center.
That was Saturday night. On Sunday evening the opera crowd, and others with cash or clout or both, convened again, this time at the Jefferson Hotel, at the invitation of Connie Milstein, who owns the hotel and is chair of the 2013 Opera Ball. The phrase "force of nature" seems apt in describing Milstein, who is not shy about her successes as a lawyer, entrepreneur, business executive, philanthropist, wife, mother and grandmother.

What's a ball with all that on your resume? Just one more hill to climb. I have yet to come upon a divided opinion about her, and that's saying a lot in this town where opinion, especially about women in the spotlight and who take control, is almost always divided. Some eyebrows get raised but, heck, that's nothing here.
The fancy cars roll up with guests for Connie Milstein's private dinner at her own hotel, The Jefferson.
The table settings.
After meeting Milstein and then watching her assertively and nimbly interact with guests that ranged from billionaires, Carlyle Group's David Rubenstein, to a cabinet secretary, Health and Human Services secrtary Kathleen Sebelius, I kept thinking of the "unsinkable Molly Brown" as portrayed by Kathy Bates in Titanic. It's a rare Washington hostess who has the nerve to show much personality, and in some cases any personality.

But then Milstein is herself a countess, the wife of Count Jehan-Christoph de la Haye Saiunt Hilaire, and seems quite comfortable in her title, jobs and skin.
Connie Milstein greets Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services. Kathleen Sebelius and Jay Johnson.
The party was a stand-out from the routine in a city of so many parties. It had chic, it had excellent food and drink, it had an abundance of charm — it was in the hotel's romantic Plume restaurant — and it had splendid entertainment, served between courses, as actor/singer Norm Lewis sang tunes from "Phantom of the Opera," and bits of Verdi and Puccini were performed by soprano Shantelle Przbylo, tenor Yuri Gorodeski and bariton Javier Arrey. Everything about the evening had a nice touch. I asked my table mates if this particular dinner was something standard as a run up to the Opera Ball. They shook their heads "no." This was different, they said, this was special. Had Connie ramped it up, we asked. All heads nodded.

The Opera Ball is Saturday, April 6, at another stunning location: the Italian ambassador's 22-acre estate and residence, Villa Firenze.
Christianne Ricchi and Bob Bennett.
Sydney "Nini" Ferguson Johnson, caught in a moment of thought. Marsha Mayo.
Christine Dingivan, a member of the National Symphony Orchestra board, with Martha Slagle of Neiman Marcus.
Ken Gross and his wife.
Janet Kelly Phillips, Paul Carter and, with his back to the camera, Paul Stern. Connie MIlstein with soprano Shantelle Przybylo and tenor Yuri Gorodetski of WNO's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program.
Anne Klein Pohanka, a member of the Opera's board, and Christianne Ricchi.
Norm Lewis performs selections from "Phantom of the Opera." In the foreground is White House social secretary Jeremy Bernard.
Listening to Norm Lewis as he serenades the room.
Soprano Shantelle Przybylo hits a high note.
Hands on entertainment for patrons of the Washington National Opera.
Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt