Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Advancing Classical Culture in the Nation's Capital

Exiting the Harmon Center for the Arts. 8:45 PM. Photo: JH.
Washington, D.C. A beautiful first day of October in the nation’s capitol. JH and the Digital and I arrived about two, having taken the Metroliner out of Penn Station down to Washington’s Union Station.

We’d come to this beautiful city for the opening night Gala of the Harman Center for the Arts and Sidney Harman Hall.

After checking into the Ritz Carlton Georgetown, we walked up the block to lunch with our friend Carol Joynt at Nathan’s, her restaurant on the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street where every week she holds her Q&A Cafe interviews (http://nathansgeorgetown.com).
DPC and Carol Joynt at Nathan's in Georgetown; Looking across M Street; The petunias festoning on M Street.
After lunch, it was back to the hotel, which was built only four years ago, converted, or rather built up around an early 20th century municipal incinerator, the smokestack of which remains towering over the complex. The hotel’s general manager Allen Highfield introduced himself and gave us a brief tour of what is the Ritz Carlton chain’s smallest hotel (86 rooms). A couple hours later we were in our black ties and heading over to the brand new Harman Center.
Clockwise from top left: The entrance to the Ritz Carlton-Georgetown; Alan Highfield, General Manager of the hotel; The Chimney Room at the foot of the buildings original chimney.
The Harman Center of the Arts is the actualization of an idea that began a number of years ago with Washington’s Shakespeare Theatre Company and its director Michael Kahn. Mr. Kahn who has led the Company for 21 seasons had a dream to make a multi-venue theatre company to present world-class classical productions to Washingtonians. About seven years ago, the board of the Shakespeare developed a strategic plan to create the Harman Center to accomplish this objective.

Last night we celebrated its completion with the 775 seat Sidney Harman Hall, where the gala concert was held, at Sixth and F Streets NW and the Lansburgh Theatre at Seventh and E Streets NW.

The new AJ Diamond-designed theatre was filled with luminaries including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, present Justices Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Mrs. Chertoff, Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Ted Stevens of Alaska, Representatives John Dingell, Norman Dicks, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington’s Mayor Fenty and Mrs. Fenty, The Secretary of HUD Gonzalez and Mrs. Gonzalez, the Secretary of Commerce Gutdierrez and Mrs. Gutierrez, The British Ambassador, the French Ambassador, the Italian Ambassador, the German Ambassador, the Canadian Ambassador, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Gloucester and lots of familiar faces from New York.

Congresswoman Jane and Dr. Sidney Harman
The evening began with Sam Waterston greeting the guests and introducing a series of brilliant performancces including prima ballerina Nina Ananiashvili and Julio Bocca performing a piece from “Swan Lake,” followed by violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter playing a series of melodies from George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” accompanied by Ayami Ikeba; Patti LuPone performing material from her one-woman show including a very funny “duet” from “West Side Story.” The Washington Ballet company performed a series of dances choreographed by Trey McIntyre to Lennon and McCartney’s “A Day In the Life” that were nothing short of wonderful and evoked memories of Gene Kelly (thanks to the brilliant Jason Hartley), Fred Astaire, Hermes Pan, and Jerome Robbins.

After the ballet performance, Waterston introduced Michael Kahn who then introduced Sidney Harman, the man whose name was given to the center. Mr. Harman, who has had an amazing career in business and in education, is also the husband of Congresswoman Jane Harman of the 36th Congressional district in Los Angeles. He spoke briefly about the objective of the new center in not only giving classical theatre a permanent home in Washington, but also in enhancing the neighborhood. He thanked the many individuals who contributed to it and also thanked his wife Jane.

Mr. Harman’s speech was followed by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra who were joined for their final number by the Washington Performing Arts Society Men and Women of the Gospel Mass Choir performing Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train.”

After the performance, it was a beautiful night out, and firecrackers were rocketing through the air from the top of the theatre as the glittering crowd made its way across the street on a red carpet to the National Building Museum on opposite corner for dinner and dancing.
The Harman Center for the Arts.
The National Building Museum was built in 1887 as the Pension Bureau. It has an enormous interior gallery four stories high and containing the tallest, largest interior columns in the country. It has been used for Presidential Inaugural balls since Grover Cleveland became President. Last night the interior was lit with pinks and golds and up on the enormous bandstand Bob Hardwick and his orchestra were playing.

There were lots of New Yorkers in the crowd, invited to attend by Ann (Mrs. William) Nitze who was Gala Chair. Mrs. Nitze is a familiar figure on the New York social scene. A native of Washington, she is an art dealer specializing in 19th and 20th century art, working out of offices in New York, Aspen and Washington. She is also highly active in a number charitable and cultural organizations in this country and abroad. She’s very good in rallying the troops for her causes and in keeping the party moving along.

As the dinner hour progressed, there was a lot of visiting amongst the hundreds of guests and after the first course, Bob Hardwick’s orchestra really brought out the dancers so that by dessert there were hundreds responding to his music on the vast ballroom floor. It was a very energetic crowd, and those of us who were kids when rock and roll first came on the scene four decades ago are still boogeying despite physical changes that come with time. As the song goes: rock roll is here to stay. It was midnight when the crowd started moving toward the exits -- a tribute to a great evening in Washington where, no doubt, like New York, people have to get up early the next day no matter what.
The flamethrower on our walk to the dinner in the National Building Museum.
Although I was familiar with the name, especially because of Congresswoman Jane Harman, I had not heard of the man in whose name the new center bears.

Dr. Sidney Harman is one of those highly dynamic, remarkable individuals who wears many hats. He is a recognized pioneer in the high fidelity industry and the public knows his buisness (he’s chairman of Harman International Industries) for its Harman-Kardon sound systems (and, not surprisingly, the new center is equipped with state of the art sound systems).

He is also very active in education, government as well. He has served as president of Friends World College, is the founder of the Program on Technology, Public Policy and Human Development at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard; is on the board of the Aspen Institute, a member of the board of the Carter Center at Emory University, and has served as Deputy Secretary of Commerce during the Carter Administration.

Interestingly, for a very successful businessman, he has demonstrated a deep interest in the workers’ side of industry, having written extensively on productivity, quality of working life and economic policy. He initiated Quality of Working Life programs at his company’s plants that have become a model for American industry and a principal case study at business schools. A New York boy who attended Baruch College of the City University of New York, he has not only built businesses and organizations but, as it is with the new center that bears his name, he has enhanced the quality of life of his environments as well as many of us who’ve never even heard of him. Last night’s gala was a fitting embodiment of his achievement as a man and as a citizen.
Clockwise from left: The scene outside of the Harman Center; Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor; Caroline Graham with Nancy and Rusty Powell, director of the National Gallery of Art.
Mrs. and Dr. James Billington with Ann Nitze
Alberto and Annabel Mariaca
Jill Sackler and Dr. Bill Haseltine
Betsy Lovett and David Beer
Jackie and Rod Drake
Mary McFadden and Dr. Murray Gell-Mann
Michael Clements
Marife Hernandez and Raul Suarez
Sir David Manning and Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Gloucester
Pearl and Jack Berman
Ann Nitze and Ambassador Puri-Purini
April and Roddy Gow
Aida Hersham, Raul Suarez, and Eva O'Neill
Nina Ananiashvili
Jeffrey Carlson
Sam Waterston, Michael Kahn, and Jason Kang
Mrs. James Billington and Albert Small
A look inside the National Building Museum.
Vicki Sant and Rusty Powell
William Hamm and Nanette Herrick
George King and Evelyn Stefansson Nef
Lady Catherine Manning and William Nitze
Carlos Gutierrez and Ambassador Caroline Barco
Matilda Stream and James Armstrong
Tome and Jeannie Rutherford with Polly and David Ober
Jeff Hirsch and Matilda Stream
Caroline Graham and Chris Mason cutting a rug.
Judith and Achille Guest
Catherine Corman and Nicholas Goldsborough
Teresa Bulgheroni, Maurice Sonnenberg, and Diane Morris
Molly Meegan and Abbe Lowell
Sidney Harman with Cathy Wright and Walter Isaacson
Katherine Weymouth and her uncle Donald Graham
Mrs. and Mr. A.J. Diamond
Bob Hardwick
Jane Stanton Hitchcock and Ambassador John Danilovich
Jim Hoagland, Irene Danilovich, and Leo Daley
L. to r.: Carolyn Brody; Billy Rayner and Christine Schwarzman; Pat Patterson.
Kathy Rayner, Steve Schwarzman, and Jane Stanton Hitchcock
Ambassador John Danilovich and Grega Daley
D.C. sunrise. 7:15 AM.

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