The Week That Is

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Looking south across the the Great Lawn. 1 PM. Photo: JH.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019.  The weather outside isn’t bad, hasn’t been. Grey, not cold/not warm 60 degrees into the mid-50s by nightfall along with more rain wet.

Me and Franz Liszt. Yesterday was the birthday of Franz Liszt, born 208 years ago. The man is significant to me because as an eleven-year-old I took piano lessons with a lady named Mary Furber Anderson (“Teacher of Pianoforte” read the sign by her front door). Sometimes when I finished playing my assigned piece for the lesson, she’d take my hands in hers, as if displaying them, and say, “You have the hands of Franz Liszt!”

A cast of Franz Liszt’s hands.

This impressed me because I instinctively knew by her gesture that he must have been good on the keyboard despite the fact that I knew nothing else about him or his work. When I got home from my lesson, I boasted and told my mother what Mrs. Anderson said about my hands. 

My mother responded: “is that what I’m paying her two dollars for?!” (Two dollars was a top rate in a small New England town in the mid-1950s, the equivalent of fifty bucks today). 

The Week That Is. Busy. Last night was the Park Avenue Armory’s annual gala.  I was a guest of Heidi and Tom McWilliams who were among the vice-chairs of the evening. You may have read about previous years on these pages. It is always spectacular and catches you by surprise. You know when you enter the front doors of the Armory that you’re in for all this. 

I don’t know how many guests – hundreds for sure. The cocktail hour is held in an area partitioned off from the main room. You know that when it’s time for dinner, the partition — this year off-white curtains — will separate and you’ll be invited into a whole Other World. And so it was. More on all that tomorrow or shortly thereafter.

Curtains parted, the Drill Hall is open to the guests.
On Departure, looking across the main room with the stage against the eastern wall and the entertainment for the evening.

I have to take care of Monday night first. The Frick Collection’s annual Autumn Dinner. Like the Armory, these are two annual (fundraising) evenings that are truly “special,” and for different reasons but adding up to the same pleasure of being amidst the art.

The Autumn Dinner is black tie held annually in the main gallery with its green velvet walls and Rembrandts and Turners and astounding Old Masters. Serene is the word, with weight, to describe its effect upon entering.

Entering the Frick Collection, cocktail hour on Monday night, for the annual Autumn Dinner.

My place at table was right across from Rembrandt’s self-portrait. I had interesting dinner partners for conversation but I found myself looking at Rembrandt and him looking at me, as if he could tell me something I needed to hear. Something wise but real. Now that’s not an art historian’s view, I know, but it’s the view, the pleasure, for me. I assure myself that the Master would have understood. I wondered also how it had a lasting effect on its collector, Mr Frick.

A view of one of the two tables of 50 in the Main Gallery. Only white wine is served at these dinners because no chances can be taken with spilling and staining.
My place setting.
The second table by the eastern wall as people were looking for their placement.
My table partners camera ready with Rembrandt taking it all in.

The evening’s honoree was Stephen Schwarzman who has been an active benefactor of the Collection in the past two decades. After dinner he was introduced by Ian Wardropper, the Frick’s director.  As the honoree was taking the podium, I was thinking of the time back in the mid-90s when Mr. Schwarzman held an engagement party with his fiancée, then Christine Hearst, at the Frick. It was big news around the neighborhood at the time because No One had ever held a “private” party, let alone an engagement party, at Mr. Frick’s house.

Ian Wardropper introducing the honoree, Stephen Schwarzman.

It was one of those neighborhood events, just like any small town, where curious onlookers who knew about it, went over to the Frick to watch guests entering.

As the guest of honor was speaking Monday night, he brought up the same subject. He told us how after he’d ask Christine to marry him, he asked her where she’d like to have the engagement party. She replied: The Frick.

The honoree recalls for us his first experience coming to the Frick where he hosted a private engagement party for himself and his bride-to-be. You can see the wonder of it all in his recollection, and you can imagine it as he told it.

It was, we learned, the first time a private party was held at the Frick. I’m not sure if he knew at the outset that there had never been a private party held there, but he soon found out. I have no idea what the cost was, or what the financial advantage was for the Frick Collection, nor were we told last night. But what did transpire thereafter is that the host became involved with the museum and eventually presided over their board of directors. He lent his talents to the museum and its financials, to great advantage of the Frick.

In recounting the party to us on Monday night, Mr. Schwarzman conveyed the wonder that he felt on the night of that party, entering this same great gallery, sitting under a Turner and looking across the room to another Turner. He was overtaken by the same powers of artistic communication that touched me sitting there across from the Rembrandt. Wonder.

And there is the former bride to-be Christine Schwarzman wearing the dress she wore at her engagement party. At that point, she was walking up to the podium to give her husband and embrace and a kiss.

He also, in reminiscing, about that wonderful night, told us how his wife-to-be — who was present Monday evening — was wearing the gown that she wore on that starry night back in 1995. He then introduced her, and she got up so that everyone could see the bride-to-be.

It was a very sweet evening, a kind of surprise for an institutional dinner. At that moment, I think we all felt at home in Mr. Frick’s house.

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