On The Avenue

A Koched Out Birthday: Lincoln Center Honors its Biggest Fan

by Ben Diamond Photographed by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Lincoln Center
Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Last night was a good time to be a tall musical theater fan, as Lincoln Center honored big benefactor David Koch at its annual Spring Gala. “It’s great. I feel like I’m ten feet tall,” said the 6’5″ industrialist.

A succession of six-footers shared fond Koch memories with the audience at Alice Tully Hall. William B. Harrison, Jr. of JPMorgan Chase thanked him for his support renovating the David H. Koch Theater, joking that his donations had improved the leg room for theatergoers like them. Former NBA All-Star Dikembe Mutombo gave an impassioned speech thanking Koch for supporting his foundation. “I don’t dance and I don’t sing, so to be on this stage is a great honor,” he said.

A short clip of remarks by friends and family paid further tribute. Charles Koch praised his brother with an Adam Smith quote. “To indulge our benevolent affections, constitutes the perfection of human nature,” he said.

New York City Ballet director Peter Martins was equally ebullient. “Whenever he comes to that house, he should have his choice of any seat,” the director said. “He’s earned it”

Finally, the big man came out, to thundering applause. “I’m not used to all this praise,” said Koch, who has nearly a dozen buildings, plazas and museum halls named after him. “I always believe it’s better to give than to receive.”

Besides Koch, the night celebrated the music of Alan Menken, Jerry Herman and Stephen Sondheim. Host Rita Moreno praised inventive musicals like Beauty and the Beast, Hello, Dolly! and “a play about star crossed lovers meeting at a neighborhood dance with which I’m vaguely familiar.” Tony nominees Liz Callaway, Melissa Errico and Marc Kudisch led a talented ensemble of Broadway performers, who sang classics like “Suddenly, Seymour, ““It’s Today” and “I’m Still Here.” 

But while the evening seemed like it had reached its end after a rousing rendition of “Colors of the Wind,” there was one more surprise performance. As an early birthday present (Koch turned 77 today) the crowd was invited to sing “Happy Birthday” to the billionaire philanthropist.

Since 1962, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts has been one of the city’s premier arts institutions. It is the home of venerated companies like the New York City Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic, and presents more than 3,000 events every year. “If New York is many different civilizations, for me Lincoln Center is one of the civilizations,” said Gristedes bigwig John Catsimatidis. “It took a desolate neighborhood, and made it into a fine neighborhood. That’s what New York City does, it creates places like Lincoln Center, and creates life around them.”

Other attendees included Jerry Speyerthe Honorable and Mrs. Earle Mack, Adrienne Arsht, Ken Burns, William Ivey Long, Sandra Lee, Wilbur and Hilary Ross, James and Nicky Rothschild, and Blaine Trump.


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