On The Avenue

No, No, Annette

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Was one of the chairs of Carnegie Hall’s Opening Night Gala last week upset that the night took a sudden turn into a protest against the angry currents now running high here and across the Hudson River?  As the post-show applause for conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, guest vocalists and Hall trustees Audra McDonald and Renée Fleming and The San Francisco Symphony turned into a vigorous standing ovation, Annette de la Renta and her guests in her prime position first tier box stood up–and walked out.

Why?  While the gala’s lead chairmen Mercedes Bass and Hope and Robert F. Smith, the latter, the hall’s Chairman of the Board, made their presence felt at both cocktails and the lavish lobster-and-filet-mignon meal that followed, Mrs. de la Renta couldn’t be found at the gala at Cipriani 42. So one could only imagine why she didn’t linger through the ritual of well-deserved thanks and acclaim.  (UPDATE:  Says a Carnegie Hall spokesperson:  “Mrs. de la Renta was not expected at the dinner.  Traditionally she comes to the pre-concert cocktails and concert only.  She hasn’t attended the gala dinner in some time.”)

“These songs seem right for these times,”  McDonald had said, mid-performance, introducing a duet with Fleming of a medley of the show tunes “Children Will Listen” from Stephen Sondheim’s 1986 Into the Woods and “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from Richard Rodgers’ 1949 South Pacific, both songs lessons in moral behavior that seemed pointedly aimed at a bullseye erected in Washington D.C. this week. 

Children will look to you

For which way to turn

To learn what to be

Careful before you say

“Listen to me”

Then, in case the point hadn’t been made clear, Thomas introduced another duet, one not listed in the printed Playbill, the late Laura Nyro’s “Save the Country.”  Its opening verse reinforced the lesson the performers seemed intent on teaching:

Come on, people, come on, children

Come on down to the glory river.

Gonna wash you up, and wash you down, 

Gonna lay the devil down, gonna lay that devil down.

I got fury in my soul, fury’s gonna take me to the glory goal 

In my mind I can’t study war no more.

Save the people, save the children, save the country now…

While the pop songs were not the evening’s only high points–the 85-minute program also included McDonald’s stirring rendering of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess and Franz Liszt’s intense “Mephisto Waltz No. 1” and closed with a rapturous performance of Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”–they were its emotional centerpiece and the moments most embraced by the elegantly-dressed sold-out crowd of more than 800.  

Mrs. de la Renta’s curious departure notwithstanding, it was, as Smith said in brief remarks at dinner, the “greatest gala” in the venue’s storied history, raising $5.1 million for artistic and education programming by “a Carnegie Hall that expands beyond its walls.”  Smith then introduced Carnegie Hall trustee and executive and artistic dir Vitoria Clive Gillinson, who joked that his team was “brimming with ideas–and I have to go to Sandy Weill and get money to pay for them.”  Adding to the levity, he noted that Smith “kept referring to me as ‘Clive has been’.   Let’s hope there’s some future too.”  Returning to the evening’s until-then-unspoken theme, as he discussed the Hall’s orchestras, Gillinson concluded, “People want to love America.”

The gala chairman committee also included Len and Emily Blavatnik, Sabrina W. Fung, Sana H. Sabbagh, Melanie and Jean Salata, Beatrice Santo Domingo, Brian and Adria Sheth, David M. Siegel and Dana Matsushita, Ian and Margaret Smith, S. Donald Sussman, and Sanford and Joan Weill.  Notable attendees included Gil Shiva, Ann Ziff, Suzie KovnerPaula Zahn, Henry Kissinger, Christine Baranski, Jean Shafiroff, Joel Klein, Vera Wang, Darren Walker, Wayne Lawson and Lyn Nesbit.

One fashion note:  Hope Smith carried a limited edition, sequined Chanel Metiers D’art collection Please Do Not Disturb evening bag, inspired by the originals at the Hotel Ritz in Paris. But presumably, she knew what songs would be sung, and thought them important, if potentially disturbing, too.  


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