By Adele Chapin Posted December 21, 2011, 9:10 AM EST
The Choral Arts Society of Washington hosted its 31st-annual holiday benefit Monday night, this year partnering with Russian Federation Ambassador Sergey L. Kislyak, and his wife, Nataly, to bring Kennedy Center patrons an evening dubbed “Holiday Treasures from Russia.” Gala attendees arrived at 7 p.m. for the 160-voice choir’s annual Christmas concert, featuring a performance of Russian classics, folk music, and carols by the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra and mezzo-soprano Irina Shishkova. After the concert, 600 guests took the elevators upstairs to the Kennedy Center Roof Terrace for a Russian-themed reception and three-course dinner including borscht with beef short ribs.
Catherine Kerkam, deputy director of the Choral Arts Society, attributed the sold-out event’s attendance to the strong partnership with the Russian embassy and the diplomatic community, in addition to the work of the finance committee. The gala turnout also reflected the fact that Monday marked the last holiday gala for Artistic Director Norman Scribner, who founded the Choral Arts Society in 1965 and will retire next year.
“The Choral Arts Christmas concert and our benefit are a longstanding tradition in Washington for many people at Christmas,” Kerkam said. “A lot of people coming to the gala have been involved with us for 47 years. There are choir members who have been singing with Norman for 47 years.”
Per Choral Arts Society Christmas concert tradition, Scribner helped lead a carol sing-along in the language of the gala’s host country, and the audience gamely tackled “Silent Night” in Russian.
To spotlight the Russian partnership, vendors DC Rental and floral designer Jack Lucky created a dining-room space with fabrics and floral arrangements in rich golds and reds, with crystal chandeliers hanging over two long, rectangular tables. Wall projections showcased a painting by Russian artist Simon Kozhin of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, which was also printed on the invitations for the gala. Gold drapes sectioned off the space, with the band ’Round Midnight stationed in the middle of the dining room.
During the dinner hour, a vodka bar offered guests a chance to try Russian and American vodkas head to head. Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, a longtime event sponsor, provided wine, champagnes, and spirits, courtesy of Jim Rowland, while Boyd & Blair provided the American vodka.
With sponsors such as General Dynamics, RBC Wealth Management, Susan Lehrman, and LUKOIL, the event raised more than $500,000 to help support the Choral Arts Society’s annual season and educational and community programs.