National Symphony Orchestra Channels Old and New Russia at Kennedy Center's Season Opening Ball

A dreary Saturday night didn't stop the National Symphony Orchestra's season opening ball from entertaining 800 guests with a lilac-hued gala at the Kennedy Center.

By Adele Chapin September 28, 2009, 4:32 PM EDT

The National Symphony Orchestra's season opening ball at the Kennedy Center

Photo: Tony Brown/Imijination Photography for BizBash

The annual National Symphony Orchestra season opening ball, held last Saturday, is one of the top fund-raising events at the Kennedy Center, bringing in $1.4 million this year. The ball also has the distinction of being held in a different venue than most Kennedy Center events, hosting 800 guests in a 17,466-square-foot tent erected on the south plaza of the River Terrace.

“I love this event because I get the chance to work in a tent, in a different space,” said Kennedy Center director of special events Leslie Miller, noting that the ball is one of four annual fund-raising events at the center—there's also the spring gala, the Kennedy Center Honors, and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. “We like each one to have its own feeling, since so many of our guests come to all the events.”

The weather on Saturday night was dreary, with steady downpours throughout the evening. But the tent by US Event Structures held up with no leaks. Guests stayed dry under covered walkways as they made their way to the tent at 9:20 p.m., following a cocktail reception and the orchestra’s season opening concert. The rain even helped set the mood, as water cascaded down the tent’s windows, which faced a lighting display of interlocking purple circles projected on the exterior of the Kenendy Center. “People said to me, 'What a great water feature!,'” Miller joked.

Inside the tent, the decor evoked Russia with a modern twist to complement the launch of a new two-year Focus on Russia platform at the Kennedy Center, which will highlight the country's music. The look included a mix of old and new—a traditional white damask pattern on the programs (designed by Andrea Liss of Hannah Handmade), crystal chandeliers suspended under gauze columns, the modern purple geometric pattern projected on either end of the tent.

The guest list included musicians from the evening’s performance, as well as Washington power players like former secretary of homeland security Michael Chertoff, philanthropists Jane and Calvin Cafritz, newscaster Andrea Mitchell, former fed chief Alan Greenspan, and columnist Charles Krauthammer. 

Even the menu included a modern spin on a Russian classic, with a main course of “deconstructed borscht,” a braised beef short rib, fingerling potatoes, carrots, savoy cabbage, and a beet reduction. The evening’s wine was donated by event chair Richard L. Sias and Joullian Vineyards, which helped with the Kennedy Center’s initiative to cut costs. The event budget for this year’s ball was slightly smaller than last year’s budget, although Miller guessed that guests, who paid $1,000 per person or $50,000 per table, wouldn’t notice any drastic changes.

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