Millions Bloom at Kennedy Center Spring Gala

Article excerpt

Byline: Ann Geracimos, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

What does it take to make $3 million in a single night - besides months of planning?

All the elements of success were in place Sunday at the Kennedy Center's 15th spring gala, which drew 1,200 patrons to its annual five-hour-long funding fete. Clear skies and sunshine allowed for cocktails on the terrace, hosted by the likes of commuting Chairman Stephen Schwarzman and a beaming President Michael Kaiser.

"Today is Duke Ellington's birthday," volunteered pianist Billy Taylor, overseer of the institution's jazz events. His remark seemed to be another good omen for the performing-arts citadel. "We're doing as much or more than Lincoln Center, and they are copying us," he noted with pride.

Then it was time for dinner indoors - lavishly decorated in purple lilacs and wisteria blossoms, followed by high-energy entertainer Harry Connick Jr. and his big-band sound with New Orleans soul. "We're about as white trash as you can get," the fast-talking, slippery-limbed Mr. Connick joked, swinging with fervor into such old favorites as "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey," and "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" and asking the audience for continued help in rescuing his beleaguered home city from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.

The only quiet moments in the Concert Hall were when Mr. Schwarzman, speaking with the aid of a teleprompter, hailed the center's vision ("programs to ignite the human spirit") and called Mr. Kaiser "unique" as head. The New York-based financier ("If I'm not here, I work") also asked for a moment of silence to commemorate Mstislav Rostropovich. "Slava," as he was known to National Symphony Orchestra musicians and patrons when he was the principal conductor for 17 years, died at age 80 last week in Moscow. …