2009 Spoleto Festival USA Opening Weekend Gala
Gaillard Auditorium ballroom, Saturday, May 24
We felt like royalty walking into the Gaillard ballroom after an enjoyable performance Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater there in the auditorium. After being cheerfully greeted at the door by Spoleto staff and volunteers, we marched between the chamber string ensemble lined on both sides of the red carpet (at least I think it was red) leading into the vast room. Perhaps it was due to the lack of sleep after two days of Spoletoing, but for a brief moment I was awaiting a herald to announce us: “The Duke and Duchess of Wentworth.” Then I spotted official Spoleto photographer Leigh Webber shooting away with her real camera, which roused me from my brief reverie and reminded me that I, too, had some photos to shoot, not to mention a blog to write later on. Some might call it work, but count the number of offices you’ve worked in where you’re greeted by Mozart and a flute of Champagne? The presence of the chamber ensemble made perfect sense, but I’ll explain more about that later.
But once inside, the first thing I noticed were these two enormous wreaths of greenery hanging from the ceiling. “How on earth did they do that?” I mused to my wife, Elisabeth. Lucky for us, my question was answered moments later when we ran into Jane Pearman of Snapdragon, who served on the gala committee. “They’re so large that we had to construct them inside the Spoleto scene shop up Meeting Street,” she explained. Jane also clearly had a hand in each table design, dominated by towering arrangements of roses and greenery topped by a violin.
A few tables over, we were happy to see Laura and Bill Hewitt. The always lively and entertaining Laura had hardly finished her amusing story about rescuing freezing volunteers at this year’s Food and Wine Festival when time was called on the abbreviated cocktail “hour,” which was probably a good think since we were already “eating with the Kennedys,” as Mother is fond of saying, after a late performance that ended around 9:30.
We found our way to Table 22, where we were joined by wonderful host, Paula Edwards of Spoleto, along other guests including Annette Lopez, who runs the spa at Charleston Place, and her husband, Manny; Mary Martha Hubner, who directs weddings at Charleston Place, and her date, Michael Bailey; and St Lawrence String Quartet violinist Scott St. John, who understandably left us a little "early" to rest up for an 8:30 rehearsal next morning (apparently Charles Wadsworth is still cracking the whip during his final season).
Back to the chamber ensemble at the entrance: Fittingly, this year’s gala was a tribute to Charles Wadsworth. Party planners thought of everything, including a Southern-inspired menu created by Charleston Place that incorporated ingredients from the chamber music artistic director’s home state of Georgia. We kicked off the meal with a chilled Vidalia Onion Soup. A series of moving toasts to the director (including a touching and humorous one from his wife, Susan) ended with an announcement of a premiere of a piano piece by Charles Wuorinen commissioned just for the occasion. The work opened with a complex 12-tone technique, for which the modern composer is known, before transitioning to…“Happy Birthday to You,” which the entire room joined in singing. Never skipping a beat, Charles, who’s celebrating his 80th, jumped up from his seat and conducted the piece with exaggerated gusto.
When we all settled back down to dinner, Charleston’s Premier Big Band struck back up with some Benny Goodman, a promising portent of dancing afterwards. Our entrées consisted of a Wood Roasted Duck Confit with Duck Jus accompanied by Sweet Potato Hash, Grits Cake with Jumbo South Carolina Shrimp, bundles of White and Yellow Asparagus, and Baby Yellow Squash. Strawberry Shortcake incorporating local berries and Chocolate Peach Clair served as desert.
After dinner, I was able to greet Charles and offer birthday and retirement wishes. Posing for my camera, he affectionately pulled his young grandson in close beside himself and Susan and ordered with mock seriousness, “Let’s all act like we like each other here.” Then after a dance or two, as the 12:30 mark approached, we thought some sleep was in order to gear up for the next evening’s busy schedule that includes Don John sandwiched between a VIP party hosted by Charles and Celeste Patrick and an Alvin Ailey party at Tristan co-hosted by Lawson Roberts and Spoleto.