Philadelphia high society celebrated the 154th anniversary of the Academy of Music with a Philadelphia Orchestra concert and ball on Saturday, January 29. Renee Fleming, considered by many the world's greatest soprano, and singer Paul Simon starred in the program conducted by Jonathan Nott. The ball, chaired by Tastykake CEO Charles Pizzi, and Sandra Marshall, jointly benefits the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Academy of Music Restoration fund.
The almost sold out crowd of 2100 guests REM's Mike Mills, political luminaries Senator Casey, Congressman Meehan, and Mayor Nutter, old Philadelphia families like (Lenfests, Binswangers, and McNeils), and corporate executives from local companies. The Academy Ball is the longest running and most successful benefit of any American orchestra.
The women were resplendent in long couture gowns, sparkling jewels, and furs. The men wore the Academy Ball uniform of white tie tails.
Fleming, dazzling in a red gown with a silver shawl, showed her range by singing a varied repertoire including arias from “La Boehme,” "I Feel Pretty" from "West Side Story,” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” She said, "I am awed to be on a stage where so many great performers have sung."
Paul Simon sang old favorites such as "Still Crazy After All These Years' and "Cecilia.” He shared with the audience the melancholy “Love and Hard Times” that will not be released until the spring. The 150 member Philadelphia All City Choir, called "Philadelphia's art treasure by Simon, joined him on stage for a rendition of the gospel tinged, "Loves Me Like a Rock."
Simon introduced his first ever duet with Fleming by declaring “the beginning of the Simon and Fleming era.” After hearing their powerful rendition of “Sounds of Silence,” the audience can only hope so.
Joanna McNeil Lewis, president of the Academy of Music, urged the audience, "To support Philadelphia cultural treasures such as the Orchestra, Academy of Music, and Tastykakes or Philadelphia will lose its uniqueness." MSNBC anchor Tamron Hall, host of the evening, announced that the Academy of Music restoration had just won the prestigious American Institute of Architects 2011 Honor Award for Interior Architecture.
After the concert, patrons marched en masse up Broad Street to the Hyatt at the Bellevue for the ball. The menu was champagne emulsion with caviar, filet of beef, duo of lemon and white chocolate, and an open bar. Guests boogied to the music of eight different bands until 2 am.