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A Starry-Eyed Salute

And, er, drugs? No, no drugs were mentioned, just as no diva antics were mentioned for Ross. This was an evening of whitewashed kindness, unadulterated gushing. (Garfunkel did say, "He is in a world of his own vibrations.") Next to fete Wilson was Lyle Lovett (Lyle Lovett?) doing a melancholic take on "God Only Knows (What I'd Be Without You)." Not your typical association with California surfin' and sunshine, but Wilson seemed touched.

As he also appeared to be by a Hootie and the Blowfish (Hootie and the Blowfish?) medley of Beach Boys tunes, which ultimately brought the audience to its feet for a "California Girls" singalong.

And finally, a South London boys choir (a South London -- oh, ; cherubic kids are always a crowd-pleaser). "We were born a long, long way from your California beaches," said one member of Libera, "but the warmth of your music can be felt" all the way in England. They sang a harmonic and tear-jerking rendition of "Love and Mercy" -- Ross could be seen dabbing her eyes and looking toward the ceiling to prevent mascara runnage.

Then there were dozens and dozens of beach balls raining from the ceiling and batted up to the first balcony so each honoree could take one home.

But let's backtrack.

In every set of honorees, there's going to be the one who isn't quite a household name. This year's was Fleisher, the pianist/conductor/teacher whose life was recapped by Yo-Yo Ma.

Ma said that Fleisher's mother had wanted him to become either a pianist or the president of the United States, and Fleisher had "decided a pianist would be easier."

(We didn't catch President Bush's reaction to that.)

Conductor and violinist Jaime Laredo thanked Fleisher for introducing him to his wife, and lauded the maestro's work as "the standard by which we know what music can be."

Laredo then introduced a sparkly piano solo by Fleisher protege Jonathan Biss before leading the Peabody Conservatory Orchestra (Fleisher teaches at the music institute) in a soaring rendition of Beethoven's Choral Fantasy.

Scorsese prompted A-list reminiscences from Robert De Niro and Coppola.

"I can still cook many of his mother's meals," said Coppola, who first broke bread with Scorsese when the two met at the Sorrento film festival in 1970. Their most harebrained cooking caper: rigging a film projector to stir the spaghetti sauce.

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