Economy Strikes a Sour Note at the NSO Opener

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Monday, September 22, 2008

Oh, the claws are out! Last week's money meltdown gave Saturday's National Symphony Orchestra's season-opener an edgy undercurrent rarely found at the Kennedy Center. Former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan kept his nose buried in his program ("I'd like to bop him," fumed one guest), while former Fannie Mae and Ken Cen chair Jim Johnson deftly sidestepped discussing his portfolio: "I don't add up anything on a weekly basis," he told us.

The black-tie ball itself was a knockout: a concert with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman in a Mozart string sinfonia, followed by a gorgeous party that raised $2 million for the NSO. Who picked up the tab? Top sponsor Morgan Stanley, in takeover talks, and the now-bankrupt Lehman Brothers, which donated major bucks to the event. (Hope the checks cleared!)

Fiddling while Wall Street burns? Truth is, most of the 800 patrons took a punch in the last 10 days. "I'm poorer," admitted former World Bank president James Wolfensohn. Ditto for Atlantic Media owner David Bradley and philanthropists Catherine and Wayne Reynolds , who added, "Who wouldn't be?"

A few lucky souls ended up even. "Just like the week: up and down," said political insider Vernon Jordan. Sen. Patrick Leahy (who says he's at the bottom of the senator net-worth list) figured he was "roughly the same." Billionaire investor and current Ken Cen chair Steve Schwarzman said he dodged the money meltdown for now, but predicted everything depended on how quickly Congress stepped in to stop the bleeding.

The biggest loser? It could be the arts, even national programs like the Kennedy Center. "There's no doubt there's going to be a reduction in giving," said Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser, who'll have to find new money for projects like the free Millennium Stage -- sponsored by Fannie Mae.

"Nothing is bulletproof," said arts donor Mel Estrin. "We just learned that."

Out on the Street, Bearing a Message

Hear about the homeless polar bear mannequin that set off a major bomb scare last week?

Turns out that wasn't just any old homeless polar bear mannequin. It was the work of noted D.C. street-art sculptor Mark Jenkins, in collaboration with Greenpeace.

Their shabbily dressed creature -- set up to look like it was rummaging through a Columbia Heights garbage can -- was one of five polar bears they erected in Washington this month. The intended message: Global warming is leaving polar bears, and other species, without a livable home.

"We're translating the polar bear habitat loss into human terms," said Greenpeace's Carroll Muffett. "We and the polar bear share a common fate."

Jenkins gained worldwide acclaim for his "tape men" -- eerie life-size statues made of packing tape, which often stop traffic wherever he leaves them. For Greenpeace, he topped the bodies with bear heads of papier-mâché and felt. Bears left on Constitution Avenue and the Mall (one holding an SOS sign, another pushing a shopping cart) lasted a few days before being whisked away by police or maintenance workers. A bear placed on a Gallery Place street stood only a couple hours before someone threw it in a dumpster.

No big deal. "The street art ethic is: You set things out and people react to them and things have their lifespan," Muffett said. The Columbia Heights bear triggered a suspicious-package alert, shutting down the Metro and forcing 200 people to relocate. "That caught us quite off guard," he said.

HEY, ISN'T THAT . . . ?

· Mario Batali at the new Adour restaurant at the St. Regis Saturday. The "Iron Chef" star, in trademark orange clogs and an orange tie, was spotted with his family; ate pressed chicken and foie gras.

THIS JUST IN . . .

· George Michael apologized yesterday for "screwing up again" -- to wit, his arrest in London on Friday for possession of crack cocaine and cannabis. The singer, 45, received a warning from police, then released a statement promising fans to "sort myself out" and added, "Sorry to everybody else, just for boring them."


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