"Thank you for this honor," said virtuoso violinist Itzhak Perlman after giving a benefit performance at the Kennedy Center yesterday afternoon. aPerlman, standing at a reception in the Israel Lounge of the Concert Hall, had just heard March 8 proclaimed Itzhak Perlman Day in Washington. "I've never had a day all of my own before. By the way," he deadpanned, holding one of his crutches aloft for the small crowd, "I use a Stradivarius crutch."
It was the beginning of an evening dedicated to raising money for the D.C. Society for Crippled Children and a private health-care agency called Consumer Health Services of America Inc. The concert and the nine embassy dinners after the concert were expected to raise about $80,000 for the two agencies.
After his performance, Perlman, 35, a champion of the rights of the handicapped, posed for a picture with 3-year-old Charmaine Coleman, and voiced his hope that someday a special year for the handicapped would no longer be necessary. "Thank you," he said politely when someone handed him a rose. He sniffed it, and placed it delicately between his teeth. His admirers stood in a tight semicircle around him and smiled in his direction. "Isn't he wonderful," said one woman to another. "Oh yes," responded the second woman. "Such spirit." "You're just so heartwarming to see," said a third woman as she walked up and touched Perlman's shoulder. The violinist smiled, and soon left to catch a 6 o'clock shuttle to New York.
With that, Itzhak Perlman Day turned into Fund-Raising Night. Some sights and stops along the Embassy Road:
Dining with what used to be the Chinese delegation in Washington, now the Taiwanese Coordination Council for North American Affairs. Not officially an embassy anymore, but endowed with all the requisite diplomatic good will just the same.
Inside, amidst the snapdragons and yellow silk, guests mingled, sipping drinks and waiting for dinner to be served. Although the guest list, like those of the other parties, boasted names from the Reagan Cabinet, none were in evidence, though presidential assistant Richard Allen was rumored to be arriving.
Dinner was crisp skinned duck, sweet and sour pork and shark fin soup. The ex-ambassador's wife wore a green silk dress and pounds of jade jewelry. "It is good luck for some people," she said.
A few minutes away, at the Yugoslavian Embassy, guests ate moussaka, cabbage leaves filled with meat, and caramel torte. The Yugoslavian deputy minister for finance, in Washington for negotiations with the World Bank, stood in the middle of the room with a translator. "He would like this administration to give more support to the World Bank, so that it can give more support to the less-developed countries." Like Yugoslavia? Like Yugoslavia, said the translator.
"All children must be loved by their parents," said Ambassador Budimir Loncar as he greeted guests near the door. "But handicapped children must be loved by everybody."
Down the road, at the embassies of Greece and Luxembourg, similar scenes were taking place, in reception rooms filled with a mix of old Washington and new.
Former D.C. mayor Walter Washington chatted with David Lloyd Kreeger under the chandeliers at the Embassy of Luxembourg. "It's a wonderful, wonderful evening for the city," said Washington grandly.Kreeger (playing second violin) later joined the ambassador of Luxembourg (on piano) for a bit of Vivaldi.
At the Embassy of Greece, Mayor Marion Barry and Washingtonian Anne Blair exchanged greetings. "Oh my," Blair said to Barry, "You're so much thinner and taller than you are on television!"
The embassies of Kenya, Senegal, New Zealand, Malaysia and Indonesia also gave dinner parties, each of which featured menus worked out to the satisfaction of Edward van Kloberg senior vice president of the Consumer Health Services and mastermind of the night's festivities, which drew a total of over 500 guests.
"We had to be rather attentive to the menus," said Kloberg. "When you get people paying $150 and $250 a ticket, you don't want people to compare menus and find any of them lacking."
The Embassy of Indonesia put on a colorful display of national dance and music at its huge Massachusetts Avenue residence, featuring a cast of silk-clad dancers. Presidential assistant Virginia Knauer, and the new administrator of the Health Care Finance Administration, Carolyn Davis, were among the crowd, which sat on folding chairs during the dancing and then moved on to nibble port sati and rice.
Meanwhile, back at the Kennedy Center, high atop the roof terrace after an evening concert by guitarist Andres Segovia, an intimate and elegant corps of official and corporate Washington gathered to toast Segovia and ponder the future of the arts in America.
The occasion was a meeting of the National Corporate Sponsors Committee of the Washington Performing Arts Society.
Among those seen smiling in the after-concert glow: Sens. Charles Percy (R-Ill.), Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) and representatives of arts-conscious corporations like superdoner Philip Morris Inc.
Patrick Hayes, managing director of the WPAS, and others expressed optimism that the arts would survive, despite the Stockman-inspired gloom of recent days.
The guest of honor sat quietly at the head table holding a silver-knobbed walking stick. "I'm not going to say anything," Segovia said. "You've heard enough from me already."
"Chuck Percy," said the senator to Segovia heartily. "We loved it." Segovia simply smiled and kissed the hands of passing ladies.
"The arts are going to have to sustain cuts," said Percy as he headed for the door. "Everything is being cut, and will be cut some more."