It was, for a bit, like stepping into Old London. As Elizabethan music flowed from various nooks and crannies of the British Embassy, more than 250 guests streamed in, still glowing from the London Symphony Orchestra's dazzling performance just moments before at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
No one was more hungry than the symphony's maestro, Claudio Abbado. Moving through the London broil, tortellini and plum puddings, he said apologetically, "I haven't eaten all day. I never eat before a concert."
Extremely pleased with his orchestra's performance, Abbado called the Washingtonians "a very warm, fantastic audience."
The after-the-show crowd had gathered at the embassy to help the Selma Levine School, which has grown from 40 to 400 students since 1976, raise money to purchase a new building and to add to the school's scholarship fund. The London Symphony's performance at the Kennedy Center, sponsored by the Washington Performing Arts Society, was part of the gala benefit.
Patrick Hayes, the WPAS' managing director emeritus, recounted British Ambassador Sir Oliver Wright's verdict on the concert. " 'The orchestra played like angels,' the ambassador said, and I replied, 'May I correct that? The orchestra looked like angels and played like the devil.' "
Wright said he was more than happy to be the night's host for the Levine benefit. "It's a great, great pleasure to be able to help." The school's director, Joanne Hoover, said, "The school is the only place where students of all ages can come together. We believe in giving people the most intense experience they can have with music."
Across the room, David Lloyd Kreeger, a National Symphony board member, talked about how the NSO was "received with such enthusiasm" during its recent Orient trip.
Sir Jack Lyons, chairman of the London Symphony board trust, mentioned that the symphony might "return to Washington in 1985, and they just might come to Wolf Trap."
Catherine Filene Shouse, founder of Wolf Trap, when asked if this was true, replied, "At the price tag of $80,000, we can't afford to."
"You can't afford not to!" Lyons said.
Shouse paused to laugh, then grew serious, "Abbado is one of our great world conductors. I look forward to Abbado coming to Wolf Trap."