Spring's arrival in Washington brings with it a sudden shower of society benefits. Lilting waltzes, the rustle of silks and chiffons and the aroma of Viennese coffee filled the air Saturday at "An Evening in the Vienna Woods," the 14th annual benefit for the Washington Performing Arts Society's "Concerts in Schools" program, sponsored by the WPAS Women's Committee.
About 420 WPAS friends and supporters gathered at the Watergate Hotel for an evening of Austrian-inspired food and music and to celebrate with the guests of honor, Austrian Ambassador Thomas Klestil and his wife, Edith.
Also there were Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, Presidential Counselor Edwin Meese, Sen. David Durenberger (R-Minn.), Floretta D. MacKenzie, superintendent of D.C. schools, and Millie Bautista, executive director of the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities.
Benefit committee chairman Mollie S. Ottina said the committee hoped to raise $50,000 for the concerts program, which brings professional and amateur music and dance performers to Washington area schools. Ottina will replace outgoing women's committee president Coral Schmid.
"I went to the concert last night at Constitution Hall, and it was very, very moving," said Ottina about Friday's "Concerts in Schools" season finale, which culminated with 1,000 D.C. schoolchildren singing together onstage.
A strolling quartet visited tables, serenading diners with Austrian-themed songs like "Edelweiss" and "The Sound of Music." Heads turned when the quartet struck up "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" at the table of Patrick Hayes, managing director emeritus of the WPAS.
Hayes, who with the Friday Morning Music Club began the "Concerts in Schools" program in 1966, said the program has grown from 50 concerts a year to almost 700. "Before civilization as we know it now, we only had ourselves, the library and the church," Hayes said. "So when a violinist came to town it was an event. When those kids today hear this live dancing and drums and violins, something's going to catch fire."
After an elaborate dinner, guests packed into the silver-ceilinged Riverview Room to hear Karen Akers perform. Akers, a Washingtonian, won acclaim for her role as the long-suffering wife in the hit Broadway musical "Nine."
"I love to keep my lives completely separate," said Akers, who rarely performs in Washington. "I love to perform everywhere under the sun except near home, mostly because of the kids. I know everybody else does it, and I realize I'm completely spoiled." Akers, who is married to a Washington attorney, has two school-aged children herself, and agreed that early exposure to music is important. "Their favorite shows last year were 'Cats' and 'Nine,' " laughed Akers. "One of them wants to be a tapdancer now since he saw director/choreographer Tommy Tune in 'My One and Only.' "