If an invitation sets the tone for an event, then the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Gala invitation's centerfold-photo of an electric guitar player shouted, "This thing's gonna rock!"
And so it did. Rocked the stage. Rocked the audience. And rocked the boat — in all the right ways — as far as black-tie galas go.
When patrons arrived for "Vivaldi Rocks!," FWSO's biggest fundraising evening of the year, Bass Hall was abuzz with excitement for this fresh-and-different night.
Part 1 of the symphony's mega-gala was, of course, the concert. FWSO music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya led a pared-down orchestra and featured violinist Robert McDuffie in a performance of Vivaldi's famous The Four Seasons. The stage background changed color with each season, as McDuffie, oozing Vegas-level charisma, mugged for the relaxed audience throughout the piece.
After intermission came the spotlight event, and — costume changes! Harth-Bedoya, free of his black suit coat, and McDuffie, clad in blue jeans, walked on stage with the electric guitar player pictured on the invitation — Mike Mills, best known as the bassist for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group R.E.M.
Mills composed a work called Concerto for Violin, Rock Band, and String Orchestra for his childhood buddy McDuffie. The orchestra moved to the back of the stage as McDuffie, Mills (who also plays piano and lead guitar), and a band consisting of drummer Patrick Ferguson and guitarists John Neff and William Tonks got the crowed jamming and swaying. To classical music purists, the performance was a little, well, "trippy" comes to mind. And that's a good thing.
After the final curtain calls, patrons clad in their tuxes and gowns whisked off to the Omni Fort Worth Hotel — a new venue for the FWSO gala. Leaders from the city, the arts community, business, philanthropy, and FWSO board members mingled at a cocktail reception before the dinner bell rang. Among them: Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and her husband, Tom Price; Cliburn CEO Jacques Marquis and wife Sandra Doan; Carla and Kelly Thompson, Dr. Asad Dean, Jonathan Suder, Jeff and Judy Schmeltekopf, Ben Shirley, Lisa Palermo Fortson, Joan Friedman, Frasher Pergande, Ashli Blumenfeld, and Mary Hart Lipscomb.
The doors opened to a ballroom bathed in candlelight and dressed in sumptuous florals of Valentine's pinks and reds — appropriate for this early February occasion. Guests dined on mixed greens with smoked salmon, followed by grilled tenderloin fillet and a decadent French opera cake for dessert.
Among the invited guests who got to enjoy dinner? FWSO musicians and their plus-ones Kyle and Tess Sherman, Ann Hung, Stas Chernyshev, Jake Fridkis, HeeSun Yang, Gabe Fridkis. Allan Steele, Michael Shih, and Tzu-Ying Jamie Chan.
In another "fresh and new" development, the night marked the debut of new FWSO President and CEO Keith Cerny, who briefly welcomed guests and acknowledged the orchestra's most ardent patron and gala underwriter, board chairman Mercedes T. Bass.
Then Harth-Bedoya stressed the importance of the orchestra's nationally recognized education initiatives and asked the audience to think back to their first exposure to a symphony orchestra.
"There's only one first time," he said. "And that's what the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra does — it gives young people that first great experience, which can be life changing. The power of music goes beyond the notes, the composers, the interpretation of the moment. Every year, the orchestra reaches over 65,000 young people and their families."
With that encouragement, auctioneer Wendy Lambert gave guests the chance to raise their paddles in a "live give" effort. One generous patron started the room at $10,000.
Once dinner plates had been cleared and funds had been raised, party band Time Machine kept the dance floor crowded and, indeed, rocking until the wee hours.