Part sentimental adieu, part vibrant celebration, the Houston Symphony Ball "Russian Rhapsody" raised the bar Friday night on gala grandeur in an evening that honored departing maestro Hans Graf and his wife, Margarita Graf.
For the occasion, chairs Phoebe and Bobby Tudor moved the white-tie-optional fundraiser from it's traditional hotel ballroom venue to a vast party tent on the Rice University campus. But the evening began in the Shepherd School of Music foyer, just steps from the tent, with champagne flutes and Stoli shots raised in honor of the Grafs. The stunning music and video tribute that followed in Stude Concert Hall brought tears to the honorees' eyes.
As guests entered the ballroom tent, Houston Ballet dancers in in ephemeral white gowns danced atop elevated platforms.
After 12 years at the helm of the Houston Symphony, Graf remarked on his feelings surrounding his departure. "What is the emotion of a leaf on a tree in autumn? It's just what goes on in life."
What doesn't typically go on in life is the over-the-top decor that had this sophisticated crowd swooning. Thank you Todd Fiscus, the Dallas-based special events planner who partnered with the symphony (read that an $80,000 in kind donation for decor) to create the most stunning gala environment in memory. "We wanted it to be magical," Fiscus said of the decor that could only be described as beyond opulent.
The gala served as Fiscus' calling card as he works to develop special event business in Houston, where his partner, stylist Cerón, has home base. For the Russian-themed evening, he created a vision in white — white carpeting, white linens, white draping and truckloads of white flowers with orchids, hydrangeas and lilies exploding from oversized urns and with crystals shimmering at every turn. As visual focalpoint, his team constructed two gilded, czar-esque bars with mirrored backdrops that flanked the bandstand.
And then there were the touches of red — vast swaths of deep red roses centering key tables, covering lampshades and exploding from gilded urns. As guests entered the ballroom tent, Houston Ballet dancers in ephemeral white gowns danced atop elevated platforms.
As soon as Jeremy Davenport of New Orleans and his band cranked up the music, the dance floor filled.
The tableau practically outshone the guests and the ladies who were stunning in their designer gowns. Phoebe Tudor dazzled in a beaded J. Mendel, Denise Bush Bahr wowed in red Oscar de la Renta and Elizabeth Petersen magnificently channeled a czarina — Andrew Gn jacket in velvet, fur and jet beading worn over a navy lace gown by Monique Lhuillier with black, elbow-length Bottega Veneta gloves.
The chatty, exuberant throng finally found their places for the Russian-inspired dinner by Jackson and Co. But they weren't in their seats for long. As soon as Jeremy Davenport of New Orleans and his band cranked up the music, the dance floor filled. His Crescent City-infused music, courtesy of New Orleans ex-pats Darlene and Cappy Bisso. That duo was the first to grab their napkins when Davenport hit it with his second line tribute.
Joining the festivities were symphony CEO Mark Hanson and wife Christina, Houston Symphony Society president Bob Peiser and wife Nancy, society chairman Jesse Tutor and wife Betty, Rice University president David Leebron and Y. Ping Sun, Lynn Wyatt, David Wuthrich, Cora Sue and Harry Mach, Marie and Ed Bosarge, Joella and Steve Mach, Susan and Dick Hansen, Kelli Cohen Fein and Martin Fein, Ann and John Bookout and Soraya and Scott McClelland.