How sweet it is when one of the city's most generous philanthropists throws a smashing birthday party that is more a gift to the guests than a celebration of herself. Margaret Alkek Williams' 80th birthday soirée at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston will long be remembered as one of the most beautiful and entertaining evenings on record.
For certain, Houston's grand dame of giving will surely be remembered as the youngest 80 year old on the planet. The forever young Williams was smashing in a bejeweled lavender gown by Ripetta of Rome (the designers flown in for the gala) and a dazzling suite of amethysts and diamonds.
With her son and daughter-in-law, Charles and Randa Williams, as party hosts, the night reflected the birthday girl's penchant for lavender in its many shades. Richard Flowers and The Events Co. transformed Cullinan Hall into a floral fantasy with lavender and fuschia vanda orchids taking the decorative lead against a backdrop of super-sized murals of Monet's Water Lilies.
More than 290 orchid plants, yes plants, were dramatically hung from an overhead grid, a la the floral decor of the terrace in the Hotel George V in Paris. Think an orchid chandelier. Each table was centered with bounteous arrangements of orchids displayed in sculptural crystal vases that were illuminated for dramatic effect.
Setting the stage for an evening that in many ways saluted the city's performing arts organizations, student musicians from Virtuosi of Houston provided background music for the cocktail reception where more than 330 black-tie attired guests mingled at this first formal gathering of the season.
Music soared across the museum
Guests were called to dinner by a brass ensemble playing the fanfare from the ballet La Péri, the Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera musicians led by symphony principal tuba David Kirk.
Margaret Alkek Williams is a keen supporter of the arts as well as medical institutions and the guest list and evening's entertainment reflected that. Houston Grand Opera's Patrick Summers and Perryn Leech, Houston Ballet's Stanton Welch, the Alley Theatre's Gregory Boyd and Dean Gladden, the Houston Symphony's Mark Hansen and M.D. Anderson's Dr. Ron DePinho were among the cities cultural and medical leadership saluting the octogenarian.
That salute began with MFAH director Gary Tinterow speaking to the gathering, "Her name is synonymous with patronage and philanthropy at the highest level, and many institutions have been transformed by her generosity."
"It is impossible for an important gathering in this city to take place without Margaret. She is truly the belle of every ball."
Before guests began dining on a lavish four-course dinner from City Kitchen, HGO presented an operatic interlude that featured Summers on the piano and Opera Studio member Yongzhao Yu and studio alumnus Michael Sumuel. The duo sang The Pearl Fishers Duet while Yu wowed the crowd with his impeccable Nessun Dorma.
Forever young, really
Houston Ballet joined the party with costumed dancers presenting the glittering dual-flavored birthday cake laced with lavender flowers. The gents received a generous serving of the Grand Marnier cake with orange mousse filling while the ladies were served the white cake with white chocolate mousse and raspberry filling.
With that, the party kicked into high gear as the Richard Brown Orchestra, located on the Upper Brown Pavilion, moved from dinner music to dance tunes. Proving that Margaret Alkek Williams is truly forever young, she requested that the first tune be Abba's Dancing Queen. The significant lyrics — "You are the Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only 17."