“We have to stop. I just pulled that note out of the blue,” said Audra McDonald on stage last night at Avery Fisher Hall. “I’m so proud of myself. Yay, Juilliard!”
It was one of the best moments of a gala that raised a $9.4 million for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in tribute to departing President Reynold Levy.
The total included a surprise donation from the Lincoln Center board of $1.2 million to support a fellowship for business-school students to work at the performing-arts complex.
At dinner after McDonald’s concert, the 1,200 guests were treated to a clever riff by David Rubenstein, a vice chairman of Lincoln Center’s board, who compared Levy’s accomplishments to God’s in Genesis.
“In God’s case, there was no one he had to cajole, persuade, be nice to, negotiate with or get money from. He just did it,” Rubenstein said.
The co-founder of Carlyle Group LP also noted that God took a day off, whereas Levy hadn’t had a day off in 11 years.
Rubenstein praised Levy’s gift for getting 12 constituent organizations to agree to a plan for renovation, and to fund that plan in the face of a recession, then closed on a mock-solemn note.
“I’ve also thought he may have a higher calling,” Rubenstein said of Levy. “He might do well to decide to pursue an activity that is among the highest mankind has to offer: private equity.”
Rubenstein then returned to his seat at a sort of donor-hall-of-fame table, whose occupants included industrialist David H. Koch, hedge-fund manager Julian Robertson, cosmetics magnate Leonard Lauder, and three chairmen of Lincoln Center who have worked with Levy: Katherine Farley of Tishman Speyer Properties LP, Bruce Crawford of Omnicom Group Inc. (OMC), and Frank Bennack of Hearst Corp.
At other tables were Blair Effron of Centerview Partners LLC, J. Tomilson Hill of Blackstone Group LP (BX), Kelly Coffey of JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Valentino Carlotti of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and Keith Banks, president of U.S. Trust, the private-wealth-management unit of Bank of America Corp. (BAC), who just joined Lincoln Center’s board and will be honored at a gala later this year.
Bennack said that his favorite part of any Lincoln Center gala is the “performance, always.” Guests talked about the concert: the number from “Porgy and Bess”; the beautiful “I’ll Be Here,” about losing a loved one on 9/11, by Adam Gwon; and Gabriel Kahane’s hilarious “Craigslistlieder,” composed of actual posts from the website Craigslist.
“I’m going to take that Craigslist bit -- we might do some bit on our show,” said Jimmy Fallon of his late-night program for NBC.
A few moments later, Fallon, actress Anne Hathaway and friends were on their way out, snapping their fingers and singing along to the Tony Bennett song being piped into the tent, “The Way You Look Tonight.”
Levy paused for five seconds to take a photograph with his family, before wandering off to thank another set of parting guests.
“The morning after, it feels like a very special event,” Levy said by telephone today. “I’ve listened to and given a lot of speeches, but I don’t think I’ve ever sat and listened to a speech that compared my accomplishment to that of God. Not since Mel Brooks has there been such a flight of imagination.”
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
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