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Scene Last Night: Wolfensohn, Lauder Hear Israel Philharmonic

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Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Karen LeFrak, children's book author, and Evgeny Kissin, classical pianist. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- “It’s the music,” said James Wolfensohn last night over hummus.

The chairman of investment firm Wolfensohn & Co. LLC and former World Bank Group president was explaining his support of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and the sentiment was echoed throughout the Plaza Hotel’s ballroom.

The occasion was a black-tie fundraiser organized by the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. The group is responsible for raising 30 percent of the orchestra’s budget.

Heading back to his table after a round of greetings, composer Marvin Hamlisch commented on the orchestra’s music director of more than 40 years, Zubin Mehta.

“He leads an orchestra that wants to play for him,” Hamlisch said.

“He does everything with kindness,” said Lauren Veronis, a co-chairman of the gala. “It’s a tap on the shoulder, asking about the kids. It’s just his way.”

At the podium, Mehta thanked his musicians for “pouring their hearts out. And we haven’t finished,” he said.

The evening started at Carnegie Hall, with Mehta conducting the orchestra in the North American premiere of Avner Dorman’s “Azerbaijani Dance,” Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2, featuring Yefim Bronfman, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.

By 9:30, much of the gala crowd had moved to the Plaza. Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, sex expert Ruth Westheimer, investor Ronald Lauder and Morris Offit, chairman of Offit Capital Advisors LLC, sat in the ballroom for dinner.

In the Terrace Room, one floor below, a younger crowd known as the Associates gathered for cocktails and lighter fare.

“This is the best way I know to support Israel in an apolitical way,” said Heidi Learner, a fixed-income trading consultant and co-chairman of the Associates party.

The 35-year-old composer Dorman has realized another benefit: he met his wife, Jenny, at an Associates event.

(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the art and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer on this story: Amanda Gordon in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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