From Carnegie Hall, Blavatnik’s Advice for Debaters Is Practice

  • Ken Griffin, Paulson in the house for opening night concert
  • Diller says grit, Carlotti says calm needed to win a debate

How do you win a presidential debate? "The same way you get to Carnegie Hall," said Len Blavatnik Thursday night, adapting a well-known joke about the venue to the 2016 election.

It was opening night of the 126th season, and Blavatnik, founder of Access Industries Holdings and owner of Warner Music Group, had just cut a ribbon on the Blavatnik Family First Tier, named for his and his family foundation’s $25 million gift -- which explains how he got into the building.

Clive Gillinson with Emily, Len, Laila and Valentin Blavatnik

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Henry Whitaker and Madison Lusby

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/BLoomberg

"Unfortunately, in the family, we are not that good musically, but we have an appreciation of music," Blavatnik said. His son Valentin, a college student, confirmed as much: "I played the trombone in fifth grade," he said as champagne was poured and trumpeters performed Verdi’s "Triumphant March," in front of the new Blavatnik lettering next to the stairwell -- a location that was "great for acoustics," one of the trumpeters, Henry Whitaker, quipped.

Mercedes Bass and Barry Diller

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

While sound quality was a concern of Donald Trump’s at the first presidential debate, a mic check didn’t come up as Carnegie Hall gala guests offered advice to the Republican nominee and Hillary Clinton before they face off again on Sunday night.

Barry Diller said the winner of the debate would need to display "grit, aggression and dignity."

Valentino Carlotti of Goldman Sachs said he was looking for "calm, calm, calm."

Marathon Asset Management’s Bruce Richards also obliged this reporter’s request for three-word answers: "Preparation, thoughtfulness and demeanor," Richards said. Janice Savin had one word -- honesty -- and Sandy Weill, the long-serving, now-retired chairman of Carnegie Hall, had two: "Be human." "Stamina and patience," said Judy Zankel, a Carnegie Hall trustee.

William Kristol was skeptical about the value of practice. “We can practice all we want, and we’d still not be playing at Carnegie Hall. There’s a little bit of that in politics, too. Neither of these is a talented debater naturally, so maybe for them practice is important. But it will not be a Carnegie Hall-level debate. That’s my prediction."

Robert F. Smith, right, presiding as chairman of Carnegie Hall

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Politics aside, opening night had plenty of winners. Ken Griffin claimed the alpha seat in the hall, in a front-row center box on the first tier, with Henry Kravis and David Geffen behind him, and John Paulson off to the left (though closer to the stage). Robert F. Smith made a fine turn as Carnegie Hall’s new chairman (following the rocky, short tenure of Ron Perelman), especially his research on Blavatnik, revealing that the Russian-born businessman really likes "The Nutcracker."

A tropical theme (there were toucans on the tablecloths) honoring the Venezuelan orchestra that performed

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Carnegie Hall’s coffers did well with $4.5 million raised, and the gala supper for 600 guests at the Waldorf Astoria was vibrant with tropical decor and cornbread and coconut ice cream for dessert.
The most triumphant of the night was the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

Gustavo Dudamel

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

"Seventy percent of these musicians, we came as a children’s orchestra to New York 22 years ago," said Dudamel during the concert, of his training with Venezuela’s Jose Antonio Abreu in the nation’s El Sistema program. "Some of us were 10, 11, 9, 8. I remember that we played at the UN, in a little corner next to the cafeteria. It was a huge honor, but it was the cafeteria."

The losers of the night were those who left the concert early (Griffin among them), missing out on Leonard Bernstein’s classic "West Side Story" number "Mambo" and an encore, "Alma llanera," by Pedro Elias Gutierrez.

Anyone who doesn’t want to watch Trump and Clinton debate can see a webcast of the concert here or here.

The Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela at Carnegie Hall

Photographer: Chris Lee for Carnegie Hall