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WPAS Celebrates with Irish Flair;
Prepares for New Leader

by Gail Scott

With Irish Ambassador Michael Collins and his wife Marie as Honorary Patrons, the Washington Performing Arts Society’s full house at the Ritz-Carlton ballroom made the WPAS annual gala a huge success.

To set the scene, an Irish instrumental trio played on a mossy knoll behind the gala’s check-in desk, colorfully costumed Irish dancers from the Culkin School of Irish Dance welcomed guests to the ballroom and highly unusual green centerpieces that looked like they came directly from the old sod decorated the tables.

Photo: Chris Burch / WPAS

Ambassador of Ireland Michael Collins and his wife Marie flank students from Alice Deal Middle School who participate in the Washington Performing Arts Society’s Embassy Adoption Program, which each year connects more than 50 embassies with 1,500 fifth- and sixth-grade students in 50 schools in all D.C. wards.

Always one of the biggest silent auctions in town, the WPAS went digital as many other groups are doing and with their live auction trip items, including a very intriguing trip to Ireland, raised over $880,000 in just one night. The auction funds support WPAS education and concert programming.

The award-winning headliner of the night was Broadway’s South Pacific star Matthew Morrison, well-known as Glee’s Will Schuester.

Photo: Chris Burch / WPAS

Matthew Morrison, who plays Will Schuester on “Glee,” performs Broadway hits at the Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS) 2013 Gala and Auction to raise funds for WPAS, which presents some 100 public engagements and arts education activities each year.

Born and raised in California, Matthew Morrison attended Orange County High School of the Arts and NYU's Tisch School of the Arts before making his debut in the musical version of Footloose in 1984. Following his appearance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Morrison landed the part of Link Larkin in Broadway's Hairspray and then went on to play small roles in Sex and the City, Hack and Encino Man. He also appeared in the ABC-TV musical, Once Upon a Mattress, in 2005, starring Carol Burnett and Tracey Ullman.

Photo: Chris Burch / WPAS

The Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS) Children of the Gospel Choir members perform at the annual gala and auction to benefit WPAS, which supports various children’s program such as the Embassy Adoption Program, Concerts in Schools and the choir itself, which has performed on NBC’s “Today” show twice.

Morrison was a Tony nominee for his role in The Light in the Piazza and a Drama Desk award for outstanding actor in the off-Broadway musical, 10 Million Miles. Morrison also starred as Lieutenant Cable in the Lincoln Center production of South Pacific.
In 2008, Morrison took on the role of Will Schuester, a high school Spanish teacher who sets about restoring the school’s glee club to its former glory in the wildly successful, Emmy Award-winning Fox television series Glee. 
Morrison’s first single, Summer Rain, premiered on Ryan Seacrest's website. His first self-titled studio album, released in 2011, features duets with Elton John, Sting and Gwyneth Paltrow. The latest album featuring new arrangements of familiar standards like "Luck be a Lady," "Younger than Springtime" and a medley from West Side Story, will be released soon.

Photo:Gail Scott
From left, longtime Washington Performing Arts (WPAS) supporter Robin Hammer, Ambassador of Ireland Michael Collins, Ambassador of Oman Hunaina Sultan Al Mughairy, and Marie Collins attend the 2013 WPAS Gala and Auction, held at the Ritz-Carlton Washington hotel. The Collins were this year’s diplomatic patrons of the annual gala to benefit WPAS, a nonprofit founded in 1965 that presents a wide range of music performances in the area featuring both established performers and emerging artists.

Audience members didn’t hesitate to hit the dance floor while Morrison sang his most romantic ballads. The WPAS Children of the Gospel Choir also entertained.
Considered one of the country’s leading presenters of the performing arts, Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS) was established in the nation’s capital by the legendary impresario Patrick Hayes. Throughout its 48-year history, WPAS has created profound opportunities for connecting the community to artists — both in education and performance — for more than four decades. According to the WPAS Mission Statement, the goals of the Washington Performing Arts Society are threefold: first, to provide the Washington community with performing arts presentations of the highest quality and of varied content and tradition; second, to support and nurture performing artists and their art forms; and finally, to provide lifelong learning opportunities through arts education, youth involvement, and community partnerships.

Photo:Gail Scott

Dino Patti Djalal and his wife Rosa attend the Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS) 2013 Gala and Auction, which drew more than 670 people and raised $880,000 for WPAS education and concert programming.

The diplomatic community knows WPAS through the “Embassy Adoption Program” where the city’s foreign embassies are paired with one of D.C.’s 60 participating schools. Over 1500 fifth and sixth graders spend the year going on field trips, attending presentations from the ambassadors and their spouses and ending the year in a U.N. program.

For almost the last ten years, Neale Perl, has been in charge of this growing organization. To the surprise of many, he announced last June that he would be stepping down after the 2012-2013 season. He was especially proud of the WPAS programs that they had for young musicians.

At the time of his announcement he said, “I also saw a great opportunity to expand our education programs. In the past five years we have tripled not only the WPAS education programs budget — but also our impact on the underserved children in our community…we created the Capitol Arts Initiative – first as Capitol Jazz, a partnership with DCPS and Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, which later expanded to include Capitol Strings and Capitol Voices. Our students and various ensembles have performed on the Today show, at Carnegie Hall and the State Department, and multiple times at the White House for the President and First Lady. We now impact the lives of 80,000 children a year with our unique programs, including new outreach initiatives in Ward 8.”

Photo: Chris Burch / WPAS

From left, Esther Sorenson, Arne Sorenson, Matthew Morrison, and Ruth Sorenson attend the Washington Performing Arts Annual Gala and Auction, which was chaired by Ruth and Arne Sorenson and featured Broadway singer Morrison, a star on the TV show “Glee.”

“We were also able to launch a series of tuition-free summer camps for students — building around our existing one week gospel camp, which later expanded to include separate camps for jazz, African step dancing, and even a program for tiny tots. This summer we are organizing five different camps over a five-week period...We also began presenting in new venues, such as Strathmore, the Atlas, Sidney Harman Hall, THEARC, and Sixth & I Historic Synagogue.”

When asked why he was leaving, this professional cellist said, “I am an ambitious person. I’ve done this for ten years; that’s 600 performances. I just don’t see myself doing it for another ten years.” He added, “I had a vision for WPAS. I did what I set out to do.” The 56-year-old has not announced any new position but likes to say, “I have at least one more great job in me.”

Photo:Gail Scott

Ambassador of Macedonia Zoran Jolevski and his wife Suzana attend the Washington Performing Arts Society 2013 Gala and Auction held at the Ritz-Carlton Washington hotel.

The new WPAS president, Jenny Belfield, is already in place and was busy meeting everyone at the Gala. She is well known for pulling off collaborative events and looking for new ways to do things.

For example, she was working at music publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, and one of the famous composers had a 70th birthday. Every major performing arts organization in New York wanted to do their own special celebration of his work but it took Jenny to take the initiative to get all the organizations like Carnegie Hall, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Lincoln Center working together. It was the first time they had ever collaborated with each other. People doubted that the organizations would come together. It was a huge success and sold out.

Photo:Gail Scott

Jenny Bilfield, president and CEO of the Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS), welcomes guests to the Washington Performing Arts Society 2013 Gala and Auction.

She began playing the piano by ear when she was three and composing at ten. Whether she’s at the National Orchestral Association or running the Lively Arts at Stanford (now called Stanford Live), she is known as an innovator who doesn’t like to hear, “We’ve never done that before.”

We will miss Neale, his blue-chip programming and his expansion of WPAS’ educational programs and wish him happy landing and look forward to Jenny’s refreshing new touch at WPAS which has only had four leaders in almost 50 years.

About the Author

Gail Scott is a contributing writer of The Washington Diplomat and Diplomatic Pouch.



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