The action on Embassy Row moves from the concert hall to the front yard, back yard and countryside
By Gail Scott
TOASTING AN IMPRESARIO: Kennedy Center artistic director Michael Kaiser, often called a “missionary for the arts,” was honored with this year’s American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation award by the group’s stalwarts James W. Symington, Donald Kendall (the former Pepsi CEO is known as the “godfather of détente”) and Russia’s famed Mariinsky Theater maestro Valery Gergiev. Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak praised Kaiser for “doing more than we can do with diplomacy or just with words.” Culture, rather than politics, he added, “is the best instrument in making people understand each other.” An admitted Russophile, Kaiser, the grandson of a Russian immigrant who became a New York Philharmonic violinist, told guests that he re-reads Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina” every three years. “So far I have read them each about nine times and every time, I find something new.”
RED OR BLUE?: Esther Coopersmith’s gatherings are tantamount to a command on Embassy Row, especially when she recently introduced USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah and his wife Shivam at one of her signature backyard barbecues (a longtime tradition that goes back to the LBJ days).
“Raj is an innovator,” Coopersmith said of the handsome 36-year old physician who formerly worked for the Gates Foundation and was a rising star at the Department of Agriculture until Hillary Rodham Clinton picked him to revamp USAID.
Guests, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (his former boss), Sens. Robert Bennett and Kit Bond, and Reps. Nita Lowey and John Tanner, were seated at tables hosted by the 22 ambassadors in attendance, including envoys from Japan, Ireland, Netherlands, Egypt, Pakistan, Hungary, Nepal and Kazakhstan.
The hostess, a Democratic party loyalist who is renowned for including Republicans at her many events, had only one moment of dismay: “When guests were asked ‘Red or Blue?’ they thought they were choosing Red or Blue States. I just wanted them to have the right color bandana to go with their outfit! I’ve never seen [partisanship] this bad.”
DIPLOMATIC BOOST FOR CASTLETON:Hoping to entice arts patron pals to attend the third annual Castleton festival at Maestro Lorin Maazel’s 600-acre Rappannock estate this summer, Moroccan Ambassador Aziz Mekouar and his wife Maria Felice recently opened their Potomac residence to showcase three Castleton “stars of tomorrow,” followed by a sumptuous Moroccan buffet that included chat time with the Maestro himself.
“We have been there many times in the last two summers and we absolutely love it,” the ambassador said before Maazel described Castleton’s magic. “Along with putting on musical performances for thousands over an eight-week season, we host and house the artists in the way musical apprentices used to learn. We live together and share meals, all 220 of us eating together, family style, in one big room, three times a day – fresh, natural food in a wonderful country setting.”
“Being at Castleton was the most spectacular musical experience I have had in my entire artistic life so far,” noted soprano Joyce El-Khoury, a Young Metropolitan Opera Artist. That was the just the right cue Maazel needed to mention that the endowment needs “to keep Castleton going long after me.”
SIDEWALK DIPLOMACY: Recently arrived Chilean Ambassador Arturo Fermandois took turned his country’s spectacular rescue of 33 coal miners into an emotion-filled communal experience by means of a giant TV screen in his embassy’s front yard. It turned out to be a good public relations move but the admittedly “nervous and anxious” envoy knew he was also taking a big risk. First of all, the initial predictions were dire: only a two percent possibility that all the miners could be saved. But Fermandois never gave up; he even had iced sparkling wine on hand, ready to pop. “If you have courage, you can get the results you want,” he said, clearly pleased to have already made and a name for himself in Washington and new friends for Chile.