2019 Viennese Winter Ball to add some ‘spring’ to its steps by moving to late March

Annual cultural celebration and arts benefit for youth returns to Shaw Centre for an evening of fine dining and dancing

Even if winter won’t allow us to simply waltz into spring, organizers of the Viennese Winter Ball most certainly can — and will.

The annual ball — one of the most highly anticipated galas on Ottawa’s social calendar — is making a rare departure from its February time slot and moving to Saturday, March 30th next year. It will celebrate its 22nd anniversary by returning to the scenic Trillium Ballroom of the Shaw Centre.

Supporters gathered for a reception Tuesday evening in Rockcliffe Park at the official residence of Austrian Ambassador Stefan Pehringer, who enthusiastically welcomed everyone for the kick-off of the Viennese Winter Ball: Spring Celebration.

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The ambassador said he’s looking forward to attending the ball with his wife, Debra Jean Pehringer. Incidentally, she’s a former American beauty queen who now practices real estate law out of California, begging this question from OBJ.social: how did they happen to meet? At the opera in Vienna. The production was French composer Georges Bizet’s celebrated work Carmen. 

For the past several years, the Viennese Winter Ball has been run by Music and Beyond, a non-profit performing arts organization that, along with hosting an annual summer music festival, strives to expose more young people to the wonders of classical music. 

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On hand from Music and Beyond were: board chair Chris Spiteri, founding law partner of Spiteri & Ursulak LLP, and the organization’s executive and artistic director Julian Armour. He and his wife, Guylaine Lemaire, had the pleasure of attending the ball in its inaugural year, back in 1996. They immediately fell in love with its beauty and elegance.  “I remember the first time I went, I thought, ‘Wow, this is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in this city’,” said Armour, referring to the live classical music and the carefully rehearsed waltzes performed for the audience by youthful debutantes with their male counterparts.

The unique evening has continued every year with the exception of 2015, when the all-volunteer organizing committee began to feel the effects of burnout. That’s when Music and Beyond stepped in to take the lead, with the goal of donating proceeds from the evening to causes that link young people to music. 

In Eastern Ontario, only 21 percent of public schools have a dedicated professional music teacher, said Armour, adding that the focus is more on improving math scores. Yet, listening to music helps one do better in math, he added.

The reception happened to fall on Spiteri’s birthday. Armour led the whole room in a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday while the ambassador quickly darted out of the room to fetch a gift — a bottle of wine — for Spiteri.

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Last year’s ball introduced the integral involvement of Crickett Lindgren as co-chair. She helped to elevate the ball to a higher level. Not only is she back but she’s recruited a dream team of female volunteers with proven expertise in organizing successful charity galas. Lindgren is chairing the 2019 ball with Catherine McLaughlin, who’s married to businessman Terry McLaughlin, founder and owner of Terlin Construction and Infrasecure Group Inc.

Organizers plan to incorporate the freshness of spring into the 2019 ball. “Given that winter started in mid-November this year, it’s really going to be a celebration,” said Armour.

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The beneficiaries of the $400-a-ticket evening are: OrKidstra, a program that gives kids from underserved communities the opportunity to learn music together; the Junior Thirteen Strings for young string players; and Music and Beyond’s young people’s initiatives. It got Canadian singer-songwriter Sam Roberts to visit Canterbury High School to play both his own music and classical music for students, as well as lead a discussion on the role of music.

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The ball will be working in the new year with the Arthur Murray Ottawa dance studio to teach the Austrian dance numbers to the debutantes and cavaliers, who are typically between the ages of 16 to 18 and from local public and private schools. Organizers have also introduced a new program that allows younger teens to volunteer at the ball. The experience gives them a chance to observe the evening and perhaps participate as a debutante or cavalier once they’re old enough.

— caroline@obj.ca

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