The Shaw Centre was alive with the sound of music on Saturday as the 22nd edition of the Viennese Winter Ball: Spring Celebration whirled its way through the nation’s capital with graceful and elegant ease.
Ottawa’s beloved Viennese ball is a lively age-old cultural tradition that originated in the Austrian capital of Vienna, bringing generations together in celebration of music, culinary delights and customs. In Vienna, more than 400 balls are staged each winter.
The black-tie dinner also raises funds for three local arts organizations that are working to expose more young people to classical music. The beneficiaries of the ball are: Music & Beyond’s youth initiative, Junior Thirteen Strings and OrKidstra.
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The evening’s patron was Austria’s charming ambassador, Stefan Pehringer. He was joined at the dinner by his wife, Debra Jean, along with a number of heads of diplomatic missions, and a representative from the City of Vienna.
From presenting sponsor Colliers was Franklin Holtforster. He’s the president and CEO of Colliers Project Leaders, as well as being a man who waltzes like he’s waltzed a thousand times. His wife, Birgitte Alting-Mees, was part of the organizing committee.
Many guests dined on the main course option of Esterhazy roast beef short ribs served with golden beet garlic potato mash, grilled asparagus and honey-glazed baby carrot, followed by an apple strudel dessert.
Music & Beyond has been overseeing the Viennese ball for the past four years, after its future faced some uncertainty. Rejuvenating the ball with new energy and ideas is a dedicated and hard-working volunteer organizing committee, led by Crickett Williams Lindgren and Catherine McLaughlin. The pair creatively delivered their brief remarks, interspersed with singing by Jessica Morgan of the Sound of Music hit Do Re Mi. She got the audience singing along, creating for a nice musical bonding moment.
McLaughlin’s husband Terry McLaughlin, owner of Terlin Construction, was one of the sponsors. Other sponsors included Marilyn Wilson Dream Properties, represented by Marilyn Wilson and her daughter Reba Wilson, who was on the organizing committee and is a former Viennese ball debutante. Minto Group/Minto Apartment REIT CEO Michael Waters was also supporting the event. His son, William, was one of the cavaliers while his wife, Sarah Waters, was part of the committee.
Lawyer Chris Spiteri, head of the Music & Beyond board of directors and managing partner of sponsor Spiteri & Ursulak LLP, expressed his deep gratitude to the committee members for their “tireless work” and “countless hours” and to the co-chairs, who fastidiously took care of all the details. “It was like a military operation,” Spiteri said light-heartedly.
He also touched on the role of music as “a common language” that unites us all.
“It’s incumbent on us to encourage it, to promote it and to fund it,” said Spiteri, who has now seen all four of his children participate in the Viennese Winter Ball. His wife, Jane Spiteri, was also a volunteer on the committee.
Juno Award-winning singer Kellylee Evans was at the top of her game during her collaborative performance with the senior jazz and choral ensembles from Canterbury High School. Her two daughters also participated in the ball, as a debutante and a debutante-in-waiting.
Organizers moved this year’s big night from its usual February time slot. But for the increased daylight, you’d never know looking out the ballroom’s sweeping windows it was almost April. Winter had stubbornly decided to stick around.
Inside, however, the ballroom felt like a breath of spring. The place was beautifully decorated with edelweiss, a delicate flower that grows in the Alps. The room’s modern and minimalist design was transformed to give an historic feel of soaring ceilings, sparkling chandeliers and gilded marble halls.
Also bringing a fresh feel to the evening were the dozens of local youth who took part. A group of 30 students from 11 public and private schools served as debutantes and cavaliers, performing a series of carefully rehearsed dances, with the girls in flowing white evening gowns and the boys looking sharp in their tuxedos. They were accompanied by the Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra.
It’s tradition at the ball for the young dancers to pluck people from the audience and lead them to the dance floor. Many youth were seen waltzing with their proud parents.
The ball has added a new program for younger teenagers with an interest in perhaps one day becoming a belle of the ball. They can volunteer as debutantes (or cavaliers)-in-waiting.
CTV Ottawa’s Michael O’Byrne helped as emcee and live auctioneer, selling off an embassy dinner for 10 to be hosted by the Austrian ambassador and his wife at their official residence in Rockcliffe. It sold for $8,500.
Spanish Ambassador Enrique Ruiz Molero and Leticia Herberg Carrera donated a similar dinner, for 12, at their home. It went for $9,500.
There were also donations made by Howard Fine Jewellers, Sukhoo Sukhoo Couture, Terlin Construction and Ottawa artist Andrew King. His donated painting, The Lonely Cellist, sparked a bidding war that saw Lindgren’s husband, John Lindgren, buy it for $4,300.