Society / Featured Parties

Houston’s First Black-Tie Gala in 358 Days Brings Back the Partying Fun — in New Ways

Symphony Ball Means Masks, Temperature Checks, Serious Entertainment and a Thrilling Night Out

BY // 03.01.21
photography Wilson Parish

The 2021 Houston Symphony Ball, as might have been expected, was like no other. The first formal gala in almost a year saw a masked (required) retinue of guests arrive at the Post Oak Hotel to have their temperatures taken (required) before entering. Tables for the mere 115 souls venturing out for this hybrid affair were generously spaced throughout the vast ballroom. Tables for two accommodated the more cautious guests.

In this era of COVID-19, precautions are taken, which explains the absence of gala chairs Rini and Ed Ziegler. They have yet to receive the vaccine and thus delivered their remarks via pre-recorded video as they watched the proceedings from home, as did more than 150 supporters who also tuned in to view the happenings.

Despite the limitations imposed by the pandemic, the evening raised $800,000 for the Houston Symphony’s Education & Community Engagement. Thanks in no small part to presenting sponsor for the seventh year Phillips 66. (By comparison, the 2019 symphony ball was attended by more than 450 and raised $1.3 million. The 2020 ball was canceled due to the virus.)

There would be no dancing, no packed dance floor on this night. But there was grand decor and riveting entertainment that made for a spectacular evening, thanks to design and implementation by Richard Flowers and The Events Company.

Élan Artists from New York coursed across the elevated stage in the center of the ballroom in several stunning numbers:  invigorating dance/ballet presentations with elaborate firebird costumes celebrating “The Royal Phoenix” theme of the evening; a romantic Blue Danube waltz with electronic violinist; and a ballet duet choreographed to Shallow. Add the talents of singer/pianist Ben Chavez, who starred as Omar in the touring production of Aladin.

There was no loss of glamour on this night that for most attending was the first very public outing since the COVID shutdowns last March.

“We’ve been working from home and haven’t been out to anything since last March,” symphony patron John Rydman allows. “It’s nice to get dressed up and see people again. I missed everyone. Zoom calls are not quite the same.”

Elan Artists, tapped by Richard Flowers and The Events Company, light up the night at the Houston Symphony Ball. (Photo by Wilson Parish)
Elan Artists, tapped by Richard Flowers and The Events Company, light up the night at the Houston Symphony Ball. (Photo by Wilson Parish)

Rydman was joined by his wife, Lindy, their daughter, Lisa, and her husband, Eric Lindsey. Owners of Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods, the Rydmans selected special wines that were paired with the three-course meal.

The first-night-out excitement echoed throughout the ballroom but was particularly strong for Beth Wolff and Bill Stubbs, who with Cheryl Byington are on tap to chair the 2022 symphony ball. Surprise guests were Houston Symphony Conductor Laureate Hans Graf and his wife, Rita, in from their home in Austria to visit with the many friends they made here during his 11 years at the symphony’s helm.

The evening honored Robin Angly and Miles Smith with the Mike Stude Award for Enduring Artistic Vision and John Neighbors with the Ima Hogg Philanthropy Award.

PC Seen: Houston Symphony CEO John Mangum, Betty and Jesse Tutor, Vicki West and Ralph Burch, Mary Lynn and Steve Marks, Elizabeth and Alan Stein, Fran Fawcett Peterson, Rachel and Warren Ellsworth, Alejandra Ruedas and Hector Villareal, Bobbie Nau, Susan and Edward Osterberg Jr., Anna Dean, and Wendy and Michael Adler.

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