Society / Featured Parties

A Houston Symphony Opening Night Like No Other — Mere 60 Guests in Person, More Than $500,000 Raised

Both a 'Real' and Virtual Gala

BY // 09.15.20
photography Priscilla Dickson

It was unlike any Houston Symphony Opening Night in history: a mere 60 black-tie attired guests attending in the vast 2,900-seat Jones Hall, no more than 40 musicians on the stage at any given time, and devout patrons tuning in from home. Credit COVID-19 with the dramatic change, the “virtual gala” season in full swing.

Sippi and Ajay Khurana shone in their roles as chairs, she arriving at the downtown theater stunning in a red gown, he ever the handsome exec in his well-fitted tuxedo. Even though the elegant duo had accepted the chairs position at a time when mandatory masks and social distancing were unheard of, they led the evening to proceeds of more than $500,000. That grand sum was due in part to the participation of ConocoPhillips as concert sponsor and lead gala corporate underwriter, a generous position the company has held for 34 years.

At the late-night, black-tie dinner that followed the opening concert last fall, 400 classical music fans gathered at the Ballroom at Bayou Place for the evening that raised that raised $575,000 for symphony coffers.

Houston Symphony executive director and CEO John Mangum launched the unconventional 2020-21 season by welcoming symphony musicians back to the stage, greeting the in-house and at-home audiences and introducing the symphony board’s new chair and president John Rydman. Further, Mangum hosted the evening for which he provided informative analyses of each musical selection and conducted an interview with concertmaster Yoonshin Song.

Song was the violinist and leader for a program that included works by three of today’s pre-eminent women composers — Jessie Montgomery’s Banner for string quartet and string orchestra (based on the Star Spangled Banner and Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing), Keiko Abe’s Conversations in the Forest for marimba duo, and Jennifer Higdon’s Autumn Music for wind quintet — alongside Gabrieli’s Duodecimi Toni, Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, and Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins, in honor of event chair Sippi Khurana. 

While guests at home savored the concert, they also savored the City Kitchen dinner and charcuterie trays with wine selections paired by Rydman, who helms Spec’s Wines, Spirits, and Finer Foods. The City Kitchen dinner was included with ticket purchases.

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