No other charity event in Ottawa quite compares to the Viennese Winter Ball, with its ballroom dancers floating effortlessly across the floor to the enchanting sounds of live orchestral music.
The atmosphere was particularly cozy Saturday inside the Shaw Centre’s Trillium Ballroom; its windows partially covered by a curtain of snow. There, more than 250 people, including many from the business community, came together in support of causes that connect children and youth to classical music.
Chris Spiteri, managing partner at law firm Spiteri & Ursulak, co-chaired the 17-member organizing committee with powerhouse Crickett Williams Lindgren. Her daughter Noelle, a Grade 11 student at Ashbury College, was one of the debutantes.
The $400-a-ticket Viennese Winter Ball has pretty much been a fixture on Ottawa's social scene since 1996. Its causes are OrKidstra, the Junior Thirteen Strings, and youth programming through Music and Beyond.
Music and Beyond has taken the lead in promoting the ball. Cellist Julian Armour is the executive and artistic director of the non-profit arts organization while Spiteri serves as chair of the board.
Spiteri shelled out $1,250 for the chance to conduct the Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra to Johann Strauss Sr.'s Radetzky March.
“It’s for a good cause,” said Spiteri of his interest in the live auction item. Later, he was seen waving his arms on stage, with baton in hand, while maestro Kevin Mallon kept a close eye and clapped along.
Every year, the organizing committee encourages high school students to apply to become a debutante or cavalier for the ball. When it came time for Rachel Murray, a Grade 12 student at Glebe Collegiate, to find the required formal white gown, she went the practical route and decided to wear her mother’s wedding dress. It had been in storage since 1991, when Laurel Murray, of Murray Management Consulting, got married.
Her mom's dress fit perfectly, after they shortened the hemline a little and removed the outdated poofy sleeves.
Lara Crone made her own satin dress, with organza skirt overlay and beaded detail. It’s no surprise the 17-year-old Glebe Collegiate is so handy; her father, Jonathan Crone, works in high-tech but does woodworking as a hobby. He made the baton that was auctioned off that night and the unique writing pens that were gifted to the youth and guests of the head table.
Together, the co-chairs thanked the sponsors, to the popular tune of My Favourite Things from the Sound of Music. The words had been modified by committee member Micheline Saikaley, who, when she co-chaired the Ashbury Ball last fall, used a similar creative approach for acknowledging supporters.
The crowd was dazzled by talent throughout the night. Young violin virtuoso Kerson Leong, 20, performed. So did singer Kellylee Evans. She crooned the sentimental ballad Edelweiss, sounding as delicate as the alpine flower itself, as high school students performed a choreographed waltz they’d been rehearsing for weeks. She followed up later with Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, accompanied by harpist Caroline Léonardelli.
Following the candlelit dinner, the Stevens and Kennedy Band took to the stage and the dance floor was open to all dance moves.
Last fall, Music & Beyond got Canadian rock singer-songwriter Sam Roberts to pay a visit to students of Canterbury High School to talk music. He sang a couple of his own songs but he also played violin with classical musicians. Roberts was funny, engaging and, of course, talented.
“To see the look of awe on the faces of these young people, as this rock star was playing classical music, was incredible,” said Spiteri on stage while recalling how the visit left at least one kid musing that it might be time for him to take another stab at playing the violin.
“This is what we’re all about, and this is what this is all about,” said Spiteri.