The party was swinging at the Colony Hotel on Saturday night, with a VIP audience celebrating until after midnight. The festivities came perilously close to the 1am curfew that the town of Palm Beach had imposed for months until early May, when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order cancelling all pandemic-related restrictions imposed by local governments.
Champagne flowed and filet mignon sizzled as maskless supporters of the Palm Beach Symphony closed out its 47th season with a grand dinner following an end-of-the-season concert of Ravel and Brahms featuring the world famous Georgian piano soloist Alexander Toradze.
Unlike virtually anywhere else in North America, the concert was held live and indoors, albeit for a reduced audience of patrons. Anyone else could enjoy a globally available livestream.
Some wore masks as the concert went forward; others did not. When Toradze removed his when he sat down to play Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major, he got a well-deserved round of applause from an audience pleased with his sentiments of liberation.
Under the distinguished baton of music and artistic director Gerard Schwarz, who took over here in 2019, the youthful ensemble played brilliantly, vaulting the Palm Beach Symphony into the ranks of leading American regional orchestras, most of which are still silent in a barren performing arts universe.
New York, from which many new Palm Beach residents wisely moved over the past fourteen months, may be back in September, though some companies, including the Metropolitan Opera, face labor strife that may keep them offline for the rest of 2021.
Here in Palm Beach, however, there is no such trouble. Live performances resumed in December 2020, when the elegant pianist Daniil Trifonov played an all-Bach concert at the town’s Society of the Four Arts. Palm Beach’s Chamber Music Society began performing live at the Breakers Hotel not long after.
In early February, the Palm Beach Show, a lavish six-day fine art and antiquities emporium, was one of the few such national events to be held live.
Later that month, the Palm Beach Opera gave a festival-style presentation of three opera productions (two of which were planned before the pandemic came) at the iTHINK Financial Amphitheatre at the West Palm Beach Fairgrounds.
A few weeks later it gave a reduced-score performance of Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi in the sculpture garden of the Norton Museum of Fine Art, whose energetic new director Ghislain d’Humières has just announced the museum’s full reopening during normal hours six days a week starting June 1. Town beach and sports facilities were only closed for a few weeks last spring. Schools reopened fully for in-person instruction last September.
Every two weeks, my son’s school sends a report of the latest COVID-19 testing results, with no cases reported for some time now and only a vanishingly small number before.
Restaurants returned quickly, with many new ones – including such storied New York venues as La Goulue, Le Bilboquet, Swifty’s, Almond, and Saint Ambroeus – all opening Palm Beach branches for relocated as well as resident in-crowds who missed their cheese soufflés and Cajun chicken.
As political and financial power shift to our sunny island in this income tax-free state, the underpinnings of world class cultural life are here to stay and multiply.
Just seven years ago, when the Palm Beach Symphony’s dynamic CEO David McClymont took over, the orchestra was running a heavy deficit and had only 2,000 people on its mailing list.
Now, despite the pandemic economy, its budget is robust and its outreach gets to 50,000 people.
It also includes school programs, instrument donations, and scholarships for worthy arts educators.
Next year’s promising season will open on November 7 – earlier than ever before as the Palm Beach season extends to toward what many suspect will be a year-round schedule.
Paul du Quenoy is President of the Palm Beach Freedom Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in History from Georgetown University.
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