Glasses clinked and hors d'oeuvres were piled high in the courtyard of the legendary Breakers Hotel on Nov. 15, my birthday, as the Chamber Music Society of Palm Beach launched its first live concert of the 2021-2022 season.
Now in its ninth season, this relative newcomer to the island's cultural scene will present a total of seven concerts, through April 2022, both to a live audience and via streaming, with recordings preserved for posterity.
In classic fashion, most of the seats were sold by subscription before the season had even started.
The well-heeled crowd who came out for the first night delectated in a sturdy performance of Johannes Brahms' "Trio in E-flat major for Horn, Violin, and Piano" (Op. 40), a sad work produced after the death of the composer's mother, which moves from grief to the peace of transcendent memory.
It was followed by a masterly and deeply moving playing of Ernst von Dohnányi's "Sextet in C major for Clarinet, Horn, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Piano" (Op. 37), an occasionally jazzy work from the 1930s that responded to the expressionist trends that took classical music in heart-racing directions earlier in the 20th century.
Artistic director Arnaud Sussmann took great pleasure in telling the audience that von Dohnányi spent ten years in Tallahassee, the state capital, where he taught at Florida State University before his death in 1960. He is buried there.
The performance was enough nearly to make me forget the rude scoff of a Washington society columnist who chortled through her mask at the mere mention of Florida when I informed the British ambassador in her presence of the very different reality of life here while at an event in Washington earlier this month.
Here, however, no one was masked. Compare to our once great northern cities, where all audiences for everything are not only masked, but also have to show proof of double vaccination to enter.
That requirement added a layer of challenge in New York recently when I attended the Metropolitan Opera's revival of Richard Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg," a six-hour paean to art. That production's opening night, which used to sell out regularly, filled only 57 percent of the theater's seats.
The following evening, New York's Russian Nobility Association, a nonprofit heritage organization, held a cocktail party at a private club instead of its much larger annual ball, which has been postponed to May due to the immense challenges Gotham now creates for events.
A few weeks before, Washington, D.C.'s landmark Meridian Ball, which supports a non-partisan international affairs center, cut its guest list in half and required not only proof of vaccination but also on-site COVID testing of guests two days before the event.
Social life breathes more freely in Florida, and it is part of a trend. By all accounts, the Palm Beach social season is poised to roar back to life with fewer intrusive precautions than those imposed in our once-great northern cities.
The island town's bars and restaurants are back to full capacity. Its private clubs are jacking up initiation fees and imposing lengthy waitlists.
There is scarcely a week without at least one major event on my calendar from now until May 2022. On the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend alone, I have four overlapping parties, each one chicer than the last.
Road traffic is busy at an earlier time than ever before and competes with last-minute public works and home maintenance projects that are normally completed well in advance of the great migration of seasonal residents. Island hotels are already asking $1,000 per night or more and expect to sell out to depressed northerners who want a few rays of our sunshine.
CNN anchor Don Lemon — a vocal and often indignant critic of Florida's pandemic management on his primetime show — was recently videoed maskless at Palm Beach's lovingly restored The Colony Hotel. He fled the scene when questioned by the lady taking the video about the jarring discrepancy between his public elite media editorializing and private relaxation habits among us.
Most of the grand galas are returning after missing a season, starting with American Humane, the world's leading animal welfare organization, which will host its Lady in Red Gala at The Breakers on Jan. 9.
The Common Sense Society, an international organization promoting "liberty, prosperity, and beauty," has chosen Palm Beach over Washington as the site of its forthcoming gala in late January. Last week I spent an evening trying to convince its Northern Virginia-dwelling president and CEO, visiting briefly to plan the party, of the merits of Florida living.
The Palm Beach Opera and Symphony will each have a gala in February, as will the recently expanded Norton Museum of Art.
There are some gaps. Palm Beach's storied International Red Cross Ball, the crown jewel of island parties whose last event was infelicitously scheduled for March 20, 2020, and canceled a week before, does not appear on anyone's social calendar this year.
Nevertheless, Palm Beach is leading the way back to normal life again. Let the trumpets resound!
Paul du Quenoy is president of the Palm Beach Freedom Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University. Read more — Here.
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