"Over the last 18 months, we've pretty much had to report on sadness, which makes this very special," said host Angela Hill of WWL-TV News. "The classical arts make us who we are as New Orleanians as much as Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and now our football team."
While many arts organizations like the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO), New Orleans Opera Association and New Orleans Ballet Association lost their performance homes in theaters like the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts and Orpheum Theater due to Katrina flooding, they were able to adapt, stage performances and in many cases create new partnerships and events that surpassed pre-storm high points. Creative director Robert Lyall turned the Opera Association's annual fundraiser, originally scheduled for the Mahalia, into the largest opera event ever staged in Louisiana. Rather than pare down the original February 2006 event, he deferred the date to March and built up to A Night for New Orleans featuring legendary opera singer Placido Domingo. Held in the New Orleans Arena, it drew more than 7,400 spectators and showed the way in which many local arts organizations were boldly planning the rebuilding of the classical arts scene in New Orleans.
"It was one of those events that just grew exponentially. It became star-crossed when it started building. We didn't realize how big it had become until it was finally happening," he said after receiving an award for Creative Achievement in Opera. Lyall also won the award for opera conducting for the opera Siegfried.
A Night for New Orleans would also not have happened had it not been for the collaboration of other arts groups and patrons. Betty Brooks Doss was recognized with the Classical Arts Patron Award for 2007 for her support and leadership in making the event possible. Lyall also thanked groups that have regularly collaborated with the Opera Association, particularly the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and New Orleans Symphony Chorus.
Under the leadership of Managing Director Babs Mollere, the LPO recovered from Katrina by taking a flexible approach to finding venues in which to perform and traveling and forging partnerships with other orchestras. For her efforts, she received the 2007 Special Recognition Award
"It's humbling for me to look out at you. I see a room full of people who just refused to quit. It's nice to hear it called 'determiniation' instead of 'being stubborn,'" she told the crowd. "We're not going to just survive, we're going to thrive,"
After the event, Mollere added, "We're a fairly constant community. [The arts organizations] are dependent on one another. We're always working out schedules, helping each other. So we've been busy, but it's nice to have an opportunity to celebrate. There's an incredible spirit among the people who know what it's been like to bring this all back. You can feel it in the room."
New opportunities have arrived for arts training as well. Faina Lushtak, professor of music at Tulane University, received a lifetime achievement award for her career composing, performing and teaching. She was named a Steinway Artist this year, a prestigious international recognition from the renowned piano maker. Steve Kinchen of Hall Piano, which handles Steinway locally, presented Lushtak with the 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award. Hall Piano is also a new sponsor of the Tribute to the Classical Arts event. In addition to Lushtak's honor from Steinway, which places two of the pianos in her rehearsal space, Tulane is now a Steinway school, equipped with the top-quality pianos in practice and performance facilities.
One former student of Lushtak's who did not go to Tulane was on hand. Councilperson Shelley Midura took piano lessons from Lushtak while in high school.
"She was strict, she had me doing exercises I had never done before," Midura says. "When she plays, her fingers -- her notes -- are like waterfalls. But she's also ferocious when she plays."
Also receiving recognition for work with students was the New Orleans Ballet Association (NOBA). Before the storm, NOBA had worked with the New Orleans Recreation Department to provide dance instruction to 800 children. Since the storm, NOBA has continued its commitment to area children and now provides free dance instruction to 600 students in three parishes. NOBA Executive Director Jenny Hamilton accepted the 2007 award for Arts Education.
Founded by Gambit Weekly, The Tribute to the Classical Arts has celebrated annual achievement in the classical arts since 1993. Since there were no awards given in 2006 due to Hurricane Katrina, the 2007 awards were for performances in 2006, qualifying performances from 2005 and recognizing lifetime achievement and special efforts to revitalize the arts following the storm. Several local arts groups performed short pieces during the luncheon. The event was sponsored by Gambit Weekly, WWNO Radio 89.9 FM, Uptown Costume & Dancewear, the Monteleone Hotel, Hall Piano and Coleman E. Adler & Sons, which provided the award trophies.
2007 Classical Arts Winners
The Lifetime Achievement Award
Tulane's Newcomb College of Music
Classical Arts Patron Award
Betty Brooks Doss
Board Member of the New Orleans Opera Association
Arts Education Award
New Orleans Ballet Association
Jenny Hamilton, Executive Director
Special Recognition Award
Managing Director, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra
Best Classical Music Performance
Mahler's Symphony No.5
Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra with the Baton Rouge Symphony
Timothy Muffitt, Conductor, First Baptist Church
Best Chamber Music Performance
String Quartet Concert for Habitat for Humanity Musicians Village
Valerie Poullette, Amy Thiaville, Allen Nisbet, Daniel Avshalomov
Temple Sinai Sanctuary
Best Performance of New Classical Music
Festival of Living Composers
Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra
Convention Center Theater
Best Opera Production
New Orleans Opera Association
Conductor Robert Lyall
Stage Director Dean Miladinovic
Creative Achievement In Opera
A Night for New Orleans with Placido Domingo
New Orleans Arena
Best Choral Arts Presentation
Symphony Chorus of New Orleans
Klauspeter Seibel, Conductor, First Baptist Church
Best Classical Ballet Production
Time to Dance
Delta Festival Ballet
Roussel Hall, Loyola University
Best Modern Dance Production
Tsunami Dance Company
Contemporary Arts Center
Best Ethnic Dance Presentation
Ocean of Light
Best Choreography (new work)
John Rodi & Daniel Gianfala
Loyola Ballet Fall Concert
Special Achievement in Dance
One River Mississippi New Orleans
Barbara Hayley & Monique Moss, Choreographers
Marylee Hardenbergh, National Artistic Director