A Monthly Profile of Orchestra Fans and Family
Katharine Eyre was in her early 30s and relatively new to Philadelphia when she first attended the Academy Concert and Ball. She felt like a princess. “I remember being young and just thinking this was the best thing I ever heard of,” she says. “It was like Cinderella: wearing ball gowns, dancing to the music of six or seven bands ’til the wee hours. It was just amazing. I also remember being struck by how friendly Philadelphians were.”
Bruce Leto’s ties to the Academy of Music go all the way back to childhood. Growing up in the city’s Green Hill Farms section, across City Avenue from the Main Line, he and his brother went to the Orchestra’s Children’s Concerts with his mother, and the opera with his mother and father, who was president of the Opera Company of Philadelphia at the time. “Seeing the lights and the chandelier and the red velvet—it was such an opulent and impressive place,” he says. “Our tickets were in the second row. I always remember asking my mother why we had tickets there, and she said this way we would keep our attention focused on the Orchestra! … Those tickets actually remained in the family all the way through to my children, so probably for more than 30 years.”
Leto and Eyre are the co-chairs of the Academy of Music 159th Anniversary Concert and Ball on Saturday, January 23, 2016. This season’s white-tie event celebrating the Grand Old Lady of Locust Street—with a theme of Philadelphia’s Night of Nights!—features actor and comedian Martin Short and, of course, Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting The Philadelphia Orchestra.
“It’s another wonderful performance by our Fabulous Philadelphians. And it’s a very magical night of excitement,” says Eyre. “We’re thrilled that Martin Short is going to be our special guest. He’s so amusing, funny, and clever—and musical and talented. … And Yannick! I don’t even need to say it. He is the biggest draw of all!”
“I love Yannick!” says Leto, a partner at Philadelphia’s Stradley Ronon. “We’ve been successful this year in getting some contributions from outside the city and I have to believe it’s because of the reputation of the Orchestra and Yannick around the country.”
Eyre and Leto arrived as Philadelphia Orchestra supporters via different paths. Leto is local, through and through, a graduate of Episcopal Academy, Haverford College, and Villanova Law School. “My veins bleed Philadelphia!” he laughs.
Leto and his wife, Robyn, have been Orchestra subscribers for 15 years, carrying on a tradition with the same tickets his parents had before them. Robyn is a member of the Orchestra’s Central Volunteer Committee and Bruce has served on a number of fundraising committees. (His Stradley Ronon colleague, John Saler, is a member of the Orchestra’s Board of Directors, the Academy’s Board of Trustees, and the Academy Ball Corporate Committee.)
Eyre grew up in New York, dancing ballet and playing piano. Her grandmother was a pianist and organist, her mother a pianist. “Music was always part of my house,” she says. That tradition continued with her own two daughters, who played the piano, viola, and French horn. Her friend (and great Orchestra benefactor) Carole Haas Gravagno gave Eyre’s two young daughters an exceptional entrée to the ensemble, courtesy of Gravagno’s husband.
“Back when [retired Philadelphia Orchestra bass player] Emilio Gravagno was playing, he introduced them to people in the Orchestra,” says Eyre, “which made it special for them.” One of those little girls is now a Young Friend of the Academy of Music and will be attending the Concert and Ball with other young friends.
Eyre got actively involved with the West Philadelphia Volunteer Committee when she retired from Credit Suisse five years ago. Then, last December, she was asked to co-chair the Concert and Ball. “It’s very exciting and a huge honor,” she says. “[Chairman of the Academy of Music Board of Trustees] Adele Schaeffer called me last year, I believe on Christmas Eve day—maybe the 23rd—and asked me if I would consider it and I was just bowled over, because it’s a huge responsibility. … We raise a lot of money for the preservation of the Academy of Music.”
“It actually was quite daunting when I started but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it,” says Leto. “It’s been really a mind-broadening experience.” The amount of detail that goes into such a big event is tremendous, he says, from choosing the talent to selecting the dinner rolls. “The size of the rolls! We had a whole discussion about the size of the bread,” he remarks. “They have to order enough for 1,600 people!”
“I was surprised that I actually feel like I have been able to make a contribution,” Leto says. “While it’s an event that’s been around for 59 years, I feel that Katharine and I have truly been able to put our imprimaturs on the event.”
“It really is an all-year long effort,” says Eyre, one that has required over 100 people working tirelessly right alongside them. “I want to emphasize that it’s a lot of people putting this together and giving their time on the committees to make it a special evening.”
“Our theme is Philadelphia’s Night of Nights,” says Leto, “and it certainly is our Night of Nights. … It’s extremely fun. We now have all ages from the Young Friends, which begin at 21, all the way up to people in their 70s and 80s and 90s. … It is not exclusive. It’s really embracing. There are lots of ways you can be part of the event. There are tickets at all price ranges.”
“There is no better night in Philadelphia,” says Eyre. “This is a superlative. It really is.”
For more information on the 159th Academy of Music Anniversary Concert and Ball, visit www.theacademyball.org or call the Academy of Music Restoration Fund Office at 215.893.1978.
Photo of Katharine Eyre by Susan Scovill