Rarely is an occasion as momentous as the 34th Annual Grand Gala, which celebrated not only the legacy of fine music and local heroes, but also looked forward to the future of one of Delaware’s finest arts organizations. The Grand Opera House – Market Street’s “Grand Old Lady” – played host to both new and familiar faces on Saturday, December 4th. Though the event was long in the making, it proved to be even lengthier in anticipation, as local dignitaries, community leaders, supporters, and friends awaited the unfolding excitement of the well-named “party of the year.”
The night began intimately in the baby grand, where Grand Gala honoree and local community leader James H. Gilliam Sr. was venerated by The Grand and other Delaware leaders, including Governor Jack Markell, Senator Tom Carper, and newly-elected Senator Chris Coons. As the theater filled with patrons and the stage began to glow , a specially-produced video – which featured an appearance by Vice President Joe Biden – paid tribute to Gilliam, who The News Journal hails as a “longtime philanthropist, civil rights crusader, and New Castle County's first housing director.” To all in the audience, Gilliam’s life work for the betterment of Delaware’s community was made resoundingly clear, and the retired army captain was greeted with a lengthy standing ovation at the video’s conclusion.
The stage was then met by the night’s main performers: legendary English symphonic rock band Procol Harum, the OperaDelaware Chorus, and the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. Once again, the Grand Gala brought a musical legacy to vivid life: On November 18, 1971, Procol Harum created a seminal moment in pop-rock history by performing with The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the Da Camera Singers at Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Widely credited as the first band to bridge the gap between modern pop-rock and the classical music world, the recording of that concert went on to sell millions of albums and opened the door for the marriage of pop music to symphony programs all over the world.
The 34th Grand Gala faithfully created that decisive event to the joy of a captivated audience, culminating in the performance of the British band’s famed #1 1967 hit, “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” The song has been recognized by Phonographic Performance Limited as the most-played record of the past 70 years, and was listed at #57 on Rolling Stone's “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
“Both The Grand and the Delaware Symphony Orchestra have been seeking to present a joint event of this magnitude for the past few years,” said The Grand’s Executive Director, Steve Bailey. “When you have the region’s best and biggest house band, you naturally want to show them off, and there could be no better vehicle than the re-creation of the music from that legendary concert by Procol Harum and The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.”
“The musicians, board and staff of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra are thrilled to be a part of the Grand Gala this year,” added Lucinda Williams, Executive Director of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. “Through this collaboration with The Grand and guest artist Procol Harum, our exceptional orchestra musicians had the chance to step out of the ‘classical box’ and show they have the stuff to rock it out!”
Both Williams and Bailey stressed the importance of an ongoing collaboration between The Grand and the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. Bailey states that, “Although many people attend both DSO and Grand-sponsored performances during the course of each season, Lucinda and I thought it would be great to find a show that brings them together for a very special night. Celebrating and supporting the arts, no matter what your particular tastes may be, is what this night was all about.”
The night’s entertainment was not finished with the concert, however. Soon, theatergoers filed out onto a festively-decorated Market Street, making their way to the Hotel du Pont for the Gala’s celebrated after party. There an assortment of food, drink, live performance, dancing, and great conversation awaited them. The Hotel’s elegant Gold Ballroom was the ideal place to mingle and make merry, as favorite local jam band Club Phred played well into the night.
Other entertainment included The Champian Fulton Jazz Trio in the DuBarry Room, the Bobby Kyle Band in the Grille, Dylan Babitch in the Lobby Lounge, sleight-of-hand artist Larry Denburg, and a photo booth provided by the Wilmington Photo Booth Company.
Two highlights to this year’s After Party are the addition of the Hotel DuPont’s exclusive Green Room, which featured exquisite desserts and a breathtaking, ceiling-high Christmas Tree, and a surprise performance by Procol Harum lead singer and pianist Gary Brooker, who joined Club Phred on-stage towards the end of the evening for an encore performance of “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”
“I actually sent Gary [Brooker] an e-mail last week, extending an invitation to him," says Club Phred band leader and Grand board member Fred Dawson to The News Journal. "I told him if he's not worn out from playing 'Whiter Shade of Pale' 90,000 times, he can make it 90,001 because we will be playing that song again.”
The Grand Gala is an annual benefit to support Arts Education at The Grand. Proceeds from the Grand Gala make it possible for more than 20,000 children to participate in individual and group instruction in music and dance, attend live theater performances, and experience the arts. Our patrons' support of the annual Grand Gala is a vital component to the continued success of these programs.
In the embrace of graceful surroundings, joyful music, and their friends and loved ones, it became clear to many patrons that the Grand Gala was about more than just a fun night on the town. It was about celebrating the craft of live performance, the enrichment of a budding artistic culture in Wilmington, and most of all, developing a sense of community for those who aspire to learn about, perform, and cultivate the fine arts. Without a doubt, the 34th Grand Gala honored the legacy of the past and the promise of a brighter future.
Generous corporate support confirmed for the 2010 Grand Gala includes
- Platinum Sponsors:
Bank of America, Delmarva Power, and ING Direct
- Gold Sponsors:
AstraZeneca and JPMorgan Chase Foundation
- Silver Sponsors:
DuPont, PNC Foundation, and Wilmington Trust
- Bronze Sponsors:
WSFS Bank and Nordstrom