Academy Ball's star to be the building itself

Posted: October 20, 2011

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and vocalist Diana Krall headline this season's Academy of Music Anniversary Concert and Ball, on Jan. 28, 2012. Yannick Nézet-Séguin will make his first Academy of Music outing leading the Philadelphia Orchestra.

But the more conspicuous emergence into the spotlight is that of the Academy itself, which - in a novel approach - will be the site of the ball.

In a reconfiguring of the event, says Academy president Joanna McNeil Lewis, instead of walking down the block to rooms in the Bellevue after the concert, revelers will divide up among spaces in the Academy for dancing and dessert.

Dinner will be in various spots around the city, but before the ball rather than after.

In a tip of the top hat to the building's past, the stage will be extended across the entire parquet level of the Academy.

"It makes the house so intimate; it's going to be really impressive to have people dancing in the middle with the chandelier lowered," said Lewis. Other party spaces will be created in the ballroom and the Academy's rehearsal hall.

In the last few years, the Academy has changed the profile of the concert - held each year since 1957 - by bringing in pop entertainers such as Sting and James Taylor. The point of keeping as much of the event as possible in the Academy, opened in 1857, is to focus attention on the building.

"It is a milestone anniversary year, and I've always wanted to have an open house to get all of our loyal supporters to see what they've invested in, and hopefully to get them engaged in the building so they want to become more a part of it," said Lewis.

Proceeds from the concert and ball will be split, as in past years, between the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Academy of Music, she said.

Diners have various choices. Five area restaurants - XIX, the Palm Restaurant, Estia, Morton's the Steakhouse, and Girasole - will offer a special menu before the concert. Or the white-tied and begowned can attend the President's Dinner at the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue.

Flooring over the parquet level of the Academy all the way to (but not including) the boxes will result in losing as many as 500 seats, Lewis said, though no revenue loss is expected. The Academy holds nearly 3,000 listeners, but the Anniversary Concert traditionally aims for and draws considerably fewer. James Taylor brought in 1,700. The goal this year is 1,500, Lewis said.

Repertoire hasn't been nailed down. But Lewis said the plan was to feature the orchestra alone, Ma with the orchestra, Krall with the orchestra, "and then some collaboration with all three."

Concert-only tickets, priced at $200 and located in the Amphitheatre, go on sale Nov. 1. Tickets at 215-893-1999 or

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