This year, dinners at restaurants near the Academy were held before the concert rather than after. Among those seen in the hall after dining elsewhere were many of the city's cultural leaders, developers, lawyers galore, Mayor Nutter and his wife, Lisa, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and his wife, Susan, and Sen. Bob Casey and his wife, Terese.
The night's official host, actor David Morse - a Philadelphian for 18 years - said the venerable auditorium had been set up much as it had been for the Academy's opening night on Jan. 26, 1857. He noted that that party had been declared the greatest ever given in the city, then added, after pause, "until tonight."
The Academy's stage had been extended fully into the house, with a floor erected over the orchestra-level seats so some listeners could hear the concert while sitting at tables, Boston Pops-style. Afterward, a dance band replaced the orchestra on stage, the grand chandelier was lowered, and revelers spread out into the specially constructed party area.
Several concert-goers commented that the new arrangement was "shocking" on first look, but said they liked it.
"It's long been a goal of mine to have an open house in the Academy and to be able to do it the way they did it in 1857," said Academy president Joanna McNeil Lewis. "Really, I think it hits on the value of tradition and legacy of the Academy of Music."
At that mid-19th-century gathering, Philadelphia society heard waltzes, polkas and quadrilles; for this 55th edition of the anniversary concert, nearly 1,400 patrons paid between $240 and $2,500 per ticket to hear the concert, soak up champagne, resist or not resist elaborate desserts, and dance on the temporary floor in the hall or in the upstairs ballroom.
The evening's proceeds were to be split between the orchestra and the restoration of the Academy, according to Lewis, who said it would be some time before income of $2.25 million could be reconciled with the gala's expenses to tally the net take.
Needs are great for both organizations. The orchestra is still in bankruptcy - as is the Academy, its subsidiary - and updating a 155-year-old structure is a never-ending process, leaders have come to realize. Replacing seating and the HVAC system are on the to-do list, plus, perhaps, a restoration of the ceiling's darkly rich murals by Karl Hermann Schmolze. All this will require funds beyond what the anniversary concert and ball can raise.
"We haven't even determined whether we'll do it all in one campaign, or separately," said Lewis.
The building, brightened with loads of roses and trim, commanded attention Saturday night. But so did the music. It was a first Academy Anniversary Concert for Yannick Nézet-Séguin, even before becoming the orchestra's music director next fall.
He told the audience, "I am overwhelmed with joy," referring to his Academy of Music debut, before leading cellist Ma in Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme. The cellist held the hall's attention with a sensitive and highly detailed performance.
Singer/pianist Krall took the stage for several songs, both with the orchestra and her own trio, performing a set of standards - "The Look of Love," "Pick Yourself Up" - in her trademark casual, smoky voice.
She then brought Nézet-Séguin out on stage for one last song and said to him, "It's my dream orchestra come true. But I was just getting warmed up."
Contact Peter Dobrin at email@example.com or 215-854-5611. Read his blog at www.philly.com/blogs/artswatch