The setting sun cast a dreamy hue to the exclusive poolside Chamber Music concert by the Budapest Festival Orchestra at Penny and Jay Lieberman’s Southampton estate. This is how the better half Hamptons, we mused, as we let the dream transport us. We were half way from Budapest with Maestro Ivan Fischer and the orchestra, to Vicenza, Italy, where there are only six tickets left to the opera festival Fischer is founding, with the Friends of Budapest Festival Orchestra’s help, in October. Then, we reopened our eyes to lock looks with a beautiful violinist wielding the bow with all the joy in her body. “Let’s go!” we whispered to Penny Lieberman at our side. The next day she and Jay signed up for Italy.
One of the most prominent conductors of his generation, Ivan Fischer’s Budapest Festival Orchestra must rely on private donations. Daisy Soros founded the Friends of the Budapest Festival Orchestra and remains Director Emeritus.
Standing under the striped tent Penny had built poolside, Board Treasurer Andrew Komaromi welcomed the group. His wife, Heidi Lee-Komaromi hosted with Sylvia Hemingway, Christine and George Ledes, Peter Thomas Roth, Victoria Wyman, and the Board, for which Stephen Benko is Chairman. Among the guests: Robin Cofer, Dominic D’Alleva, Juliet Epstein Lublin, Cheri Kaufman, Fern Mallis, Wendy Moonan, Campion Platt, Bill Sclight, Kati Marton, Kelly Bensimon and Jill Stuart .
There is a socially conscious, philanthropic undertone to Fischer’s innovative programs. He stages performances in abandoned synagogues across post WWII Hungary, “Cocoa Concerts” geared for Autistic children and Midnight Music concerts to bring young adults into the tent. His Dancing on the Square performances are described to be “as much about communal creativity, tolerance and equal opportunities as it is about music and dance.”
Those messages resonate with philanthropists Penny and Jay Lieberman, and their many accomplishments. She is a classical music enthusiast whose documentary about Itzhak Perlman, tilted Itzhak, is still playing in theaters and will debut on PBS in the fall. To combat children’s fear of the dark, she developed the “Pillow People” toy line with her company, Toot Sweet Toys. That business is responsible for more than $260 million in retail sales, the Pillow People Saves Christmas syndicated television special, a long line of product extensions and even a place in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Before that she was a successful William Morris Agent working with top TV talent.
Husband Jay is a real estate developer and co-founder and CEO of the Derfner Foundation which is geared primarily towards medical advancements. It also created The Derfner Judaica Museum at The Hebrew Home at Riverdale and the Ghetto Fighters House Museum in Israel to teach children about the Holocaust, which is also aligned with Fischer’s empty Synagogue series.
The Lieberman’s also co-own a darn good vineyard in Argentina, enabling them to serve arguably the best benefit red wine of the season. Paired with Red Bar caterer’s foie gras with kumquats, warm poached local oysters with leek fondue and other delectables, it perpetuated the dreamlike mood. Whether entertaining at the Liebermans or Susan Gutfreund’s Fifth Avenue Duplex, there is a level of excellence to the Friends of the Budapest Festival Orchestra events. Fischer says the Teatro D’Olymbia in Vicenza, the final design by the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, that will host his new opera festival “Is the most beautiful theater in the world.” That’s the way they roll.
For more information, visit friendsofthebudapestfestivalorchestra.org.>