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Originally published Monday, September 17, 2012 at 8:01 PM

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A patriotic gala and a well-placed Fran's fan

Nicole Brodeur's weekly wrap-up of social and philanthropic events touches down at the Seattle Symphony opening-night gala; a fundraiser for Seattle Men's Chorus and Seattle Women's Chorus; and Hugo House's annual spelling bee.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Time and again at the Seattle Symphony Gala, people gave me the same answer: "Ludovic."

Seems Maestro Morlot has single-handedly blown the blue-hair vibe right out of Benaroya Hall.

Why was Keith Yedlin there with his squeeze, Pete Rush?

"Ludovic," Yedlin said. "He's fresh."

What compelled Diana Friedman to join the symphony board?

"Maestro Morlot," she said, recalling how at last year's opening concert, he stepped off the podium, picked up a violin and took a seat in the symphony's third row.

"It was so astounding."

In Morlot's first year, the symphony put a record $10 million in its annual fund. Saturday's gala raised $400,000 to kick off the new season.

In keeping with American orchestral tradition, the program started with the national anthem, and stayed in-country with the music of George Gershwin, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.

Former Gov. Dan Evans narrated Copland's "Lincoln Portrait." He'd rather talk than play.

"My fourth-grade teacher taught us harmonica," Evans said afterward. "I'm not a musician."

A chorus of support

It wasn't all laughs when the Lilliputian actor Leslie Jordan spoke at the first "Gather & Give" breakfast for the Seattle Men's Chorus and Seattle Women's Chorus, celebrating their 30th and 10th seasons, respectively.

Jordan, who won an Emmy for playing the cutting, closeted social-climber Beverley Leslie on "Will & Grace," recalled sitting in the Greyhound bus station when he was 14.

He had heard that's where gay people went, "and I wanted to see someone like me."

Imagine, he said, if he had had one of the 200 tickets that the Seattle choruses donate to school gay/straight alliances so that young people can see the chorus and feel part of a community. "We're not just a chorus," said Executive Director Frank Stilwagner, "but a family."

And they are busy. In addition to preparing for the annual holiday shows, the choruses will perform free concerts between Olympia and Bellingham between now and Oct. 26 to show their support — and generate donations — for Washington United for Marriage.

Commoner in shoes

You must be doing something right when your signature sweet is President Obama's favorite. But when Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten calls your caramels her "guilty food pleasure"?

Nicely done, Fran Bigelow of Fran's Chocolates.

Garten talked with Chef Greg Atkinson in front of a packed house at Benaroya Hall on Sunday (the event benefited the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance), and revealed a lot.

For starters, her mother refused to let her cook. She bought her Easthampton, N.Y., specialty store after seeing an ad in The New York Times.

Years later, she burst into tears when someone ordered a pound of chicken salad, and knew it was time for a change. After a year of doing "nothing," she launched eight cookbooks and 10 years of Food Network shows.

Her favorite thing to cook is roast chicken. She always seats dinner guests "elbow-to-elbow" at a round table that is slightly too small "so we are all in this together."

And she loves Seattle: "You'll have to call the police to get me out of here."

No one did.

Wait! It was "annihilate"!

God knows I can handle a "daiquiri," but when it came to "onomatopoeia," well, thud.

So went The Second Annual Local Celebrity Spelling Bee at Richard Hugo House last Thursday. The event raised almost $5,000, mostly in bribes to the judges to keep us on stage.

I was joined by musician Rachel Flotard, artist Ellen Forney, author Garth Stein, comedian Emmett Montgomery, state Poet Laureate Kathleen Flenniken, Charles Mudede of The Stranger (who got a laugh when he spelled "privilege" as "R-O-M-N-E-Y") and "Yoga Bitch" Suzanne Morrison, who ended up taking the thing with the word ... well, no one remembers, thanks to the wine from Vino Verite and beer from Naked City. Burp.

Names in Bold appears on Tuesdays. Reach Nicole at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

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