Oregon Symphony artistic director Carlos Kalmar thanks the more than 350 assembled guests at the Countdown to Carnegie gala. Symphony board member Thomas Lauderdale waits for his turn to speak.

The Oregon Symphony’s year-long effort to raise money for its 2011 trip to New York—where the orchestra will make its long-awaited Carnegie Hall debut at the first Spring for Music Festival—got off to a rousing start May 20 as more than 350 Portlanders turned out at The Nines Hotel for a gala fundraiser that was a glittery affair from start to finish.

By the end of the evening, the orchestra had collected $175,000 in donations for the Carnegie Hall trip.

“It was a fabulous evening,” said Oregon Symphony Association President Elaine Calder. “We were surprised and delighted by the outpouring of support from the people in attendance and some who were unable to be with us but wanted to participate. We hadn’t anticipated raising anything like this amount, which makes the overall fundraising task so much easier.”

The gala was a star-studded event, with many of Portland’s most prominent arts patrons and business leaders in attendance. Former Oregon Gov. Barbara Roberts served as emcee for one of the evening’s highlights, a raucous “paddle raise” for donors called “Shout Out for Carnegie!”

Pink Martini founder (and Oregon Symphony board member) Thomas M. Lauderdale assisted Roberts in the frenzied round of fundraising and planned the evening’s entertainment, which included vocal performances by Storm Large, Carl Halvorson, Pink Martini lead singer China Forbes and former Oregonian columnist Margie Boulé, as well as dancing to the music of the Art Abrams Swing Machine.

“We’re immensely grateful to everyone who came and to the volunteers and staff who worked so hard to make the evening a success. And we simply couldn’t have done it without Thomas Lauderdale’s creative leadership or the support of Fred Kleisner and his team at The Nines Hotel,” Calder said.

Attendees also got the first peek at a new neon sign created by the Portland-based firm, The Official Manufacturing Company, that will count down in lights the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the Oregon Symphony’s Carnegie Hall debut on May 12, 2011. The sign will soon take up residence at the orchestra’s Portland home—the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall—and serve as a constant reminder to concertgoers all next season that the big day is drawing ever nearer.

The Oregon Symphony’s Carnegie Hall appearance, as one of seven orchestras from across North America invited to participate in New York’s first Spring for Music Festival, will be its first performance in its 115-year history at music’s most prestigious venue. Other orchestras joining the Oregon Symphony at the festival include the Orpheus and St. Paul chamber orchestras as well as the Albany, Dallas, Montreal and Toledo symphonies.

The concert program will be announced when tickets go on sale in February 2011. Additional “Countdown to Carnegie” fundraising activities for Oregon Symphony supporters will be announced throughout the year.