|SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY 97TH OPENING NIGHT GALA
by Jeanne Lawrence
It’s a San Francisco tradition. The first week in September, the Symphony Opening Night Gala kicks off the beginning of the social and cultural season and everyone rushes back to the city — whether they’re ready or not.
“The Symphony is the first real bang after a summer hiatus,” said Laura King Pfaff, CEO of Bonham Butterfield auction house. Laura’s simply following in the footsteps of her great aunt and her grandmother who never missed an opening.
The weather cooperated this year. With the day’s temperature hitting an unusual 86 degrees, it made for a deliciously balmy night. Although many tuxedo attired men wished they could shed their jackets, and a few did, for once the bejeweled women could display their designer gowns sans stoles and furs.
|The Patrons dinner — the top tiered ticket prices — began rather on the early side with a 5:30 “Champagne Promenade” in Louis M. Davies Symphony Hall. The airy foyer was packed and filled with cocktail chatter, a lot of catching up on the latest.
Seen in the festive crowd was newlywed Mayor Gavin Newsom, who in August married actress, athlete and Stanford grad Jennifer Siebel in a private family ceremony in Montana.
Some regulars were missing because they were off at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, thus leaving more room for the Democrats in town.
Having just attended the historic Democratic National Convention, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, escorted by husband Paul Pelosi, jetted in to enjoy her city’s cultural events — and probably a little fundraising on the side.
|There were many new faces in the crowd. Gala chair Karen Jung, who lives south in Silicon Valley, encouraged her neighbors to join in to celebrate this festive occasion. Also, the Symphony has been cultivating a younger audience which seems to be working as last over 40% of gala attendees were new. Bravo!
This year’s Patron’s committee included Rebecca Green Birdsall, Stephanie Harman, Pasha Thornton, Kathryn Lasater, Marissa Mayer, and Jessa Wu.
Blue was the color the committee chose this year, after collaborating with event designer Robert Fountain: a sapphire gala invitation, a tent bathed in cerulean light dancing off white mobiles, and blue Pucci-inspired tablecloths.
|Across the street at City Hall, two other dinners took place: the Symphony Supper co-chaired by Patricia Ferrin Loucks and Carla Zuber and The Symphonix Dinner, for the younger set, co-chaired by Krista Mitzel Hankinson and Kathryn Pellegrini.
At the Patron’s dinner, I sat at co-chair Rebecca Green Birdsall’s table and discovered she manages the family’s Black Kite Vineyard in Sonoma. Her love of music was inherited from her parents, Maureen and Donald Green.
My dinner partner was amusing Mike Martini, grandson of Louis M. Martini, and founder of one of the oldest wineries in the Napa Valley in 1933. And yes, he loves martinis too — preferably Sapphire gin.
In 2002, the Gallo family purchased the Martini Winery, and tonight the charitable Gallo’s generously donated the wine for the evening.
Others dining under the tent: last year’s chair Margaret Liu Collins and Ted Collins, Ann and Gordon Getty, Mark Jung, Ann Moller Caen, Ebersole Gaines, Yuri and Carl Pascarella, Rick Pfaff, former Symphony President Nancy Bechtle with husband Joachim, Athena and Timothy Blackburn, the Hellman family and Alfred Guiffrida.
And more: Jeanne and Sandy Robertson brought Shirley Young of New York and Shanghai, Jim Schneider and Barbara Brookins-Schneider, Richard Goldman, Helen Raiser, Thomas Wu, Genelle Relfe, and Charlotte and George Shultz.
After dinner the satisfied crowd sauntered back to Symphony Hall were Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (aka MTT) planned an evening of musical delights including Delibes' "Cortège de Bacchus” and Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story."
|Rita Moreno, the Oscar winning “Anita” in the West Side Story film, was in the audience and confessed that she replayed every step in her mind to the music — even the men’s.
“I loved the contrasts in pieces, kept everyone on their toes,” said Gail Glasser. “MTT is a genius — we’re so lucky to have him.”
Some fortunate New Yorkers had the chance to hear the San Francisco Symphony perform an all Bernstein concert at Carnegie Hall during their Fall 2008 National Tour.
On the fashion front, Board member Barbara Brookins-Schneider was a knock out in a gorgeous Oscar de la Renta gown that landed her on the front page of the local San Francisco Chronicle.
Google exec Marissa Mayer, who recently joined the Board of the SF Museum of Modern Art, wore a feminine chiffon gown by Catherine Martin and was selected by SFGate.com as one of the best gowns again this year.
|Meanwhile, the always glamorous investment banker Pamela Joyner, turned heads in her red (naturally) Valentino dress with only 4 ½ inch Valentino heels — saving her new 6 inch Louboutin heels for another night.
“San Franciscans don’t take these events for granted ... each time is a new experience,” she said. She’ll see how New Yorkers compare as she joined the New York City Ballet Board recently.
Fashion darling Daru Kawalkowski declared “It’s all out glamour, everyone’s decked,” meaning decked in jewels including Daru wearing a fabulous new South Sea pearl chocker she recently snared in Shanghai.
After intermission, pianist Yefim Bronfman performed Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30; receiving a very long standing ‘O.’
Bronfman, born in Tashkent in what is now the Republic of Uzbekistan, immigrated to Israel as a teenager, later making his international debut with Zubin Mehta and the Montreal Symphony.
|“This is absolutely the best opening night. I’m a fan of Rachmaninoff and he’s difficult to play. Yefim did a superb job,” said Board member Athena Troxel Blackburn.
Symphony President John Goldman, standing with wife Marcia said “I’ve never seen a crowd jump up for applause so quickly and so many standing ovations.”
And what’s a gala without after-parties. Catherine Hall again chaired both of them — one in the tent danced to the beat of the legendary Pride & Joy band and over at City Hall Robert Vickers Orchestra until midnight when the lights went on signaling it was time to go.
At midnight I rushed home for an instant replay of Sarah Palin’s speech at the Republican Convention. Oh, what a night.
|Photographs by DREW ALTIZER, VASNA WILSON, JEANNE LAWRENCE|