The Band Played on @ SF Symphony Opening Night Gala


Music, it is said, hath charms to soothe the savage breast.

And maestro Michael Tilson Thomas and his band, starring piano virtuoso Lang Lang, masterfully hit their notes last night in Davies Symphony Hall during a sold-out, glittery opening-night gala that heralded the 98th season of the San Francisco Symphony.

Let’s face it, most of this past year has been a bit of a bummer. At last year’s opener, few had yet to grasp the economic troubles we’d witness during the past 365 days. The fallout from Wall Street had yet to sink in (or rather, sink down); a new president waited in the wings as the election neared.

Yet even as we continue to sit, most uncomfortably, on tenterhooks, the music, blessedly, continues to play on.

And let it be known: however many tongues may wag that these types of galas are yet more evidence of, “Let them eat cake,” proceeds from these super Symphony supporters benefit the SFS Orchestra’s Education and Community programs which provide music education to more than 75,000 students in the cash-strapped SF Unified School District.

“It’s been a difficult year for us as it has been for everybody,” explained SF Symphony President John Goldman. “But we are so grateful for our loyal patrons and the community at large who love music and continue to support us.”

Guest pianist Lang Lang and author Amy Tan (in Issey Miyake)

Goldman (in his eighth year of leadership and “still counting!”) is particularly excited about the Symhpony’s Mahler Festival (which kicks-off on Sept. 16) and its Project San Francisco Artist’s Residency Program (Jan. 20-26) featuring cellist Yo Yo Ma.

“The public’s excitement is reflected in our ticket sales,” enthused Goldman. “We’re still here!”

And “here,” along a silver-hued carpet in front of Davies, alighted some 700 sartorially snazzy swells for the Patrons’ pre-concert Cocktail Party and Dinner.

OK: knockouts of the night belonged to two, blonde beauties. Juliet de Baubigny positively shimmered in a magenta-pink, gemstone-belted gown designed by her pal, Andrew Gn.

And Google glamour gal, Marissa Mayer, channeled a cool, Grace Kelly aura in a classically modern chartreuse Oscar de la Renta gown that sported a train trimmed in black embroidery. Topping off the look, Mayer chose a bold, black choker by designer Ranjana Khan.

Also in the mix? More seriously gorgeous Oscar gowns as seen on Yurie Pascarella, Marcia Goldman and Norah Stone.

Charlotte Shultz glowed in a modish, all-white Ralph Rucci. Sako Fisher sparkled, as always, in Chanel. Sloan Barnett wowed in sleek, black Valentino.

Barbara George proudly went vintage, wearing an old Ruben Panis gown which was a swirl of colorful chiffon. “This will tell you how old this is: Pat Brown loved this dress!” laughed Barbara, recalling the late California governor who died in 1967.

Channeling a stylish Mad Men vibe, dynamo Dede Wilsey wore a Michael Volbrecht gown of pastel ikat print topped by yellow bodice which shimmered with pailliettes.

“I can always do a sofa with this gown later,” joked Wilsey. “Most of the colors in the gown are the same colors in my home.”

Her date, Chal de Guigne, was in a teasing mood, too.

“I asked Dede earlier, “When are you going to clean those diamonds’?” joked de Guigne, of Wilsey’s dazzling Harry Winston parure. “They look kind of dirty -- they’re yellow!”

Symphonix Dinner co-chair Christopher Contos was one of the good few men on the mostly-female Committee. He enjoyed his experience as there was great buzz for the gala among the Symphonix set. And he learned much from seasoned Committee ladies.

"We learned great things from Christopher, too,” said his co-chair, Michelle Curtis. “He taught us all how to make baklava!”

Contos’ cousin, Roberta Economidis chose a grecian-style Badgley Mischka gown in his honor, exhuberantly describing her glamorous get-up as, “Wearing one for the tribe!”

Troy Griepp proudly explained he knew all the accessories accompanying the elegant Nini Ricci gown which draped his lovely wife, Angelique.

“She’s got a Louboutin handbag and shoes. I’m learning these things,” said Griepp, with a slice of wry. “But what I’d really like to know is, do they sell these things at Costco?”

Puttin' on the ritz ain’t for sissies and this year’s Gala Committe (comprising the Patron’s Dinner, Symphony Supper and Symphonix) was ably led by Jessa Wu.

“What this Committee has accomplished is amazing,” said Patrons’ Dinner co-chairwoman Becca Prowda. “The sheer logistics are enough to drive one person crazy. But Jessa is a great leader and the Symphony staff pulls it off marvelously!”

Dagmar and Ray Dolby (longtime Sypmphony supporters and sound wizards) served as Honorary Gala co-chairs.

“It’s really difficult,” deadpanned Dagmar, of their duties. “We have to show up on time!”

Gala Post-Parties chairwoman Cameron Phleger had a slightly more hectic day. Elegant in a petal-pink, vintage Ceil Chapman column gown, she unwisely chose to eat lunch earlier at Johnny Rockets.

“This dress is lined with boning,” laughed Phleger. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to eat anything more for awhile.”

But she wasn’t really that hungry as she’d spent part of her day transporting foodstuffs for the rollicking post-gala party in City Hall: “Just a few hours ago, the back of my car was filled with fresh oysters on ice and a bucket of sauce for 1,500 people!”

McCall Executive Chef Lucas Schoemaker knows well from feeding the masses: he conducted a symphony of his own in makeshift kitchens where he expertly dished up three different delish dinners -- the Symphony Supper and Symphonix Dinner over in City Hall, as well as the Patrons’ Dinner which featured medallions of Lobster and chilled summer Pea Soup, medallions of Lamb Grand Veneur with Chanterelles and a layered Fruit Coupe.

Set atop “Lake Louise” (thusly named in honor of the late Louise M. Davies, patroness of the symphony hall), the Patrons’ Tent was tricked-out by Robert Fountain in a look he described as Mad Men Meets the Eighties.

“The tent evokes that Palm Springs feeling with bold prints and banquettes,” explained Fountain. “And everything is sustainable: there were no animals killed, or trees cut, or jet fuel wasted on getting all of the elements here in place.”

Immediately after the concert, the Symphony’s highest of rollers gathered at the Aria Reception in the Wattis Room where they excitedly awaited the arrival of MTT, who celebrates his 15th season at the helm this year.

“Every season is like a musical Tour de France for me,” said Tilson Thomas, with a modest shrug. “I play the music and keep my focus on the big picture, too.”

When Lang Lang appeared, he was swarmed like a rock star. Which only makes sense, as he currently reigns as the Elton John of classical music. Poised yet delightful he gamely dove into the crowd to sign programs as he mugged for the camera.

This 27-year-old artist, who has ignited the study of piano among youths worldwide, knows well from fame as he starred last summer at the Beijing Olympics. Precisely tickling the ivories at 8:08 p.m. on 08-08-08.

He praised both MTT and the SFS Orchestra for “playing on top of the world tonight!” But Lang Lang was also excited last night’s opener fell on 09-09-09. Numerology, he explained, holds a special place within the the zeitgeist of his native China.

And though we may’ve missed the supposed prosperity effects of last year’s 8, in the long run, perhaps, the truer path lies along the way of the 9.

“Many couples in Asia were married today,” continued the pianist. “Playing tonight is very special as 9 symbolizes long-lasting relationships in friendship and love.”

Check out tons more photos below

Marcia Goldman (in Oscar) and her husband, SF Symphony President John Goldman

A portion of the Gala Committe co-chairs, (2nd row)Judy Guggenhime, Judy Zafran, Cameron Phleger, Leona Bridges, Liz Larned. 1st row, Michelle Curtis, Patricia Louks, Becca Prowda, Lisa Grotts, Jessa Wu, Emma Goltz, Letitia Kim and Sherry Chen

Honorary Gala co-chairs Dagmar and Ray Dolby

Adam Freed and Juliet de Baubigny (in Andrew Gn)

Zachary Bogue and his fiance, Marissa Mayer (in Oscar)

Former Sec. of State George Shultz and his missus, Protocol Chief Charlotte Shultz (in Ralph Rucci)

Ann Herrera (in Dolce & Gabbana) and her husband, City Attorney Dennis Herrera

Swedish Vice Consul General Barbro Osher and her husband, Bernard Osher

Post-Gala Parties Chairwoman Cameron Phleger (in vintage Ceil Chapman)

Leslie and David Schemel, Tom Kelley and Ralph and Ginny Lewis

Lori Bonn, Joshua Robison and former Symphony President Nancy Bechtle

Chal de Guigne and Dede Wilsey (in Michael Volbrecht)

Dede was distracted from the fashion scrum by an equally fashionable little doggie

Sako Fisher (in Chanel) with her husband, Bill Fisher

Susie and Mark Buell

Daniel Lurie and his wife, Patrons' Dinner co-chair Becca Prowda (in Andrew Lim)

William Moore and his wife, Belva Davis

Alexis Traina (in Vicky Tiel) with her husband, Trevor Traina

Walter and Ellen Newman

Sloan Barnett (in Valentino)

Symphonix Gala Co-chairs Michelle Curtis (in Emily Jane) and Christopher Contos

Barbara George (in Ruben Panis), her husband Chief Justice Ronald George and Helen Hilton Raiser (in Carolina Herrera)

Kelly Grimes (in Alexander McQueen) and Roberta Economidis (in Badgley Mischka)

Laura and Rick Pfaff

Norah Stone (in Oscar) and her husband, Norman Stone

Best accessorized male, Norman Stone and his leopard print boots

OJ Shansby (in J.Mendel) and her husband, Gary Shansby

Carl and Yurie Pascarella (in Oscar)

Jim and Barbara Brookins Schneider (in YSL)

Theo Schwabacher

Angelique Griepp (in Nina Ricci) and her husband, Troy Griepp

SF Symphony pianist Robin Sutherland and Gretchen Kimball

Publisher Tom Horn and his partner, Caesar Alexzander

Ebersole Gaines and Ann Caen (in Lily Samii)

Mark Waggoner and Beth Townsend

Barbara Winchell, Scott Harkonen and Sandy Mandel

Marc Loupe and Anette Harris (in Angel Sanchez)

Jane and Lee Gammill with Katie Jarman

Richard Goldman with Marcia Goldman, her daughter Jessica Goldman and Lisa Goldman

Bandel and Paula Carano (in Pamela Roland)

Erik Norland and Lisa DiStefano




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