San Francisco Social Diary: Symphony Opening Gala

City Hall lit for the festive Symphony Opening Night.


Conductor Michael Tilton Thomas (MTT) and the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) premiered its 96th season with superstar soprano Renée Fleming, garnered more than 2,700 avid supporters at Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall.

Returning from a whirlwind European Festival Tour of Edinburg, London, Hannover, Berlin, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Lucerne, one musician joked, “It’s way past our bedtime, but I’m not jetlagged.”

Margaret Liu Collins chaired the festive opening night with Honorary Chairs Ellen and Walter Newman, which included not one, but three separate elegant black-tie gala dinners and an evening of incomparable music. Wells Fargo was the presenting sponsor, and Macy’s the patrons’ dinner sponsor, with additional support by Franklin Templeton.

Symphony Opening at the Louise M. Davis Symphony Hall.

Symphony chairs.

All ticket holders mingled at the Champagne Promenade in the Davies Hall lobby, where the dress parade began (Isn’t that part of opening night’s draw — the glamour of it all?). And with the dollar down, this year those glamorous gowns were even more special, so the attitude was “let’s show them off.”

The Patrons dinner co-chairs Juliet de Baubigny, Rebecca Green Birdsall, Courtenay Corrigan, Beth Holland, Karen Jung, and Anita Wornick were delighted when the priciest tickets, the Aria Level at $2,500 a pop, sold out even before the invitations were mailed. Could the private reception with Renee Fleming and MTT have anything to do with it?

Honorary chairs Walter and Ellen

Marcia Goldman, in Max Nugus, and SFS president John Goldman.


SFS Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and soprano Renée Fleming.

Event planner Robert Fountain designed for the 700 patrons a stunning customized tent decorated with black and white paisley, fuchsia carpet, crystal chandeliers, and on each table a whimsical display of crystal-drop lampshades crowned with fuchsia boa feathers.

McCall Caterers showcased its expertise, preparing all three dinners this year. The patrons’ menu featured favorites like dungeness crab with caviar and seared tuna, and Sonoma double lamb chops and lamb rillette, and lots of Kendall-Jackson and Kendall Wine.

Dinner is served.

I noticed my long time San Diego friends Joan and Irwin Jacobs (from my La Jolla days) sitting at Symphony President John Goldman’s table. The well-respected founders of Qualcomm, the Jacobs’ donated over $120 million to the San Diego Symphony community leaders.

Meanwhile, across the street at the beaux-art City Hall, co-chairs Tina Tunney and Carla Zuber presided over the Symphony Supper for 450 guests, while Makai Fisher and Stefanie Roumeliotes chaired the nearby Symphonix Dinner for another 428 young professionals, as they like to call themselves.

City Hall was also awash in fuchsia lights to mark this very special occasion while, inside, the cool marble of the spacious rotunda was warmed with fuchsia lighting. Dominic Phillips Event Marketing provided the fabulous décor.

After dinner, guests paraded to Davies Hall for the 8:30 concert which opened with three American compositions: Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, Ruth Crawford Seeger’s Andante for Strings, and John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine, played one after the other. The horns and drums served to re-energize the crowd, already happy from the delicious dinner and California wine.

Fuchsia plumes.

Patrons’ dinner black and white tent.

“MTT brings a lot of new ideas, he educates,” remarked philanthropist Richard Goldman. “It’s one of his greatest gifts — not just the standard repertoire and he always interjects something new.”

Glamorous diva Renée Fleming wore a green sequined Galliano gown and bejeweled by Bulgari, for her rendition of Maurice Ravel’s Sheherazade, followed by arias from Puccini’s Tosca and Gianni Schicchi. The evening climaxed with Prokofiev’s scenes from Romeo and Juliet.

The night before the Symphony opening, Maria Manetti Farrow hosted an intimate dinner party for Fleming at her Russian Hill apartment, which included MTT, Opera Director David Gockley, Linda Kemper, Daniela Faggioli, Denise Hale, conductor Ward Stare, and Sloan and Roger Barnett.

Mark and Karen Jung.

Symphonix Dinner Co-chairs Makai Fisher and Stefanie Roumeliotes.

“Working in SF with MTT (she sang at Thomas’ 60th birthday) is that rare combination of a tremendously sophisticated program and an audience that embraces it,” said Renée. “I find that very special.”

“Wow, Wow, Wow,” exclaimed interior designer Paul Wiseman after her performance. “How fabulous to bring someone of her caliber to opening night … the audience loved it.”

“No iPod can give you the experience of a symphony hall with real people and orchestra … it transports you into another world,” commended O.J. Shansby.

Heavy hitters included members-at-large Barbara Brookins-Schneider, Ann Moeller Caen, Yurie Pascarella, Laura Pfaff, former symphony president Nancy Bechtle with husband Joachim, Athena and Timothy Blackburn, Ebersole Gaines, the Hellman family, Ingrid Hills, Pamela Joyner, Dr. Seth Matarasso, Nan Tucker McEvoy, Nion McEvoy, Phyllis and Stuart Moldaw, Diane Morris, Paul and Sandy Otellini, Carl Pascarella, Dr. Brunno and Urannia Ristow, Jeanne and Sandy Robertson, Nicole and Andrew Sheehan, Walter Shorenstein, Paul and Anne Wattis, and Dede Wilsey.

Carl and Yurie Pascarella, in Oscar de la Renta.

Ted Collins and gala chair Margaret Liu Collins in J. Mendel.

Barbara Brookins-Schneider in Roberto Cavalli.

Jeannette Littlefield and David Gockley, SF Opera general director.

George and Charlotte Shultz in Gustavo Cadile.

Paul Wiseman and Jeanne Lawrence.

Ann Moeller Caen.

Sako Fisher in lavender Dior gown.

Past SFS president Nancy Bechtle and board member Genelle Relfe.

Juliet de Baubigny, in Oscar, with husband Andre de Baubingy.

SFS president John Goldman, Jennifer Siebel, and Mayor Gavin Newsom.

San Diego’s Joan and Irwin Jacobs donated $120 million to SD Symphony.

Lisa and Doug Goldman.

Lisa and Doug Goldman.

Jessica Goldman, daughter of John and Marcia Goldman.

Joy Venturini Bianchi and Wes Carroll.

Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and Vanessa Getty in Donna Karan.

Kelly Grimes.

Bill Lenihan and Nicole Ancelovici-Lenihan.

Toni Stinton and Alex Skillman.

Lenihan and Marina Costabile.

Barry Shotts and Roberta Economides at Symphonix dinner.

Anette Harris.

Courtney Robinson, Ashley Howerton, Jackie Zider, and Diana Zakem.

Marjorie Swig with mother Cissie Swig and her granddaughter Emily Betty Ehrlich.

Jessa and Tommy Wu.

Gary and O.J. Shansby in Chanel.

Tatiana Sorokko in Ralph Rucci.

Lindsay Bolton at grand staircase.

Deborah Strobin and Lois Lehrman.

SFS Executive Director Brent Assink and wife Jan Assink.

Sally Debenham, in Bill Blass, and son Steve Debenham.

Patrons’ Event designer Robert Fountain with Margaret Liu Collins.

Brunno and Urannia Ristow in Chanel.

Kimberly Bakker, in Lily Samii, with Alex Witherill.

Bulgari GM Daniel Diaz, Maria Manetti Farrow, and Roger Barnett.

Following the performance, guests partook of the Post-concert soirees, chaired by Catherine Hall and Sharon Litsky, in the Tent Pavilion and City Hall — all underwritten by Yahoo!

Fifty-plus civic minded restaurants laid out spreads “fit for a king” to feed the hungry late-night revelers who danced until 1:00 am to legendary band Pride & Joy and local favorite Sidepocket with Pamela Rose and Glen Walters.

Even though gala tickets for opening night are expensive, President John Goldman emphasized that “SFS’s music is all-embracing and an art for everyone.” The following evening began the All San Francisco Concert, where the gala program would be repeated — but at special prices to allow more of the community to enjoy the concerts.

Jim and Patsy Ludwig.

Jason Arnoldy and Katya Sorokko in Symphony Hall.

Amber Maria Bentley heads to post concert party.

Marie Crouch, with After Party co-chairs Catherine Hall and Lawanna Endonino.

Revelers for Post Party at City Hall.

Dinner at Maria Manetti Farrow’s home: Conductor Ward Stare, Renee Fleming in Han Feng, Maria, and MTT.


Photographs by Drew Altizer & Jeanne Lawrence.

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