Galas Galore! A Preview Of Next Week’s SF Symphony Gala

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The 2016 Symphony Supper inside City Hall’s Grand Rotunda.
The 2016 Symphony Supper inside City Hall’s Grand Rotunda.

Photo Credit: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

For San Francisco’s most sophisticated denizens, summer is a relatively tame time. A quick glance at society photographer Drew Altizer’s website and it’s obvious there is not much going on, and when it comes to galas and other charitable events, summer is the off season. Plus, the cold and foggy weather is unbearable and many people spend July and August outside of the city. Public relations guru Allison Speer summers in Sun Valley, Idaho. Interior designer Ken Fulk spends every weekend between May and October at his Cape Cod beach house in Provincetown. The Trainas split their time between Rhode Island and Napa. However, come September everyone is back in the Bay for the official start of the social season. Table invitations are sent, gowns are purchased, suits are tailored, and blowout appointments are made—it’s gala time!

The one-two punch of the Opera and Symphony openings are arguably the biggest events of the season. In October, the annual Fall Antique and Arts Show, a bash that brings internationally acclaimed decorists into town, takes place. In anticipation of the thrill that is fall in San Francisco, we’re previewing these three very important charity events. Second up: The Symphony Gala

San Francisco Symphony President Sako Fisher and Priscilla Geeslin
San Francisco Symphony President Sako Fisher and Priscilla Geeslin

Photo Credit: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Next week, the main event is the San Francisco Symphony’s 2017 Opening Night Gala on Thursday, September 14. According to gala chair Priscilla Geeslin, preparations for the evening began last November. “It’s a lot of planning, you know. First of all who is going to be on the committees. I have a great dinner committee that reports to me, for lack of a better term, to set up what the dinner is going to look like in the Patrons’ Tent,” Geeslin told Haute Living in early August. “Then we discuss, early on, décor, dinners, our approach to selling, social media; we have a social media chair this year, who has been amazing. And then what the overall look of the evening is going to be. From, you know, when you first step on the sidewalk going into Davies till the end of the evening with the after-parties. We all get together and think about, well, what is it that we want to have at the Gala? What is it that makes the Gala interesting, and exciting for people so that they want to come year after year? For some people it’s the dinner and being with their friends, and putting together these tables. But it’s also the opening of this spectacular institution that we have in the San Francisco Symphony. Starting that season of music that I think we all look forward to.”

The Symphony’s gala follows a similar format to the Opera Ball, but what makes it unique is that there are four separate dinners before the show. Geeslin explains it like this: “There are various dinners. There’s Symphonix, there’s Symphony Supper, there is dinner in the Wattis Room, and the Patrons’ Dinner. I’m the overall chair, with an incredible group of people who are chairing the other events that evening. So we all work together. They’ve already sold out Symphonix, Wattis Room isn’t far behind, and Patrons’ Dinner isn’t far behind.” All guests are invited to either City Hall or Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall at 5 p.m. for a cocktail reception. From there, symphony lovers have a variety of dining options to choose from.

Dinner in the tent at the Symphony Gala in 2016
Dinner in the tent at the Symphony Gala in 2016

Photo Credit: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

The most exclusive meal is the Patrons’ dinner, which takes place in a tented pavilion. This is where SF’s upper echelon of philanthropists can be found come symphony night. The next level down is the dinner that takes place in the Wattis Room at Davies Symphony Hall. The Symphony Supper and the Symphonix events are for younger professionals—both meals occur in the elaborately decorated City Hall. “It’s going to be modern; very fresh and clean. We worked with an incredible group called Blueprint. I’d like to say I’m the creative genius behind it, but I’m not,” Geeslin says of the event’s overall elegant look. “Blueprint puts together something spectacular and always lovely. They did it last year and I loved working with them and we’re working together with them again this year. Dan McCall is putting together a great dinner; great wines, great sparkling wines, and I think that’s what makes it such a wonderful evening, and why people really love coming to it.” Each dinner package coincides with a different seating assignment for the main event.

Just before 8 p.m. everyone parades from City Hall and the other dinner locations to Davies for the performance. Music director Michael Tilson Thomas has put together a spectacular show. The entire upcoming season will pay tribute to Leonard Bernstein, in celebration of the composer’s 100th birthday. The concert will open with his overture to Candide. Superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma is performing two beloved works, Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme and the Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1. The orchestra will then perform perennial favorite, Ravel’s Boléro. Speaking of the actual show, Geeslin breathlessly says, “It’s always different. We always try to be very, very creative. I think the exciting part about this year is that Yo-Yo Ma is going to be playing. And that’s always… What’s the right way to put that? He is so fabulous. To be playing with our incredible orchestra, and with Michael, that’s going to be the highlight of the evening.” Geeslin says her favorite moment every year is just after every one takes their seats in the grand hall. “It’s the excitement of walking into the hall and hearing the Star Spangled Banner. You realize that you have a year ahead of you full of incredible music and incredible opportunity to hear all kinds of music—that’s what Michael programs so beautifully at the symphony, and I think that’s what people look forward to.”

Musical director Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the 2016 Symphony Gala
Musical director Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the 2016 Symphony Gala

Photo Credit: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

After the performance, guests will filter to a tented pavilion on Grove Street where there will be two stages with live music entertainment, including a set by DJL!. Pine Ridge Vineyards and Seghesio Family Vineyards are generously providing the wine for the entire evening. Many of the city’s best restaurants, such as Top of the Mark, Maybeck’s, Salt & Straw, and The Dorian, will have stations set up and will be serving bites and drinks. The party will carry on late into the night.

The opening night event benefits the San Francisco Symphony’s many artistic, community, and education programs. “The money that gala guests are paying is going to something that is truly worthwhile and a part of our community,” Geeslin says. “Our education programs stand out. We get to support our Youth Orchestra, Adventures in Music, etc.” Proceeds also provide mentoring for children musicians and musical education for every student in grades 1-5 in San Francisco’s public elementary schools.

We promise it will be a memorable and entertaining evening, so get tickets now

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