Why You Shouldn’t Miss The Symphony’s Coming Out Party

Previous PostLas Vegas Stogie Sommelier Mike Kristl Chats About Cigars And Celebs
Next PostWhere To Celebrate Labor Day Weekend 2018 In South Florida
Inside Davies Symphony Hall during the 2017 opening night's intermission
Inside Davies Symphony Hall during the 2017 opening night’s intermission

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Although there is a time-honored quality to the San Francisco Symphony’s (SFS) annual opening gala—it always consists of a reception, dinner, presentation, and after-party—this year’s event, which takes place on Wednesday, September 5, promises to be unlike any other. The evening marks a new era of inclusiveness for the Symphony, and while some aspects will be traditional, for example, local favorite McCall’s will be the caterer, much about the gala is modern, forward-thinking, and new.

James Hormel and Michael Nguyen-Hormel
James Hormel and Michael Nguyen-Hormel

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

First and foremost are the hosts: the 2018 opening night gala co-chairs are James Hormel and Michael Nguyen-Hormel, a prominent gay couple who have long been supporters of the Symphony. It is the first time that two males are chairing the event—and the first time that a gay couple will serve as hosts. “We’ve had amazing chairs of the San Francisco Symphony Opening Night Gala, but each year this event seems to get better and better, and Jim and Michael are raising it to new heights!” Sakurako Fisher, the president of the Symphony, told Haute Living. “They bring not only great taste, huge energy, and commitment, but more importantly their personal touch, infused with their commitment to inclusion.”

Itzhak Perlman
Itzhak Perlman

Photo Credit: Lisa Marie Mazzucco

With world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman as the headliner, the program indicates a level of elegant sophistication. “The presentation is less designed for the occasional music goer and more designed to be adventuresome and challenging to the people who are listening,” Hormel says. “We are extremely fortunate to have Itzhak Perlman. He represents a change in music, the evolution of musical development, and the encouragement of adventuresome thinking. We’ll also hear from young musicians who are operating under his tutelage. It’s going to be quite exceptional.” Perlman, the students from the Perlman Music Program, and the SFS orchestra will perform scores from an assortment of major motion pictures, from Out of Africa to Schindler’s List. “It’s a gorgeous array of lush, sensationally epic, and riveting music,” Nguyen-Hormel explains.

Decor at last year's gala
Decor at last year’s gala

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

The Hormels are coy in describing the details as they want to ensure that everything about the evening, from the food to the flowers, entices delightful astonishment among symphony-goers. “When we got a clear sense of what the concert would entail that launched our creative imagination around the design palette. We are resistant to saying too much about it because we want it to be a wonderful surprise for everyone,” Nguyen-Hormel says. “The event’s design was born out of our emotive response to the musical direction planned for the concert program,” he elaborates. “It has germinated and blossomed exquisitely from there. We can promise that our guests will be moved and enraptured by the splendor.”

The setting for the 2017 Wattis Room dinner
The setting for the 2017 Wattis Room dinner

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

The opening night gala offers four distinct pre-show experiences: the patrons’ dinner, Wattis Room dinner, symphony supper, and Symphonix dinner. The first takes place in a tent adjacent to Davies Symphony Hall. The second occurs inside the Wattis Room at the hall. The final two dinners are held across the street at City Hall. Whatever experience one chooses, concertgoers can rest assured that a good time will be had and that the funds raised at the gala will go to a fantastic and important cause, the Symphony’s education programs. “All around the country the funding and support for the arts are struggling. The gala is the foremost of the organization’s fundraising campaign,” Nguyen-Hormel emphasizes. “Every dollar that goes into the gala supports not only the artistic operations, but the after-school programming, educational opportunities, and supporting future musicians discovering music for the first time and creating avenues for students.”

Davies Symphony Hall
Davies Symphony Hall

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Matthew Spivey, the director of artistic planning at the SFS, stresses the importance of music programs in schools. “We believe that music is a human right. Artistic expression is a fundamental part of what makes us tick. Everyone deserves the opportunity to unlock that potential within themselves,” Spivey says. “We have a comprehensive range of education programs that provide five consecutive years of music education for all students in San Francisco’s public elementary schools and support for all band and orchestra programs in San Francisco’s public middle schools and high schools–all free of charge. We present family-friendly performances and heritage events; interactive concerts for school groups; and resources for teachers, parents, and students. Music education is woven into nearly every aspect of what we do.” Making music accessible to everyone is the end game of those involved in planning the opening night festivities. The Hormels are inviting friends and neighbors who have never experienced the symphony to join them next week.

Michael Tilson Thomas and Yo-Yo Ma perform at the 2017 gala
Michael Tilson Thomas and Yo-Yo Ma perform at the 2017 gala

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

The SFS holds an incredibly special place in the duo’s hearts. Hormel has been enjoying the symphony since 1978, but his partner enthusiastically reminisces about his first time at Davies 12 years ago: “My very first experience at the symphony was when Jim took me on a date in May of 2006. I was here for the summer, and he took me to see a deliciously sumptuous production of Mahler’s 9th Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) conducting.” The show was recorded and went on to win a Grammy. “We can always look back to that particular evening through the CD that was made that night,” Nguyen-Hormel says. “I’d been familiar with the renowned and extraordinary talent of the San Francisco Symphony, but that was my first live event, and I was hooked immediately.” The Hormel’s admiration for MTT (the SFS’s music director), love of the symphony, and eagerness for the opening is contagious. Hearing them talk, one can’t help but want to participate in the extravagant evening.

Prisca Geeslin, Sako Fisher,  Meredith Tan, and Whitney Hudak at the 2017 gala
Prisca Geeslin, Sako Fisher,  Meredith Tan, and Whitney Hudak at the 2017 gala

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Spivey believes the Hormels—and the tireless SFS staff and volunteers—are so passionate about the orchestra because now, more than ever, the arts are essential. “Society is craving humanity and connection on a more personal and human level,” he says. “The shared experience of attending an SFS performance can be cathartic and uplifting.  Music is one of the most powerful ways to express emotion and advocate for the things in which we believe most deeply. Davies Symphony Hall has become a wonderful sanctuary and gathering place.” With the 2018 opening night gala, the Hall will also officially become a beacon of inclusion and champion of progressive values. “It’s quite appropriate for the Symphony to present an opening night chaired by people from the LGBT constituency,” Hormel says. “It seems fitting given the nature and diversity and concern for others that is shown by this city.”

The setting for the after party
The setting for the after party

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Always eloquent, Spivey points out that the SFS is merely keeping up with the times. San Franciscans are hungry for more enticing and meaningful experiences that showcase all walks of life. “San Francisco is a unique and special place where there is an unprecedented sense of community, awareness, social engagement, and progressive thinking. This is fertile land for the arts and nearly any creative endeavor,” he says. “Curiosity seekers and cultural enthusiasts are the most common type of person. SF is a place where people want to experience new things and have their thinking challenged.” That’s exactly what concertgoers will witness at the Symphony’s coming out party on September 5.

Priscilla and Catherine Geeslin
Priscilla and Catherine Geeslin

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

After the Party, it’s the After Party

This year, the opening night’s after party is being chaired by Catherine Geeslin, the SFS’s first legacy chair. As the daughter of Priscilla Geeslin, a past gala chair and vice president of the Symphony’s board of governors, Geeslin “basically grew up in the Symphony. My mom has been on the board for as long as I can remember, and both my parents have been huge classical music fans my whole life, so it’s always been a part of me,” she explains. “I think the first Symphony I went to I was eight.” Now at 27, she’s in charge of planning the post-performance festivities.

The scene at last year's after party
The scene at last year’s after party

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

After a 10-year stint on the East Coast, Geeslin recently returned to San Francisco eager to bring the next generation of patrons to the SFS. Geeslin knew she wanted to engage the local community for the event, but not greater San Francisco, instead, the neighborhood that surrounds Davies—Hayes Valley. The area has seen tremendous growth since Geeslin was a child and she hopes to highlight its new restaurant scene. “It’s become the epicenter of the San Francisco food scene, and so my thought was, ‘Let’s make the theme Spotlight on Hayes Valley.’ Let’s show everybody who comes to the Symphony how much this place has changed. Come hang out down here. Come be a part of this cultural shift in San Francisco.”

Partygoers can look forward to bites and drinks from Barcino, Dobbs Ferry, Smuggler’s Cove, and more.

connect with haute living National
Loader