Ring In Chinese New Year With San Francisco Symphony’s Concert & Banquet

A performer at last year’s Chinese New Year concert

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

If you can’t make it to Asia to celebrate the Chinese New Year, head to Davies Symphony Hall on February 16, 2019, for the next best thing: the San Francisco Symphony’s (SFS) 19th-annual Chinese New Year concert and banquet. The lavish event, second only to the SFS’s opening gala in the fall, transports guests to China through music, food, and festivities. It starts with a vibrant reception at 4 p.m. The concert is promptly an hour later at 5 p.m. and a sit-down dinner for 500 follows at Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall at 7 p.m.

Gorretti Lui

Photo Credit: Moanalani Jeffrey

Gorretti and Lawrence Lui are the presenting sponsors of the concert and chairs of the dinner. “I love the symphony’s dedication to the Chinese American community,” Gorretti Lui recently told Haute Living. “I am especially honored to be a part of this event because the proceeds go to education funds which benefit 100,000 children, students, families, and teachers.” The Chinese New Year celebration, which initially began in 2001, was founded by Janelle Ross. “She wanted to do something for the Chinese community and Chinese New Year is what everybody celebrates in my culture,” Lui explains. “It started out very small in scale, as a tea party before the concert.” Over the years, the event has grown into what it is today: a blowout celebration attended by 2,700 excited symphony enthusiasts.

Festivities before the 2018 event

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

This February’s event is en route to becoming the biggest and best Chinese New Year bash to date. With hundreds of red lanterns, the hall’s decor will be traditional and lavish. “We will have lots of color and activity in the lobby. It is family friendly,” Tatyana Filatova, SFS’s publicist explains. “This year our goal is to make every aspect unforgettable and spectacular. The pre-concert reception is going to have tea and wine bars, Chinese calligraphy stations, and Chinese instruments playing. We’ll have some New Year traditional cookies and treats.”

The tables at a previous year’s dinner

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Every detail—and nothing is being overlooked—is inspired by the real-life festivals that take place in China. Each person that walks through the hall will receive a lucky red envelope. In a scene straight out of Crazy Rich Asians, Lui insists that real money will be found inside the pockets. To further emphasize the theme, concert-goers are encouraged to wear Chinese-inspired attire. “Even if you are of Indian descent or African American or whatever, we want you to experience our traditional Chinese attire,” Lui says. The event is meant to welcome every type of background into the Chinese culture with open arms.

Chinese dragons on parade

Photo Credit: Moanalani Jeffrey

The Luis are not only attempting to delight and surprise guests but also to make the event synonymous with Chinese New Year in San Francisco. “They’re really pulling out all the stops,” Jennifer Lobre, SFS’s assistant director of events says. “The whole party is going to be elevated. It’s going to be incredibly spectacular and sophisticated. The Chinese culture is so rich in traditions, and there are these significant things they do around family and New Years. We’ve playfully incorporated them.”


Photo Credit: Rosalie O’Connor

Conductor Mei-Ann Chen will lead the symphony’s performance of classical folk music and works by famed Asian composers. For many, the highlight of the show will be The Butterfly Lovers, a concerto by acclaimed violinist Angelo Xiang Yu. The Butterfly Lovers was initially written in 1959 by Chen Gang. Its tonal harmonies, chord structures, patterns, and Chinese melodies are incredibly memorable. The composition gained mainstream popularity in the 1970s— when it became an anthem for the cultural revolution that was happening at the time. Elements of video and projections which are typically reserved for SFS’s Soundbox shows, from designer Adam Larsen, will be a part of the presentation creating a wholly immersive experience.

Angelo Xiang Yu

Photo Credit: Kate Lemmon

The dinner occurs post-performance, making it a completely different event from the opening night gala, where the meal takes place before the show. “We can play a lot more with the menu and entertainment. For opening night, we have to be on such a tight timeline to get everybody to the concert by 8:00 p.m., so it does have a bit of a regimen feel to it,” Filatova says. “With Chinese New Year we have more flexibility to be creative with how we want to feed and entertain our patrons.” Lui is working closely with McCall’s Catering team to create an authentic Chinese banquet feast. “When you call it a banquet, you have to have at least eight to twelve courses,” she says. “You won’t leave hungry. I assure you.”

Mei-Ann Chen conducts the SFS

Photo Credit: San Francisco Symphony

While the event is commemorating the Chinese New Year, it is ultimately a celebration that bridges the gap between the east and west. By embracing and honoring the local Chinese community, SFS demonstrates how music can be a universal and unifying language. As Lui puts it, “We encourage people that have never experienced a Chinese New Year celebration to come. Please come and bring your great-grandmother, your grandmother, your friends. Everyone is welcome.”

Tickets for the San Francisco Symphony’s Chinese New Year Celebration, which is anticipated to sell out, can be found online at the orchestra’s website.