Enter the Dragon

San Francisco Symphony celebrates Lunar New Year



Paul Huang.


Although only fifth in line of 12 animals that comprise the Chinese zodiac, the mighty dragon is revered among Asian cultures as a symbol of power. The cyclical arrival of this mythical creature augurs an auspicious year (prosperity, good fortune, happiness) for Lunar New Year celebrants, especially those lucky ones born in the Year of the Dragon. And party animals were out in force on February 17 as the San Francisco Symphony celebrated its 24th Lunar New Year Concert and Banquet.

San Francisco not only boasts the largest Chinese New Year Parade (celebrated this year on February 24) in the world, but it is also home to the oldest Chinatown in North America and includes Japantown, Little Saigon, and a Filipino Cultural Heritage District.

Kicking off amid the tiered lobbies of Davies Hall, this beloved event featured an array of entertainment, including fortune readings, lion dancers, a reptile “petting zoo” and a riot of lucky red envelopes stuffed with chocolate coins.

That hue was also well-repped among revelers who donned exquisite gowns, Mao jackets, and embroidered cheongsams — accessorized with enough eye-popping jade jewelry to choke a dragon.

Inside the concert hall, the sold-out crowd thrilled to a wave-like opening procession around the main floor of a dragon chasing a pearl ball, symbolizing the continual pursuit of wisdom. The Symphony Orchestra, with guest conductor Mei-Ann Chen, performed a rousing fusion of traditional and modern Eastern music, starring stand-out sets by Bay Area composer Vivian Fung and 34-year-old violin virtuoso Paul Huang.


London Breed, Mei-Ann Chen.


And the concert was perfectly paired by striking video imagery culled from the collections of the Asian Art Museum (led by director-CEO Jay Xu) in an inaugural exchange between these cultural behemoths.

“We are honored to celebrate the new year at the symphony, and celebrate the Bay Area’s extraordinary Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander communities,” toasted SFS CEO Matthew Spivey. “To that end, we are pleased to highlight the remarkable impact that our Civic Center neighbor, the Asian Art Museum, has had on preserving and showcasing Asian and Asian-American art and culture, here in the Bay Area and around the world.”

Following several standing ovations, 300 deep-pocketed donors exited into the Symphony’s Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall, transformed from a black-box space into a tricked-out, glamorous nightclub aglow with hanging red lanterns and pulsating Got Light designs. McCalls Catering not only designed the elegant tables (adorned in ruby-tone linens and florals, cleverly accented with dragon-shaped napkin holders) but also dished up a five-course Asian-inspired dinner (including sea bass in a daikon broth, red curry braised duck leg, and chocolate mousse infused with sesame and passionfruit).


LEFT: Claudine Cheng, Fred Levin. RIGHT: Ella Qing Hou.


Led by event chair Ella Qing Hou and honorary chair, philanthropist Fred Levin (a lifetime Symphony board governor and board chairman of the Asian Art Commission and Asian Art Museum Foundation), this event raises significant sums for the symphony’s artistic, community, and free education programs, which benefit more than 50,000 Bay Area students.

Yet unlike most fundraisers sporting très cher tickets, the Symphony’s Lunar celebration — with price points ranging from $100K tables of ten to $1K individual tickets — gives back to supporters in a finale favorite: each place setting was gifted lucky draws for luxe red envelope prizes, including two round-trip tickets to Asia aboard China Airlines.

“A number of guests asked me how to increase their chances in the draw,” said Levin, with a laugh. “I’ve advised them that next year, for our 25th anniversary Lunar celebration, they can buy two tables.”


February 23, 2024

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