San Francisco Symphony Opening Night Gala

The 112th opening night celebration embraced a future of including community artists, developing new ideas, and engaging untapped creativity




Esa-Pekka Salonen, Priscilla Geeslin, and Matthew Spivey.


On September 22, hip-hop, robots, and AI-generated lyrics retired the tired trope that symphonic music is dominated by the works of dusty white male composers. And first-nighters at the 112th San Francisco Symphony opening night gala were thrilled by this modern-day mashup.

Sure, the orchestra at Davies Symphony Hall expertly executed Strauss, Mahler, and a ravishing Maurice Ravel Boléro. But Esa-Pekka Salonen, the symphony’s music director and a Grammy Award–winning conductor, also led “Rap Notes (2000),” a piece by Anders Hillborg that starred vocals from Oakland hip-hop artist Kev Choice, San Francisco freestyler Anthony Veneziale, and, for classic measure, a diva: soprano Hila Plitmann.

With a shout-out request for the audience to supply key themes, Choice adroitly developed a live rap — accompanied by 59 Productions’ digital video projections — derived from the exuberant words peace, hope, and love.

“Esa-Pekka has a vision for engaging with community artists that informs our opening night as a little different and truly exciting to fulfill our mission of the transformative power of music,” said Symphony board chair Priscilla Geeslin. “I enjoy our new format, with the patrons’ dinner following the concert. That becomes the party, where people can then relax and discuss the music.”


Jessica Pascolini, Ahin Thomas, and Kelny Denebeim.


This new format featured a traditional pre-concert peacock’s parade of glamorous gowns, creative black tie, and Champagne toasts atop a vibrant Barbie-pink carpet.

Led by co-chairs Amy Christodoulo and Julie Liegl, the sold-out soirée supports this renowned cultural organization with its largest annual fundraiser that provides community engagement efforts and free music education programs for 50,000 Bay Area public school students.

VIP spaces amid Davies Hall — futuristically designed by Blueprint Studios and LED-electrified by Got Light — entertained 830 deep-pocketed patrons and youthful symphony supporters, who were welcomed with beaded Taylor Swift–style friendship bracelets and packets of Martha Stewart CBD Wellness Gummies. McCalls Catering staff, adorned in glowstick ties, served up a masterful surf-and-turf meal that was followed by a raving iLuminate dance performance.

“Many of the images, texts, and even some sounds tonight were technologically driven, but everything we experienced onstage was inspired by our musicians,” said Symphony CEO Matthew Spivey. “The San Francisco Symphony, led by our visionary music director Esa-Pekka Salonen, is exploring the space where we can define the future of new ideas and engage untapped creativity.”


Jack Calhoun, Joshua Robinson, Trent Norris, and Curt Kirschner.


Dede Wilsey and Beatrix Seidenberg.


Amy Christodoulo and Julie Liegl.


Ralph Remington, Mary Remington, and Kev Choice.


Feature image: Anthony Veneziale, Hila Plitmann, and Kev Choice.


October 9, 2023.

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