San Francisco Symphony Centennial Gala Creates Four Distinct Environments on Same Night

By Alesandra Dubin September 29, 2011, 1:45 PM EDT

The San Francisco Symphony centennial season opening on September 7 was arguably one of the most important social and cultural events produced this year in the city. Blueprint Studios, which handled the detail-minded design, decor, flowers, and rentals, described the biggest challenge as producing, installing, and tearing down four different and extensive gala environments in a matter of hours. The approach involved tight synchronized collaboration from everyone involved: the union labor force, the film and TV crew, and the police force (in charge of street closure). Symphony director of special events and volunteer services Marni Cook and project manager for special events and volunteer services Jennifer Franks oversaw the event for 1,800 guests in all, with portions of the evening drawing smaller guest counts targeting different donor levels.

Each setting of the progressive event was its own unique experience. At the conductor's tribute welcome reception, held at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House Lobby with 1,800 guests, the reception served as a hall of fame that included a tribute to past musical conductors. A grand and traditional setting complemented the gilded venue's architecture. Golden bronze residential-style furnishings and roses completed the look. A dozen herald trumpeters with custom-designed centennial trumpet banners called guests to dinner.

The “Symphony Supper” donor gala—one of two dinners hosting about 400 guests each—draped the 11 grand archways of the San Francisco City Hall rotunda in coral textured silk fabric gathered with oversize gold tassels. Floor-length sequined fabrics draped the dining tables, and the look included a projection display of spheres in motion, evoking champagne bubbles.

The “Symphony Symphonix” donor gala held at the San Francisco City Hall North Light Court, in a departure from the modern design esthetic of past years, saw the space draped in blue textured silk fabric. Giant spheres of fresh gypsophila blossoms atop grand black metallic trumpet vases topped tables, where ivory roses sat in vintage garden urns and blue mercury glass votive containers. A gilded mirror with silver detail hung from the perimeter drapery.

The premiere donor post-party reception at the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, held on the Zellerbach Stage, got a look meant to evoke a vintage 1911 carnival with a World’s Fair-style appeal. High-level donors walked through a custom tunnel with backlit showcase windows offering a photo montage from the past 100 years. As the guests entered the main stage through a carnival garden gate, a cast of characters greeted them with classical circus entertainment.

In the center was an octagonal video bar playing Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus and displaying a giant, custom Ferris wheel. Gilded carousel horses and manicured trees surrounded the bar, creating a path through the reception lit with vintage flickering street lamps.

Caterer Patina served comfort-food bites from artisan marketplace carts, adorned with harlequin diamond canopy covers. Red fabric and vintage yellow and red wallpaper stripes draped the stage space, and framed hot-air balloon banners flew over the perimeter drapery with the words “Symphony... established 1911.” For more drama, trapeze artists flew down from the 30-foot ceilings above.

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