The magnificent maestro Michael Tilson Thomas marked a milestone that rocked the house and the hall. Celebrating his seventieth birthday with his usual flair, he was feted at a festive dinner and captivating San Francisco Symphony concert by his family, friends and admirers. Husband Joshua Robison orchestrated the virtuoso event, ably chaired by William Fisher, Marcia Goldman and Nellie Levchin, and supported by an eclectic entourage of peak performers. The evening began with champagne and caviar in the Wattis Room, where a throng of longtime Symphony supporters gathered to toast the maestro. The party moved into the new SoundBox, a repurposed rehearsal and performance space transformed by Stanlee Gatti into a rhapsody in blue light, bathing the decor upside-down calla lilies suspended from the ceiling in MTT's favorite hue. Guests were encouraged to wear blue, too, which they did in little and big touches of sapphire, both literal and figurative. Dinner was designed by MTT's great pal Alice Waters and expertly executed by McCall's catering, which served the delectable double rack of lamb with Middle Eastern spices prepared to a perfect pink, not a French bleu. Neither the starter, a divine celery root soup with truffle butter, nor the cheese course featuring Sonoma dry jack, harbored a hint of the hue. The supple red and white William Hill wines held their own alongside the meal, too. After-dinner toasting was offered in a letter from President Obama, and in the form of gifts from three Symphony Board Chairs past (Nancy Bechtle, John Goldman,) and present (Sakurako Fisher,) in he style of the magi: Mad Bum knickers for the Giants-mad maestro, alongside his own "MTT MVP" pair; two very large bottles of very fine wine; and a custom blue blazer by Nudie the Rodeo Tailor that featured his initials in rhinestones on the back and a score of Mahler on each arm that was blazing indeed. Then it was off to Davies Symphony Hall for more sparkling surprises. The published program featured individual performances by five of the most notable pianists on the planet, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Emanuel Ax, Jeremy Denk, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Yuja Wang, who dazzled with their individual approaches to the instrument. Just before intermission, a Beatles cover band popped onstage to surprise the birthday boy, jamming through an energetic version of "They Say It's Your Birthday," with the enthusiasm of an aspirational opening act; jaws dropped as MTT realized he was being serenaded by a pickup boy band of Elvis Costello, Boz Scaggs, Phil Lesh, Drew Zingg and Karl Sevaride - a Bay Area dream team.
Guests returned from intermission to find six concert Steinway pianos nudged onstage, ready to play Liszt's "Hexameron, Grand Bravura Variations on the march from Bellini's I puritani, for Six Pianos" to the accompaniment of the entire orchestra. MTT took the lead, playing piano in the character of Liszt in a never-again spectacle that placed him at the center of world-class performaners. It was a deft bit of showmanship supported by striking ability; MTT was clearly focused as he performed his part in the company of best-of-class peers, whose styles were a study in variation. The concert concluded with more virtuosity: the William Tell Overture for eight hands on piano, the Bernstein Overture to Candide, and a rousing participatory Happy Birthday from Beach Blanket Babylon, complete with four actors costumed as MTT's beloved poodles. The enthusiasm and deep affection for and from MTT was palpable, and the audience felt the love. Hardy partiers thronged back to the SoundBox, where a jazz combo serenaded and Symphony musicians and special guests were finally able to join the party. Another round of Happy Birthday singing accompanied the ceremonial cutting of a perfectly piano-shaped cake, with tangerines, mint tea and chocolates offered for a final Alice Waters touch. If you are going to turn seventy on the public stage, MTT showed how elegantly he get sby with a little help from his friends.
Rhapsodizing in blue: Governor Jerry Brown and Anne Gust, Paul and Nancy Pelosi, Amy Tan and Lou DiMattei, Anita and Ronald Wornick, Nion McEvoy Ellen Magnin Newman, Mark Leno, James Hormel and Michael Nguyen, Mimi Haas, Lisa and Doug Goldman, Dagmar Dolby, Doris Fisher, Randi and Bob Fisher, Jack Calhoun and Trent Norris, Sabrina Buell and Yves Behar, Jan and Brent Assink, John Adams and Deborah O'Grady, Barbro and Bernard Osher, Yurie and Carl Pascarella, Lisa and John Pritzker, Susan and Jim Swartz , Sloan and Roger Barnett, Barbara Brookins-Schneider, Helen Hilton Raiser, Barbara and Ronald George, Owsley and Victoire Brown, Susie Tomkins Buell and Mark Buell, Denise Hale, Genelle Relfe, Maria Manetti Shrem and Jan Shrem, George and Charlotte Shultz, and many, many more who were delighted to be invited to wish HBD to MTT.