It was “Ladies Night” at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s Centennial Gala, which honored stalwart trustees-philanthropists Ute Bowes, Carol Casey, Ann Getty, Barbro Osher and the late Caroline Hume.
These civic leaders embody the same trailblazing spirit as Conservatory founders Ada Clement and Lillian Hodghead who, in 1917, opened the doors of Clement’s family home on Sacramento Street to establish the Clement Piano School, staffed by five teachers and four students.
Now 100 years later, , this “piano school” has evolved into one of the world’s finest music conservatories. With Centennial chairwoman Jan Buckley, gala chairs Deepa Pakianathan and Diane Zack led a musicale — its largest ever — that raised more than $1 million for student scholarships and community engagement programs on March 19.
Three hundred and seventy guests enjoyed the SFCM faculty-student concert that also starred piano soloists Charlotte Wong and Garrick Ohlsson, vocalist Aoife O’Donovan and the Punch Brothers.A McCall’s meal followed in the conservatory parking lot, which was gloriously disguised by a Blueprint Studio-designed tent.
Speaking on the “life of the mind, culture of imagination and the belief that music is a transformative, powerful force in the world,” Conservatory President David Stull noted the school’s metamorphosis into a global music center and professional training ground.
After a long stint in the Sunset District, the conservatory opened a campus and concert hall on Oak Street in 2006. Staffed by top-notch talent (including cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau; mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook; SFJazz artist Matt Penman), its students are equally prepared for the stage and the business of music.
Students study technological composition to score film or video games. Courses in business and critical thinking are now mandatory. Valuable partnerships are forged with the San Francisco Symphony, SFJazz, S.F. Opera and opera stars like Frederica von Stade.
“Opportunities are made and seized by those comfortable with risk. Thus risk is part of the student experience here,” said Stull. “We aspire for our students to be artists, intellectuals and professionals. And we equip them for success in any endeavor.”
Hot stuff: As 450 guests tucked into a Paula LeDuc dinner at City Hall for the American Red Cross Gala on March 17 honoring chef Tyler Florence, a four-alarm fire blazed in North Beach.
The organization planned to serve exiting guests coffee from its emergency vehicle. Instead, Red Cross volunteers were dispatched to the fire where they provided canteen services for firefighters and assisted displaced residents with emotional support and emergency food, lodging and financial assistance.
According to Red Cross Bay Area Regional CEO Trevor Riggen, seven Americans die every day in a house fire — the majority in homes without working smoke alarms.
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“The Red Cross has equipped more than 1 million homes around the country with fire alarms, a project that’s saved nearly 400 lives,” he said. “The Red Cross prepares before disaster strikes. And is ready to provide hope after.”
And gala guests responded to the call — raising more than $1 million at this swank soiree led by gala co-chairs Lindsey Haswell and Lillian Phan.
The event also honored Patrick Foley and Jackson Phillips, Santa Rosa teens and Red Volunteers who each lost their homes last fall in the North Bay firestorm.
They’d joined the organization to fulfill their school’s senior-year service elective and dreamed of deploying afar to assist those in need. Then the October fires exploded right in their own backyard and also damaged their Cardinal Newman High School.
“Working with the Red Cross, we became that shoulder for people to cry on. We gave them a blanket or replaced a sweatshirt that burned. We spent countless hours in the shelters providing support,” said Phillips. “It changed our perspectives: We’re not alone and we helped other people in our community.”
Florence was recognized for his fast action during the North Bay fires for helping prepare more than 200,000 meals for fire victims and first responders. Later, he and LeDuc joined forces to create an alfresco lunch straddling the county line between Napa and Sonoma that honored first responders and raised money for the Red Cross to support fire victims.
The Wayfare Tavern chef and Food Network star is also editing a documentary, “Uncrushable,” that he shot during two harrowing weeks of those fires. And Florence will donate all proceeds to the fire victims.
“The first part of the film featuring donated cell phone fire footaage is terrifying. But I think it’s an amazing story to tell as a blueprint of how communities come together and organize when disaster strikes,” he explains. “My wife, Tolan (Florence), and I moved here in 2006 and we’ve dug in deep roots. This is our community; our home. I will stand with all my neighbors, shoulder to shoulder, during difficult times on the front-lines.”
Catherine Bigelow is The San Francisco Chronicle’s society correspondent. Email: email@example.com Instagram: @missbigelow