When hurricane Harvey battered the greater Houston area on August 25, the Houston Grand Opera (HGO) was devastated. The lower levels of the Wortham Theater Center were badly flooded, causing damage to both stages and the wig and costume shops. In the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, our thoughts went out to our dear colleagues and friends, including HGO’s Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers, who for many years was our Principal Guest Conductor. We began to explore the possibility of doing a benefit concert to help with their recovery.
Then on October 9, right in our backyard, the North Bay wildfires began ravaging Napa and Sonoma counties, causing over $9 billion in damage, and destroying homes of many of our patrons—and of our own Ballet Master, Lawrence Pech. With both tragedies weighing heavily on our hearts, the Musicians of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra resolved to make the possibility of a benefit concert a reality.
The San Francisco Conservatory of Music generously donated its concert hall, ticket facilities, support staff, and student stagehands. Our IATSE Local 16 colleagues also contributed their time to ensure that the benefit concert was a resounding success. San Francisco Opera Orchestra violinist and maestro Dawn Harms agreed to conduct and secured the extraordinary talents of Frederica von Stade. I organized the volunteer orchestra, comprising members and substitute musicians from the SF Opera, and coordinated PR, including articles in the San Francisco Chronicle and local radio spots. Rik Malone, station announcer for San Francisco’s classical music station KDFC, served as the Master of Ceremonies for the event. Our Orchestra Committee worked extensively with SF Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock to create a seamless partnership with the managements of the San Francisco Opera and Opera Center in order to publicize the event and secure the talents of Adler Fellowship Singers Tonie Marie Palmertree and Pene Pati.
On November 26, the Musicians of the San Francisco Opera played to a capacity crowd and raised more than ten thousand dollars to support both the United Way Fire Relief Fund and the Houston Grand Opera Harvey Fund. The evening began with Matthew Shilvock reading a heartfelt message of thanks from Patrick Summers. The concert included many operatic favorites, including excerpts from La Forza Del Destino, Madama Butterfly, Lakme, and local favorite Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking. Frederica von Stade sang an incredibly moving trio finale from Der Rosenkavalier with two of her talented scholarship singers, and the concert concluded with the poignant “Nimrod” from Elgar’s Enigma Variations.
At the post-concert reception, our audience was extremely grateful, expressing how much they appreciated the opportunity to support such worthy causes while enjoying an evening of wonderful heartfelt music. It was a truly collaborative effort on the part of all the Musicians of the San Francisco Opera and an example of how an orchestra can self-produce an event to serve the community at home and across the country.
Note: The author is a violinist in the San Francisco Opera Orchestra