Michael Tilson Thomas has won 11 Grammys, earned a National Medal of the Arts for elevating orchestral music and is now entering his 20th year as music director of the San Francisco Symphony.
His crooning, however, could probably use a little work.
Still, the 69-year-old gamely warbled some back-up vocals during guest Bonnie Raitt's playfully sultry “Naughty Baby,” one of three tunes the bluesy singer-songwriter performed during the Opening Night Gala at the Davies Symphony Hall on Wednesday.
The symphony continued its Opening Night tradition of trying to keep dedicated music fans happy while holding the interest of well-meaning revelers who wouldn’t mind hearing that one song that shows up in cartoons whenever Bugs Bunny falls in love (Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Overture,” for the record.
The program started with a sprightly “Scherzo á la Russe,” which MTT says Igor Stravinsky published right after composing music for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. The notes twirled and tumbled above the 108-member symphony.
After the “Romeo and Juliet Overture,” Chinese-born piano virtuoso and MTT favorite Yuja Wang sparkled on Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” reading the music from an iPad.
Raitt, a Marin resident and symphony fan whom MTT called a regular fixture in the Davies Symphony Hall’s right terrace behind the stage, settled in with “That’s My Weakness Now.” It was a signature number for Helen Kane, a big-belting flapper who helped inspire Betty Boop.
Of course, Kane never had the luxury of singing “I never cared for Mozart ” as an orchestra performed a few licks from “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” behind her.
For “Naughty Baby,” from the 1930s musical “Crazy for You,” Raitt enlisted the pipes of MTT – and even symphony musicians – on the song’s refrain of “Naughty baby, we love you!”
Before, during and after the program, which ended with selections from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet,” local fashionistas almost stole the show.
As high-end labels mingled with quirky San Francisco looks, Jessica Hickingbotham was particularly stunning in a vintage red, white and blue gown sprinkled with summery floral appliqués. Belinda Berry’s costume-y pink-and-white big-top hoop skirt and earrings turned heads, but philanthropists Norman and Norah Stone had the look of the night with his sequin-spangled tuxedo jacket and studded shoes and her gossamer-wispy yellow floral gown and lush yellow jacket.