When maestro Michael Tilson Thomas announced “quite a lineup of fiddle players” at the Davies Hall gala opening concert of San Francisco Symphony’s 107th season on Wednesday evening, he wasn’t joking.
His “dear old colleague and friend” Itzhak Perlman and six of his equally virtuosic students — Kristin Lee, Sean Lee, Doori Na, Michelle Ross, Eric Silberger and Hannah Tarley, all but Tarley making their debut with the San Francisco Symphony — dazzled in Bach’s Concerto No. 3 in D minor for Two Violins, Strings, and Continuo.
Wisely, drawing from what Perlman jested was a limited repertoire of works written for seven violins, they had a encore: a dynamic arrangement of No. 35 Ruthenian Kolomejka (Dance) from Bartók’s 44 Duos for Two Violins.
It went down nicely amid a light, mostly festive, program kicking off MTT’s penultimate season as music director, a post he’s he held since 1995.
Perlman soloed in the concert’s second half, an audience-friendly collection of music from movies. He sounded gorgeous in John Williams’ Theme from “Schindler’s List,” a number he played on the soundtrack and one of the evening’s few somber tunes, and on Andrea Morricone’s lush, romantic Love Theme from “Cinema Paradiso.”
Another film favorite, Gershwin’s beloved “An American in Paris,” closed the show. The orchestra, particularly the feisty horn and percussion sections, breezed through it with aplomb — seemingly beckoning the ghost of Gene Kelly to bound onstage. The band was similarly energetic in Gershwin’s equally percussive “Cuban” Overture, literally packed with bells and whistles — and fun woodwinds.
After the traditional sing-along rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” began the show, MTT introduced the popular opening piece, Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz” No. 1, referring to the demon of folklore and his pact with Dr. Faust. Mentioning that Faust was likely a “party guy,” MTT promptly ushered in the evening’s festivities.
They continued afterward, at the glamorous bash outside the concert hall. The decked-out crowd danced to DJs and pop bands on Grove Street and in the adjacent tent, where spirits flowed freely and bites from some of The City’s storied eateries (salmon seemed to be a theme) were served.