SF Symphony celebrates Gordon Getty’s 80th birthday 

Oil billionaire J. Paul Getty once said: “If you can actually count your money you are not really a rich man.”

Gordon P. Getty, executor of the family fortune since his father’s death in 1976, has applied the maxim by spending the money wisely and well, apparently not bothering to count it.

In 1983, before social-media billionaires were dime a dozen, Forbes magazine ranked Gordon Getty the richest person in America with a net worth of $2.2 billion. Thirty years later, the same amount placed him 212th in the U.S., and No. 736 in the world.

Others may be bothered by such a turn of events, but Getty is just fine.

The composer is more concerned about Monday’s San Francisco Symphony gala celebration of his 80th birthday, which will introduce his latest work: “I am sweaty about the premiere of my ‘Prayer for My Daughter.’ It is to a poem by W.B. Yeats, a 12-minute piece for orchestra and chorus. When you have a premiere, you get anxious, but it will be OK. And maybe there’ll be changes later. The other music of mine on the program has been done before and that will be fine.”

The concert, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, featuring Frederica von Stade and Placido Domingo, also includes Getty’s “Four Dickinson Songs” with soprano Lisa Delan, accompanied by pianist Robin Sutherland, and excerpts from his “Ancestor Suite.”

Works by Beethoven, Rossini and Thomas Tallis also are scheduled. Von Stade will sing a Mahler song and a Lehar duet with Domingo, who sings an aria from “La traviata” and conducts a Johann Strauss overture.

Getty’s wealth, philanthropy and love of music have combined to the benefit of many music organizations here and elsewhere. His palatial home on Broadway is constantly made available for fundraising concerts.

A self-effacing, quiet man, Getty has been known to park away from the reserved lot, and walk to concerts.

The San Francisco Symphony has long been on top of his list of beneficiaries, including his $9 million contribution that made possible the important acoustic renovation of Davies Symphony Hall in 1990.

“Over many decades, Gordon has been deeply committed to his home orchestra in ways that center on the music and musicians,” says Brent Assink, the symphony’s executive director.

“A decade after his encouragement and support of the hall’s successful acoustic renovation, it was his love of MTT and the orchestra’s Mahler interpretations and his encouragement in capturing that legacy on disc that helped to realize our Mahler Recording Project [winner of seven Grammy Awards], and the creation of our in-house SFS Media label.”

Getty’s education and composing have gone hand in hand.

A degree in English literature from the University of San Francisco and bachelor’s degree in music from the San Francisco Conservatory prompted the Emily Dickinson song cycle and works based on Shakespeare, including his best-known composition, the opera “Plump Jack,” about Falstaff.


Gordon Getty Birthday Celebration

Presented by the San Francisco Symphony

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Tickets: $75 to $350 and up

Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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