Many musicians and music lovers remember Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, talks and brilliant Norton Lectures at Harvard University.
Today, the mantle of the chief musician-philosopher-lecturer-entertainer is worn by the San Francisco Symphony’s Michael Tilson Thomas. In addition to scintillating introductions from the stage and extensive work with young people, Thomas’ forum for speaking about music is the 6-year-old, always-growing “Keeping Score” project.
These illustrated lectures and musical adventures — created and supported by hundreds of musicians, scholars and technicians — can be seen and heard on TV, DVDs, CDs and radio around the world.
New “Keeping Score” programs about Gustav Mahler, which will be broadcast on KQED-TV starting at 9 p.m. Thursday, will reveal that Bernstein-Thomas touch to newcomers — their ability to place music in a universal context, speak to all interests and command attention.
The complex Mahler Symphony No. 7, for example, is illuminated by Thomas’ intercutting of “start-and-stop” music and the strings’ harsh pizzicatos with scenes from a 1926 F.W. Murnau film classic.
The Mahler Project is in two segments, each two hours long, airing on KQED now, being telecast nationally later and published as a DVD set. “Keeping Score” on DVD already has offered enlightenment on works by Berlioz, Stravinsky, Ives and others.
Another new “Keeping Score” series is for radio, being broadcast nationally and locally on KQED, KALW and KDFC. This year’s 13-program series is about works that changed the course of classical music.
The Web component — www.keepingscore.org, which has been active since the project’s start — provides companion content.
Mission control for the TV programs is in a truck parked on the Franklin Street side of Davies Symphony Hall. A director, an assistant director and a switcher coordinate the cuts from one shot to another.
The music is recorded in Davies Hall before live audiences. It’s a challenging but rewarding approach. Noises and coughs are a nightmare for engineers, but there is no substitute for the sound of live music.
Using 13 cameras, director Gary Halvorson and his team translate concerts to visuals, which symphony general manager John Kieser calls “a ballet of camerawork.”
Thomas is involved with every aspect of “Keeping Score,” from writing to narration to conducting and post-production processing. Why?
“At this point in my life,” the 66-year-old conductor says, “the whole purpose of performing and musicmaking is passing things on. People were so generous to me in my youth and cluing me into a lot of back stories and important information that made the music come alive.
“This is a way of doing that.”
On TV: KQED, Ch. 9
9 p.m. Thursday: “Gustav Mahler: Origins,” followed by Mahler’s Symphony No. 1
9 p.m. April 21: “Gustav Mahler: Legacy,” followed by music featuring baritone Thomas Hampson
On radio: “13 Days When Music Changed Forever” continues through June
KQED-FM, 88.5: 9 p.m Saturdays
KDFC-FM, 90.3: 6 p.m. Sundays
KALW-FM, 91.7: 9 p.m. Mondays
Saturday-Monday: “Oct. 29, 1787: The Premiere of Don Giovanni in Prague”
April 23-25: “Aug. 8, 1803: Parisian Piano Maker Sebastien Erard Gives One of His Sturdy New Creations to Beethoven”