Big, varied new season for S.F. Symphony

Classical-music fans, demanding and emotional about personal preferences, make it almost impossible to present a symphony season that makes everybody happy, in the colossal arc from traditionalists to avant-garde enthusiasts.

Even so, the San Francisco Symphony's 2008-09 season, announced today by Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and Executive Director Brent Assink, is so huge, presenting such a range of music and artists that it is virtually bulletproof _ even as one hears the sound of knives being sharpened.

The orchestra's 97th season, MTT's 14th at the helm, will run Sept. 3 through June 21, 2009, presenting dozens of programs in hundreds of performances.

In 2,743-seat Davies Hall alone, that means filling some quarter million seats during the season, at prices ranging from the cost of a movie ticket to hundreds of dollars for special events.

Symphony President John D. Goldman acknowledged at a morning news conference that “difficult economic times” require “graduated, reasonable” ticket prices, and the right “positioning of the Symphony.”

When you have such a large-scale operation, with an annual operating budget of over $58 million, the tried-and-true must play a large role, even as opera houses around the world survive on “Carmen” and “Butterfly” productions.

And so, there will be plenty of Beethoven (including the grand and automatic hall-filler Ninth Symphony in September), Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Liszt.

Yet MTT stuck his neck out by commissioning new works from the dauntingly “different” Tatar composer Sofia Gubaidulina and the young American Mason Bates. Both composers will spend time in San Francisco, Gubaidulina featured in a two-week Phyllis C. Wattis Composer Residency in February.

The highly-successful, award-winning MTT/SFS Mahler recording cycle will conclude next season with performances and a recording of the Symphony No. 8, “Symphony of a Thousand.” American composers to heard next season include Jennifer Higdon, Steven R. Gerber, and MTT – in addition to Barber, Bernstein and Copland.

Living composers from outside the U.S. are Britishers Thomas Ades and Oliver Knussen. Of local composers, there is a continuing, lamentable dearth.

Among the many invited soloists are 20 debuting artists, including conductors Nicola Luisotti and Fabio Luisi, pianists Piotr Anderszewski, Yevgeny Sudbin and Krystian Zimerman.

“Hot-property” Lang Lang, 25 but in the limelight for a decade already, will not only give concerts and recitals, but also will participate in educational events, one of which will be a Davies Hall appearance in December for Bay Area music students.

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