French, Ukrainian stars open 2011

The San Francisco Symphony opens the 2011 portion of its 99th season with great music in a collaboration with a world-famous French pianist and the debut of a rapidly emerging young Ukrainian conductor.

Kirill Karabits conducts the local premiere of “Elegie” by his countryman Valentin Silvestrov. The program also includes Rachmaninoff’s 1940 Symphonic Dances and Robert Schumann’s 1845 Piano Concerto in A Minor, with Hélene Grimaud as the soloist.

Silvestrov composes music that is neoclassical in structure and post-modern in style. “My music is a response to and an echo of what already exists,” he has said.

Grimaud, a San Francisco favorite, is on a world tour, stopping in The City, New York and Philadelphia after performing in European locales. Her next concerts are slated for Beijing, Tokyo and Toronto.

Born in Aix-en Provence in 1969, Grimaud has been in the first rank of pianists for two decades, well represented by Deutsche Grammophon audio and video recordings. She is known for performances of romantic and virtuoso works, and her interpretation of the Schumann — one of the most grand, complex and rewarding romantic  piano concertos — is ranked with such giants of the keyboard as Martha Argerich, Murray Perahia and Leif Ove Andsnes.

Symphonic Dances, Rachmaninoff’s last piece, is a veritable digest of the composer’s work, including sounds of — and outright quotes from — his first and third symphonies, and Russian church music and his own “Vespers.”

The dominant theme of the medieval chant “Dies Irae” in the work reflects both Rachmaninoff’s thoughts of death, just three years before the end of his life, and his anger and sorrow over being exiled from Russia.

Kiev-born Karabits, who turned 34 on Sunday, is the son of the late conductor-composer Ivan Fedorovich Karabyts (who used a different transliteration from Cyrillic).

Making his first conducting appearance at 19, Karabits studied in Vienna and Stuttgart and became assistant conductor of the Budapest Festival Orchestra at age 22. He is now principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony, succeeding Marin Alsop.

The story behind earning the job was dramatic, verging on comedic. When he was invited to audition, he had to return quickly from Brazil to England. On top of jet lag, he was struck by a reaction to a peanut allergy, and ear plugs he was wearing on the plane came loose and stuck in his ear. His first stop on arrival: a hospital. The second: the audition, and winning the post.

IF YOU GO

San Francisco Symphony

With conductor Kirill Karabits and pianist Hélene Grimaud

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 2 p.m. Jan. 6 and 9; 8 p.m. Jan. 7-8

Tickets: $15 to $140

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

artsClassical Music & OperaentertainmentmusicSan Francisco Symphony

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