For those who attended, San Francisco Symphony’s 1996 American Mavericks Festival was remarkable and memorable — particularly how one concert featuring members of the Grateful Dead playing works by Henry Cowell, Edgar Varese, Steve Reich and Lou Harrison reached an audience of Deadheads and veteran symphony subscription holders.
Michael Tilson Thomas, who says maverick composers “push boundaries and explore new sounds,” was in his second year as music director when he created the festival, but it has defined his leadership and tenure.
Listeners developed an understanding and appreciation for American musical mavericks, and a unanimous demand for the festival’s return has been realized: it runs Thursday through March 18 in Davies Symphony Hall, before going on tour to Chicago, Ann Arbor and New York.
The 2012 festival, prepared with Mills College, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, University of Michigan and New York area universities and conservatories, offers works by American composers and performances by leading musicians, as well as two commissions. John Adams’ “Absolute Jest” for orchestra and string quartet and Mason Bates’ “Mass Transmission” for chorus and electronics are on the program March 15-17.
Pianist Emanuel Ax performs Morton Feldman’s Piano and Orchestra Concerto March 15-17, and soprano Jessye Norman sings from John Cage’s “Song Books,” in collaboration with pioneering vocalists Meredith Monk and Joan La Barbara Saturday and March 14.
Other participating artists include Jeremy Denk, Kiera Duffy, Paul Jacobs, Newband, PARTCH, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and the St. Lawrence String Quartet. Other featured path-breaking composers are Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Carl Ruggles and David Del Tredici.
In addition to performances, festival activities include educational partnerships, interactive listening guides, pre- and post-concert events, and the release of a new John Adams CD. The festival is accessible through a Peabody Award-winning public radio series and a website produced by American Public Media.
IF YOU GO
American Mavericks Festival
Presented by San Francisco Symphony
Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: Thursday through March 18
Tickets: $15 to $145; $100 pass for nine events
Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org
8 p.m Thursday-Friday: Program I (Copland, Harrison, Ives-Brant)
8 p.m. Saturday and March 14: Program II (Foss, Cowell, Cage, Ruggles)
3 p.m. Sunday: Program III (Cowell, Riley, Subotnick, PARTCH)
8 p.m. March 15-17: Program IV (Bates, Adams, Feldman, Varèse)
2 p.m. March 18: Program V (Monk, Reich, Foss, del Tredici)