S.F. Symphony's SoundBox breaks new ground

Out of the concert hall and away from some typical constraints of classical music, San Francisco Symphony is making a big splash with SoundBox.

The new series takes place in the 400-seat Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall, adjacent to the orchestra's home, the 2,800-seat Davies Symphony Hall.

It’s an informal party setting for ages 21 and older, with the audience seated on faux leather benches set up between two stages. A half dozen well-attended bars serve exotic drinks: Mad Monk (Dolin Dry Vermouth, Benedictine, St. George Absinthe, orange peel) and dubious snacks (truffle-scented popcorn).

Dazzling visuals and lighting round out the events, which combine short, interesting musical works with long intermissions designed for patrons to meet and mix; doors open an hour before the concert, also to accommodate socializing. The next program, which is sold out, is on Friday and Saturday.

The goal, well accomplished by the first concert last month, is to attract a new, different audience, as well as VIPs from arts, politics and society.

San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas says different events will be led by different musicians of different generations and priorities. He says, “You will enter a space in which there will be things to see, to cluster around. You’ll be able to have a drink, you’ll be able to meet your friends, and then settle down to hear an intense 20-minute or so set of music, coming from very different countries, very different centuries, very different worlds.”

Symphony executive director Brent Assink says SoundBox is encouraging experimentation with programming that might not work as well in a large concert hall. He adds, “For instance, our opening concert included works for five percussionists, a mixed chamber ensemble, and a small choral ensemble, to name a few.”

Conductor Joshua Gersen, tenor Nicholas Phan and cellist Amos Yang appear this weekend in a program reflecting the variety MTT spoke about. It includes two movements from John Adams' 1978 “Shaker Loops”; selections from S.F. Symphony Assistant Concertmaster Mark Volkert's new work, “Serenade”; Heinrich Biber's 1673 “Battalia a 10”; selections from J.S. Bach's early 18th century Cello Suite No. 1; an excerpt from Benjamin Britten's 1940 “Les Illuminations”; and Darius Milhaud's 1920 “Le boeuf sur le toit” (“The Ox on the Roof”).

MTT adds, “I always like surprises and the unexpected, and I’m sure there are going to be many as the space evolves. When one imagines a space like this, one has certain ideas about what it may do. But once you’re actually in it, you’ll discover lots of things that never occurred to you.”



Presented by San Francisco Symphony

Where: Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall, 300 Franklin St., S.F.

When: 9 p.m. Jan. 9-10

Tickets: $25

Contact: (415) 503-5299,

artsClassical Music & OperaSan Francisco SymphonySoundBoxZellerbach Rehearsal Hall

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