With a memorable centennial season behind it, the San Francisco Symphony is opening its 101st year in an unprecedented fashion.
Postponing its annual gala until Sept. 19 — due to music director Michael Tilson Thomas being on tour with the London Symphony Orchestra — the symphony begins the fall season Wednesday with the first of two subscription series concerts under the baton of guest conductor Semyon Bychkov.
Wednesday through Saturday, the program includes Wagner’s Overture to “Tannhäuser,” Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, with guest soloist Pinchas Zukerman.
Bychkov will then lead Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 (“Unfinished”) and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11 in concerts Sept. 12-15.
The Russian conductor, who has held positions with some of Europe’s major orchestras and opera companies, calls San Francisco’s public “magnificent.”
“When we play, the halls are full, people react with great vivacity to all kinds of music, from classical to contemporary,” he says.
The concert portion of the glitzy fundraiser and big season gala Sept. 19 features violinist Joshua Bell in a program of works by Berlioz, Chausson, Saint-Saëns and Ravel.
As a complement to the gala’s high-priced offerings, on Sept. 21 MTT and the orchestra will perform some of the gala program at a free event at Justin Herman Plaza beginning at 5 p.m.
Other upcoming highlights include the Great Performers Series, with concerts by the Warsaw Philharmonic and the Russian National Orchestra, and recitals by Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, Renée Fleming with Susan Graham, and Matthias Goerne with Christoph Eschenbach.
Although many classics are programmed — including two dozen works by Beethoven — the 2012-13 season also offers some less-played works, including the first San Francisco performances of selections from Mozart’s unfinished opera “Zaïde” and Luciano Berio’s mid-1970s piece “Eindrücke.”
The West Coast premiere of Samuel Carl Adams’ “Drift and Providence” is scheduled. Adams, 26, is the son of composer John Adams, whose “Absolute Jest” also is part of this season's programming.
Firmly rooted in The City, Tilson Thomas, 67, who first conducted the San Francisco Symphony 37 years ago and now is in his 18th year as music director, has the longest tenure among current music directors of major American orchestras.
“It feels very comfortable, so much fun,” he says. “There is a spirit of adventure along with tremendous care [from the musicians]; the sense of identity is getting stronger and stronger every year.”
IF YOU GO
San Francisco Symphony opening concert
Where: Davies Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 10 a.m. Wednesday (open rehearsal)
Tickets: $15 to $150
Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org