San Francisco Symphony’s super centennial season soars

San Francisco Symphony, which turns 100 on Dec. 8, is giving The City a birthday gift of a brilliant season of great music and famous artists. As it looks back on a century, the orchestra heads into the future with cutting-edge programming and in the vanguard of technology.

“In marking the orchestra’s first hundred years,” says SFS President John D. Goldman, “this season is the moment to define what this orchestra will be for its next hundred.”

Announcing the new season today, Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas — who worked with Executive Director Brent Assink and Artistic Planning Director Gregg Gleasner in a long, arduous planning process — called the occasion “an extraordinary thing, this moment in time.”

The “time” he speaks of includes innovations such as his YouTube Orchestra, electronic “Keeping Score” programs, and collaborations and performances through the Internet and HD electronics.

The centennial celebration also features commissions, some in collaboration with other orchestras, by composers including San Francisco Symphony veteran John Adams, Thomas Adès, Mason Bates, Sofia Gubaidulina and Meredith Monk.

In his 17th season at the head of the orchestra, MTT continues his advocacy of contemporary, 20th century and American music. He has scheduled such significant San Francisco premieres as violin concertos by György Ligeti and Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 14, which will complete the orchestra’s performances of all the Russian composer’s symphonies.

The acclaimed “American Mavericks” program returns, both in Davies Hall and on tour to New York, Ann Arbor and Chicago. MTT calls the approach to formerly neglected masterpieces by Aaron Copland, Lou Harrison, Henry Cowell, Morton Feldman, and others a matter of “a courageous spirit … Anything goes, we’ll just go for it.”

“Mavericks” first appeared and won raves in 2000 following a joint concert with surviving members of the Grateful Dead in an unprecedented collaboration. Last week’s sold-out performances of concerts featuring the premiere of Feldman’s 1971 “Rothko Chapel” brought raves.

Expecting a 2011-12 audience of up to a half a million, the symphony — with a $63 million budget and orchestral and choral forces of 250 — is a major artistic, educational and economic power in The City, which it represents on national and global tours. Important contributors to the centennial include Chevron, Wells Fargo and Bank of America.

Six of the country’s other renowned orchestras join the party in Davies Hall throughout the season, each with a pair of concerts featuring commissioned works.

Thinking big, the symphony is offering semi-staged works, some with film and video projections, such as Debussy’s “The Martyrdom of Saint Sébastian,” the Bartók opera “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle,” and, in honor of The City’s past, “Barbary Coast and Beyond.”

Impressive guest artists include violinists Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn, Leila Josefowicz, Christian Tetzlaff and Pinchas Zukerman; pianists Emanuel Ax, Kirill Gerstein, Garrick Ohlsson, Horacio Gutiérrez and Yuja Wang and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Featured singing stars that will make opera companies envious include: Laura Claycomb, Sasha Cooke, Michelle DeYoung, Olga Guryakova, Alan Held, Katarina Karnéus, Jessye Norman, Sondra Radvanovsky, Dawn Upshaw and Dolora Zajick.

Among a score of illustrious guest conductors are former San Francisco Symphony music directors Edo de Waart (1977-1985) and Herbert Blomstedt (1985-1995).

The Sept. 7 opening gala featuring pianist Lang Lang and volinist Itzhak Perlman will be filmed for public television’s “Great Performances” series.

In addition to Davies Hall concerts, the celebration also features expanded music education programs in San Francisco public schools, formation of a new Community Music Program to foster amateur music-making and free outdoor concerts.


San Francisco Symphony 2011-12 season

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

When: Sept. 7 through June 30, 2012

Tickets: Subscriptions from $180 to $810 for six concerts; $720 to $3,240 for 24 concerts

Contact: (415) 864-6000,

Symphonic voices

Among the huge, varied 2011-12 lineup is a rich selection of vocal and choral works — new, unusual, important or all three. Here are a few examples:

  • Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 conducted by MTT with soloist Katarina Karnéus; Sept. 21-25
  • Foss’ “Phorion,” Cage’s “Song Books” conducted by MTT with soloists Jessye Norman, Meredith Monk, Joan La Barbara; March 10-13
  • “Music from the Gold Rush to the Panama-Pacific Exhibition” conducted by MTT with soloist Laura Claycomb; May 10-12
  • Britten’s “Les Illuminations” conducted by David Robertson with Dawn Upshaw; May 31-June 3
  • Bartók’s “Bluebeard's Castle” conducted by MTT with soloists Michelle DeYoung, Alan Held; June 21-23

artsClassical Music & OperaentertainmentMichael Tilson ThomasSan Francisco Symphony

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