As the San Francisco Symphony announced its 2018-19 season today, the influence of conductor Michael Tilson Thomas on programming is clear as a bell. This penultimate season for the maestro, who will retire in 2020 to become music director laureate, is rich in the theatrical and mixed-genre programs for which he’s well-known.
Soon after he took over 23 years ago, MTT invited surviving members of the Grateful Dead to join in a bold presentation of little-known American symphonic music, “hoping to bring in younger, culturally diverse and experimental-minded listeners.” Ever since, to varying degrees, Davies Hall has been home to symphony music crossing boundaries with ballet, opera, staged productions, politics, ecology and film.
The symphony’s 107th season begins Sept. 5 with a gala with MTT leading a program celebrating movies, with music from “Scent of a Woman,” “Out of Africa,” “Schindler’s List” and “Cinema Paradiso,” in addition to works by Gershwin and a Bach concerto with Itzhak Perlman and students of the Perlman Music Program.
Igor Stravinsky — who collaborated with 19-year-old wunderkind MTT in Los Angeles 54 years ago — is featured prominently, in a two-week festival starting Sept. 21, anchored by performances of early 20th century ballet scores “The Firebird,” “Petrushka” and “The Rite of Spring.”
On Oct. 21-22, Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra play two concerts at Davies Hall in the Great Performers Series, one an all-Stravinsky program including “The Firebird.”
“I am grateful to have known many composers,” MTT says, “and to have had the experience of hearing them sing their music to me in their own voices. “What Stravinsky was able to show me was a window into the mind that created the music. Through his conducting and through his voice, I was able to understand inflections and intentions that no amount of notation can express.”
Among the season’s political, multimedia offerings is Niccolò Castiglioni’s “Inverno in-ver,” a stage production for 11 “musical poems” depicting winter scenes on Sept. 13-16. Conceived and directed by MTT, the work is presented in collaboration with Gov. Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit. (The concerts also include Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and Yuja Wang playing the Ravel Piano Concerto in D major for the Left Hand.)
Concerts on Nov. 15-18 marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights feature performances of MTT’s “From the Diary of Anne Frank” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
In 2019, semi-staged performances themed “the magic of youth” feature Britten’s “Noah’s Flood” (with a diverse cast of local youth) and the James Bonas/Grégoire Pont production of Ravel’s opera “The Child and the Magic Spells” run June 27-30.
The season also features newly commissioned works by Steven Mackey (Feb. 7-9), Andrew Norman (Jan. 24-26), Kevin Puts (Oct. 25-27) and Steve Reich (June 27-30).
The Great Performers Series also features the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Semyon Bychkov on Nov. 11; recitals by pianist Evgeny Kissin on Oct. 14; violinists Hilary Hahn on Nov. 4 and Anne-Sophie Mutter on March 10; and a joint recital by violinist Joshua Bell, cellist Steven Isserlis and pianist Jeremy Denk on May 12.
Guest conductors include New York Philharmonic Music Director Designate Jaap van Zweden (Jan. 11-13); Orchestre de Paris Music Director Daniel Harding (Feb. 22-24); Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Music Director Manfred Honeck (Oct. 11-13), Danish National Symphony Orchestra Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi (April 18-20) and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Music Director Krzysztof Urbanski (May 23-25).
Conductors making their San Francisco Symphony debuts include City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Music Director Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla (Jan. 18-20); music director Cristian Macelaru of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music (Oct. 25-27), and general music director of the City of Cologne and founder of Les Siècles, François-Xavier Roth (March 7-9).
The 2018–19 Film Series of screenings with live accompaniment by the orchestra includes “Jurassic Park” (Nov. 1-3), “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (Nov. 30-Dec. 1), “Mary Poppins” (Jan. 5-6), “La La Land” (Feb. 27-28) and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (Marcn 1-2).
Great guest artists include pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard (May 9-11), Emanuel Ax (April 11-14), Yefim Bronfman (June 20-22), Hélène Grimaud (April 25-27), Gabriela Montero (Jan. 18-20), András Schiff (Feb. 14-17) and Yuja Wang (Sept. 13-16); singers Elizabeth DeShong, Ying Fang, Joshua Hopkins and Nicholas Phan (Dec. 14-15); Isabel Leonard (June 27-29), Kelley O’Connor and Susanna Phillips (Nov. 23-25).
The symphony’s fiscal 2017 operating budget (the last audited information available) was $81.7 million. Ticket prices for the upcoming season are unchanged from the current ones; the symphony also is known for its numerous free and low-cost programs for the community and schools.
IF YOU GO
San Francisco Symphony 2018-19 season
Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: Sept. 5, 2018 through June 29, 2019
Tickets: $192-$918 for six concerts; $384-$1,836 for 12 concerts; from $32 for single tickets
Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org/1819season
Note: Subscriptions go on sale March 6; single tickets on July 9