An interview with Maestro Christian Reif, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra – Next concert of the season “Peter and the Wolf” this Sunday!

sfsyo-stefancohen180_origPhoto by Stefan Cohen

A conductor of “technical assurance and forceful interpretive prowess” (San Francisco Chronicle)German-born Christian Reif is Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony and Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra. He started in San Francisco in the 2016/17 season following two seasons in Miami as Conducting Fellow with the New World Symphony, working closely with Michael Tilson Thomas.

In the 2017/18 season, Reif made a highly praised subscription debut with the San Francisco Symphony and led concerts with the Orchestre National de Lyon, Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Brucknerorchester Linz, and Berkeley Symphony. His April 2018 San Francisco Symphony subscription concerts prompted Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle to write: “He’s a conductor of considerable stature, and everything felt like the work of a significant musical artist.” In Summer 2018, in addition to leading concerts with the Indianapolis Symphony and at the Lakes Area Music Festival, he makes his Lincoln Center Mostly Mozart Festival debut on a program with the International Contemporary Ensemble featuring John Adams’ Grand Pianola Music.

sfsyo-stefancohen171_origPhoto by Stefan Cohen

In the 2018/19 season, Maestro Reif leads a subscription program with the San Francisco Symphony and we had the extraordinary opportunity to talk to him about this new season.

Latino Edge: I wanted to start by asking, since you conduct San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, how did your own love affair with classical music began when you were younger?

Maestro Christian Reif: As long as I can remember, there was always music in our house. My mother is a piano teacher, and choir conductor, so we were constantly surrounded by music. At some point I asked her why she was only teaching other people, and whether she’d teach me to play the piano… Since then I’ve played music, with my siblings, and with friends, in ensembles and Orchestras. It’s nice to be in the position now to create an environment for others to discover their love for (orchestral) Music!

If someone still hasn’t had the opportunity to discover the magic of classical music, what are some pieces that you would recommend that they listen to first to spark that love?

Actually, one of the best “first” classical music pieces is Prokofiev’s “Peter & the Wolf”, which we’re performing this coming Sunday, narrated by Richard Dreyfuss. It gives a wonderful introduction the the world of music, it showcases particular instruments, and is just great musical story-telling. But there are many many other pieces of music, that can inspire first-time listeners. Works by Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Mahler, Debussy and so many more!

Since the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra’s next concert of the season will be Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” this Sunday, December 9th, I was wondering if you had a personal connection with this piece?

It’s actually a piece that has a longstanding tradition for the Youth Orchestra. We play three big concerts per year with changing repertoire, but for the Holiday Concert, we always play “Peter and the Wolf”. I personally grew up listening to it, too, so I’m happy to give others the same opportunity of getting to know this masterpiece.

What are you looking forward the most to conducting this season of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra?

The highlight of this season is definitely our European Tour, where we play Mahler’s First Symphony in some of the best concert halls in the world! Our world class soloists are Nicola Benedetti and Karen Gomyo, two wonderful artists. But I’m also really looking forward to our second subscription concert in March, on which we’re performing excerpts from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” with SF Opera’s Adler Fellows.


sfsyo-stefancohen174_origPhoto by Stefan Cohen

Is it challenging to work with a youth orchestra, compared to more experienced professionals?

Oh, it’s not more or less challenging. It’s a slightly different rehearsal style, but in the end, my job is to make the orchestra sound better and inspire the musicians, whether it’s a professional or youth ensemble. And our Youth Orchestra really is fantastic, better than many professional ones 🙂

What advice would you give to a young musician that is just beginning his music career and is considering joining a youth orchestra or a music band?

Do it! Absolutely. Some of my fondest memories growing up was playing music with friends, getting to know brilliant masterpieces of music and just having fun! It’s an experience I would want any young musician to have. There are ensembles in every level of playing. Sometimes it’s difficult to get yourself to practice when you just started out and are only playing alone. The biggest joy is to make music together and share your passion with other people!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with my audience at Latino Edge?

If you have been to a San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra Concert, you know how good they are. If you haven’t been yet, check them out!! They’re one of the best Youth Orchestras in the world. I’m very proud of them and we’re having a great time! This Sunday’s Concert is a perfect family event, also including some pieces from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” and other Holiday Favorites. And the San Francisco Symphony has a wonderful rest of the season planned, I’d love to see you there!

christian-reif-ii-kristen-loken-cropped_origPhoto by Kristen Loken

The new season of San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra begins on Sunday, December 9th with Prokofiev’s “Peter & the Wolf” narrated by Richard Dreyfuss.

Click here for more information and to buy tickets!

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