Sasha-Cooke_SFS-MTT-Songs-of-a-Wayfarer-(c)-Cory-WeaverSasha Cooke at Davies Symphony Hall  By Cory Weaver

SAN FRANCISCO, CA —The San Francisco Symphony (SFS) and Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT)today announced plans for the final season of MTT’s distinguished tenure as Music Director. The 2019–20 season marks his 25th year leading the SFS in what is widely considered one of the most remarkable and productive artistic partnerships in the orchestra world, having transformed the SFS into a leadership position among American ensembles. The wide-ranging programs and initiatives of MTT’s final season as SF Symphony Music Director celebrate the spirit of this extraordinary partnership with an expansive exploration of the American Sound; a creative breadth of programming where new voices stand alongside iconic masterworks, reimagined; a broadening of the traditional concert experience through staged productions and events in experimental spaces, meaningful collaborations with the world’s leading artists, and the championing of community and access to music education. The 2019–20 season embodies and celebrates the lasting and meaningful relationships MTT has built with the Orchestra and with their audiences across the Bay Area and the world.
“From my very first encounter with the San Francisco Symphony in 1974, I was aware of the daring spirit of this Orchestra and this city,” said Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas . “That spirit has been very much at the center of our long and meaningful relationship. When you come into an orchestra, you sense the personal qualities in that orchestra. It takes a very special environment of people who have worked together and deeply trust one another to make music magical, and that is what has happened these last 25 years. This season is very much about celebrating the relationships we have built together.”
“There is such a special connection between Michael, the musicians, and our audience,” remarkedSakurako Fisher, President of the SF Symphony . “The SF Bay Area has embraced this creative partnership from the start, and, throughout his 25 years, has celebrated their shared spirit of individuality and inclusiveness. It’s been an extraordinary tenure that has transformed not just our Orchestra, but also the expectation of what our community wants our Orchestra to be. Together, they have made the San Francisco Symphony a place for the curious, for the thoughtful, and for the imaginative. Michael’s artistic and pioneering legacy serves to ensure an exciting future for the Orchestra.”
“With Michael, the SF Symphony has earned a reputation as an ensemble of risk takers who play with passion and absolute abandon,” said violinist Melissa Kleinbart, chair of the Orchestra’s Players’ Committee . “Over the past two decades, it has grown into an ensemble of musicians who approach each performance as an opportunity to create something magical, memorable, and meaningful, always willing to try to something completely new. The chemistry between Michael and the Orchestra is something intangible and, thanks to his visionary leadership and commitment to this organization, we have solidified our reputation as one of the leading orchestras in the world.”
“The warm and genuinely close relationship that Michael has not just with the members of the Orchestra but with our entire community is something unique and wonderful to see,” said Chief Executive Officer Mark C. Hanson . “Long-term relationships are deeply important to Michael, and the resulting journey of generous and adventurous music making has been our shared reward. The San Francisco Symphony has grown tremendously under his guidance and is only matched by his vision and enthusiasm for sharing the music with those around him.”
From his first season as Music Director in 1995, MTT and the SFS have boldly championed the work of American composers past and present by programming, commissioning, recording, and touring with compositions by seminal American voices. The 2019–20 season explores the rich history and vibrant future of American music through a wide variety of commissions and West Coast, US, and world premieres; an exploration of MTT’s work as a composer through performances and recordings; immersive SoundBox programs curated by three distinct American artists; and SFS Media releases of compositions by titans of American music.
Contemporary American Composers: Commissions, Premieres, and First Performances
September 19–22, Michael Tilson Thomas and the SF Symphony open their valedictory season with the world premiere of a new work by trailblazing American composer John Adams , co-commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony and Carnegie Hall. This marks the eighth time the SFS has commissioned a new work from Adams, whose relationship with the Orchestra spans nearly four decades. In March 2020, the Orchestra takes this new work on tour, performing its East Coast premiere at Carnegie Hall and its European premiere at London’s Royal Festival Hall in what will be MTT’s final tour as Music Director.
October 17–19, Principal Percussion Jacob Nissly and the SF Symphony give the world premiere of American composer Adam Schoenberg ’s Losing Earth . A percussion concerto expressly written for Schoenberg’s longtime friend Nissly and the San Francisco Symphony, this SFS commission is conducted by Cristian Măcelaru. January 9–12, Michael Tilson Thomas leads mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, and the SFS in the world premiere of his own composition, Rilke Songs , a musical setting of lyric poems by German modernist Rainer Maria Rilke. The following week (January 16–18), MTT leads the Orchestra in the West Coast premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Julia Wolfe ’s   Fountain of Youth , a San Francisco Symphony co-commission.
April 16–18, Teddy Abrams leads the SF Symphony in the West Coast premiere of Bay Area composer Mason Bates ’   World’s Greatest Synth . A vivid concerto for orchestra and animated film, this SFS co-commission is the creation of Mason Bates, sound designer and director Gary Rydstrom, and animator Jim Capobianco. MTT and the SFS have championed Bates’ works for more than a decade, evolving a partnership that has included multi-year commissioning, performing, recording, and touring projects. SFS Media’s album of Bates’ orchestral works—including the SFS-commissioned The B-Sides —was nominated for a 2017 Grammy Award, and the 2016 world premiere of his SFS-commissioned Auditorium marked the first time a major symphony orchestra webcast a world premiere to audiences around the globe using Facebook Live.
History’s Persistent Voice—presented in January 2020 by the San Francisco Symphony and soprano Julia Bullock as a part of her season-long residency—features original works written by seven American female composers. The program includes world premieres of four new works commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony from Rhiannon Giddens , Camille Norment , Cécile McLorin Salvant , and Pamela Z ; as well as the West Coast premiere of three compositions written in 2018: Tania León ’s Green Pastures , Allison Loggins-Hull ’s Mama’s Little Precious Thing, and Jessie Montgomery ’s Five Slave Songs.
In the 2019–20 season, the San Francisco Symphony gives the United States premiere of American composer and songwriter Aaron Zigman ’s  Tango Manos Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, and first SFS performances of works by four American composers: Wynton Marsalis ’ Violin Concerto,Jessie Montgomery ’s  Starburst , Steven Stucky ’s   Funeral Music for Queen Mary , and the West Coast premiere of Michael Tilson Thomas ’ Lope .
San Francisco Symphony has also announced a new co-commission from Chinese-born American composer Fang Man , as a part of the Women Composers Readings and Commissions program, an initiative of the League of American Orchestras, in partnership with American Composers Orchestra. San Francisco Symphony performance dates for Fang Man’s new work will be announced at a later date.
American Visionaries
May 22–24, Michael Tilson Thomas leads a program showcasing American composer and artistCarl Ruggles ’  Angels for muted brass,   and  Sun-treader , an orchestral work full of stark contrasts and uninhibited sound explorations. Since meeting the composer and becoming captivated with his music at age 26, MTT has been a leading champion of Ruggles’ work, performing and recording it throughout his career.
June 18–21, Michael Tilson Thomas conducts Three Hallucinations by John Corigliano —a suite from the landmark sensory-altering film Altered States . Also on the program, violinist Gil Shaham returns to San Francisco to perform American composer Samuel Barber ’s Violin Concerto; Barber’s music will also be featured April 16–18, when Teddy Abrams conducts the composer’s Second Essay for Orchestra.
Michael Tilson Thomas as Composer
The 2019–20 Season features performances of two compositions written by Michael Tilson Thomas: the world premiere of his song cycle Rilke Songs , a musical setting of lyric poems by German modernist Rainer Maria Rilke performed by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny; and the West Coast premiere of his orchestral work Lope , a playful work for chamber orchestra inspired by walking his dog.
An active composer throughout his career, Michael Tilson Thomas has given world premieres of many of his works with the San Francisco Symphony, including Agnegram , his 90th-birthday orchestral tribute to longtime San Francisco Symphony patron Agnes Albert; the first orchestral version of Three Songs to Poems by Walt Whitman; contrabassoon concerto Urban Legend , with SFS Contrabassoon Steven Braunstein; and his song cycle Poems of Emily Dickinson, with soprano Renée Fleming.
In June 2020, SFS Media will release an album of Michael Tilson Thomas’ compositions, recorded live in performances by the San Francisco Symphony.
American Voices Curate SoundBox
The 2019–20 Season of San Francisco Symphony’s experimental SoundBox series is curated by three unique American voices: Michael Tilson Thomas (December 6–7); composer and pianistMissy Mazzoli , who is currently Mead Composer-in-Residence of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (February 7–8); and soprano Julia Bullock , as a part of her season-long residency (April 24–25). Now entering its sixth season, SoundBox continues to push the envelope with eclectic programming and innovative design, providing unique multi-sensory experiences for culturally adventurous listeners. Programming for individual SoundBox programs, including new works and first performances, will be announced at a later date. SoundBox typically sells out in less than 10 minutes and has been widely recognized for its creative approach to the orchestral medium and its ability to galvanize a diverse demographic. Television segments about SoundBox have been aired by   PBS NewsHour ,   Associated Press ,   CBS This Morning , and  WIRED .
SFS Media Releases Celebrate the American Sound
Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony further celebrate the music of composers who have shaped the American musical landscape with three recording releases of American music on SFS Media, the Symphony’s Grammy Award-winning in-house record label. In fall 2019, SFS Media will release MTT and the SF Symphony’s live concert recordings of Charles Ives ’ Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 in hybrid SACD, as a digital download—including as high-resolution 24-bit download, and on all major streaming services. In spring 2020, SFS Media will release a digitally exclusive recording of Aaron Copland ’s Symphony No. 3. In June 2020, SFS Media will release an album of works composed by Michael Tilson Thomas and performed by the San Francisco Symphony in 2018–2020. The collection will feature live concert recordings of MTT’s  From the Diary of Anne Frank , narrated by mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard; Street Song  for Symphonic Brass; and Rilke Songs , sung by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny.
The expansive relationships Michael Tilson Thomas has formed with musical colleagues throughout his 25-year tenure at the helm of the San Francisco Symphony have made an indelible impact on the landscape of artists performing today. Together, MTT and the Orchestra have built a rich history of championing today’s great musicians and mentoring tomorrow’s stars. The 2019–20 season is studded with performances that exhibit connections and collaborations between like-minded creators, including unique artist residencies by three remarkable women—soprano Julia Bullock, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter; an array of the world’s greatest artists who have forged lasting artistic relationships with MTT over many years; notable debuts by musicians mentored and nurtured by MTT and the SFS; and virtuosic solo turns by San Francisco Symphony musicians.
Artist-in-Residence—Soprano Julia Bullock
Soprano Julia Bullock made her San Francisco Symphony debut in 2013, performing Bernstein’s achingly beautiful song “Somewhere,” in MTT and the SF Symphony’s Grammy Award-nominated semi-staged production of West Side Story . She returns in 2019–20 to curate and perform three concert programs that illuminate the distinct voices of literary, visual, and musical artists.
“I first met MTT when I was still a student at Juilliard, and he hired me to sing West Side Story ’s ‘Somewhere,’” recalls Julia Bullock. “This was my first introduction to performing with a major symphony orchestra. The character who sings ‘Somewhere’ is an anonymous girl who, despite not having a name, affirmingly calls out that she knows there is a place for her and for all people. In the years since that performance, I too have looked for my ‘place’ as an artist and have found a clearer vision for what I want to say and how to say it. To be invited back to San Francisco next season is very touching and personally meaningful.”
February 20–22, Bullock joins SF Symphony Music Director Designate Esa-Pekka Salonen to perform two poetic song cycles: Britten’s  Les Illuminations , based on hallucinatory verses by Arthur Rimbaud; and Ravel’s Three Poems of Stéphane Mallarmé, which evoke the Symbolist writer’s “mystery of somber abstractions.” In December 2018, Julia Bullock was announced as one of eight creative partners who will collaborate with Salonen and the Orchestra on an ongoing basis when he begins his tenure as SFS Music Director in September 2020.
April 24–25, Julia Bullock curates and performs a SoundBox program incorporating signature elements of the SoundBox experience, including performances by SF Symphony musicians, poetry readings, and immersive visual designs. The program pairs music by Nina Simone with klavier music by Bach and chants by Hildegard von Bingen; Blues songs for piano and voice with a solo violin piece by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson; and music by Josephine Baker with works by Poulenc, Honegger, and Milhaud.
In June 2020, the San Francisco Symphony presents a new iteration of History’s Persistent Voice, a program Bullock first developed during her residency at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Inspired by an exhibition of artwork and words penned by black American artists from the southeastern United States, the program incorporates traditional slave songs and new instrumental and vocal compositions performed by Julia Bullock and SFS musicians. The San Francisco Symphony presentation of History’s Persistent Voice includes new SFS commissions from Rhiannon Giddens, Camille Norment, Cécile McLorin Salvant, and Pamela Z, as well as West Coast premieres of works by Tania León, Allison Loggins-Hull, and Jessie Montgomery. More information about Julia Bullock’s artist residency will be available at a later date.
Julia Bullock explains: “I am deeply interested in artists who aim to have their voices liberated through their writing, and that is a shared thread through these three concert programs. From the poets Rimbaud and Mallarmé to the composers Britten and Ravel, to those who wrote blues and jazz, along with the contemporary pieces and new works we are commissioning, there is this amazing unleashing of individual voices. As an artist and classical singer, this concept resonates with me because I spend a lot of time trying to discipline and organize myself, but I think it’s very important to remember that one of the truest goals of music is to find expressive freedom.”
Artist-in-Residence—Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke
Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke has performed more than 14 works with MTT and the San Francisco Symphony over 10 years, including Mahler’s Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3, Das Lied von der Erde , Das klagende Lied , and Songs of a Wayfarer ; semi-staged productions of Beethoven’s Missa solemnisand Debussy’s Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien ; and performances of Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette that were released on the SFS Media record label. Her return in 2019–20 includes performing and curating three projects that illustrate her deep and artistically rich relationship with Michael Tilson Thomas, the SF Symphony, and audiences and residents of the Bay Area. January 9–12, Cooke performs the world premiere of Michael Tilson Thomas’ song cycle Rilke Songs , a musical setting of lyric poems by German modernist Rainer Maria Rilke, alongside selections from Mahler’s setting of German folk poems Des Knaben Wunderhorn .
“It’s incredibly special to perform songs written by Michael, particularly on a program that also includes songs by Mahler,” comments Sasha Cooke. Many people associate Mahler solely with his symphonies, and yet I believe that his songs may truly be the most extraordinary part of his work. Similarly, many people only think of Michael as a conductor and do not realize what a wonderful composer he is, especially for song. Mahler is one of Michael’s greatest loves, and I’ve been fortunate to have many wonderful experiences singing Mahler with Michael. When I approach Michael’s songs, I see a beautiful combination of simplicity and universality—both aspects that Mahler’s songs also represent to me.”
May 31, Sasha Cooke performs a solo and chamber music recital in Davies Symphony Hall that is specially designed for San Francisco audiences and reflects on Cooke’s more than 10-year journey performing with MTT and the SF Symphony. Further deepening her relationship with the city and people of San Francisco, Cooke’s residency will also incorporate a new educational project involving hands-on visits to San Francisco classrooms over the course of the school year where she will explore the relationship between literature and music with students. More information about Sasha Cooke’s artist residency will be available at a later date.
Sasha Cooke remarks: “An artist residency with the San Francisco Symphony feels like an even greater gift of artistic freedom than the one I’ve already experienced there over many years. For me the SFS has always represented an artistic home. Through this residency I hope to share different aspects of my artistic life and to deepen my relationship with the city and with Michael.”
Artist-in-Residence—Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter Celebrates Beethoven250
Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter made her San Francisco Symphony debut in 1988 and has returned to Davies Symphony Hall many times to perform with the Orchestra, and in solo and chamber recitals. In 1996, just the second season of Michael Tilson Thomas’ tenure as Music Director, Mutter traveled with the Orchestra on tour for its first ever European tour with MTT. Shortly after, in 1998, Mutter brought San Francisco audiences an acclaimed series of three solo recitals in two days, performing all 10 of Beethoven’s violin sonatas as a part of a multi-continent tour and recording project exploring the composer’s works for violin. Anne-Sophie Mutter returns to San Francisco in 2019–20 to perform three programs she has planned in celebration of the 250th birthday of music’s most iconic composer, Ludwig van Beethoven.
“I’m extremely excited to come back to San Francisco to perform three programs celebrating the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven,” comments Anne-Sophie Mutter. “These three totally different programs showcase Beethoven as a composer for the violin and also showcase the violin in different settings—trio, quartet, recital, and a concerto with orchestra. I hope that through these programs the audience will see Beethoven both as a young composer and as a more mature composer, and will understand both the incredible depth and honesty in his music as well as the shattering emotions this man was capable of transmitting.”
January 26, Anne-Sophie Mutter performs a solo recital of Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas Nos. 4, 5, and 9, alongside her longtime piano collaborator Lambert Orkis. January 27, Mutter joins violinist Ye-Un Choi, violist Vladimir Babesko, and cellist Daniel Mueller-Schott to perform a chamber recital featuring Beethoven’s String Trio in E-flat major and String Quartet in E-flat major, as well as the West Coast premiere of German composer Jörg Widmann’s new String Quartet No. 6, A Study on Beethoven . June 4–6, Mutter joins Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony to perform Beethoven’s only Violin Concerto, a work that Mutter has called “the greatest violin concerto in history.”
Anne-Sophie Mutter remarks: “Working with Michael is at once challenging and very exciting. He is an intelligent, intellectual, well informed, witty, demanding, and wonderful friend and musician colleague. Over several decades I’ve played almost all of the major violin repertoire with him, as well as a lot of contemporary music, and it has always been a tremendous thrill to see how much insight he brings to music.”
The World’s Greatest Artists Celebrate with Michael Tilson Thomas
Throughout his musical life, Michael Tilson Thomas has fostered relationships with many of today’s most celebrated musical voices, championing them through concert performances, recording projects, national and international tours, and unique collaborations. An array of these artists come to San Francisco to perform with MTT and the SF Symphony during his final season as Music Director, including pianists Emanuel Ax (Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2, January 16–19) and Yuja Wang (Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1, May 14–17); violinists Gil Shaham (Barber’s Violin Concerto, June 18–21) and Anne-Sophie Mutter (Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, June 4–6); and pianist Daniil Trifonov (Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 4, September 19–22), and cellistGautier Capuçon (Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto, Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 2, March 12–14), who will also accompany MTT and the Orchestra on tour throughout Europe in March–April 2020.
An ardent interpreter of vocal music, Michael Tilson Thomas has further defined his tenure as SFS Music Director with performances of memorable choral and vocal works, from opera to art song to musical theater. The 2019–20 season features some of MTT’s most treasured vocal collaborators, including tenor Nicholas Phan (Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms , September 26–28), mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and baritone Ryan McKinny (Michael Tilson Thomas’ Rilke Songs and selections from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn , January 9–12), and soprano Joélle Harvey and bass-baritone Dashon Burton (Brahms’ A German Requiem , May 22–24). MTT’s final season as SFS Music Director will be celebrated by two extraordinary events performed by the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus, and headlined by all-star vocal casts: semi-staged performances of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer ( The Flying Dutchman ) June 11–15, featuring sopranoCatherine Nagelstad , mezzo-soprano Sophie Koch , tenors Stuart Skelton and Ben Bliss , bass-baritone Greer Grimsley , and bass Albert Dohmen ; and Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 8,Symphony of a Thousand , June 25–28, featuring soprano Erin Wall , mezzo-sopranos Sophie Koch and Kelley O’Connor , bass-baritone Greer Grimsley, and others.
MTT’s Mentorship of Young Artists
One of the key elements of Michael Tilson Thomas’ musical life is pairing his work as a conductor and composer with a passion for mentoring young artists. This season shines a spotlight on several of these artists, all of whom are alumni of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra. A lifelong protégé of MTT and the San Francisco Symphony and former Conducting Fellow and Assistant Conductor at the New World Symphony, Teddy Abrams conducts his first SFS Orchestral Series concert week, April 16–18. Abrams currently holds positions as Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra and Music Director and Conductor of the Britt Festival. Currently a student at the Curtis Institute of Music, cellist Oliver Herbert returns to his San Francisco Symphony home to make his Orchestral Series concert debut performing Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1, September 26–28. A 2014 graduate of the SF Symphony Youth Orchestra, Herbert has since performed with the SF Symphony as soloist in the annual All San Francisco concert, and in a SoundBox program curated by MTT. For more than two decades, Michael Tilson Thomas and the SF Symphony have often leveraged the popular annual All San Francisco Community concerts as a showcase for bright young talent embarking on promising careers. This year’s concerts September 5 and 7 honoring local social service organizations will feature two alumnae of the SFS Youth Orchestra, violinistsHannah Tarley and Alina Ming Kobialka .
SFS Musicians in the Spotlight
During his 25-year tenure as Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas has overseen the appointment of more than half of the current members of the San Francisco Symphony, shaping the sound, energy, and vision of the Orchestra for decades to come. In recognition of the virtuosity of the SF Symphony orchestra members, the season features solo turns by both Principal Percussion Jacob Nissly and Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik as featured soloist in an Orchestral Series concert week. October 17–19, Jacob Nissly and the SF Symphony give the world premiere of American composer Adam Schoenberg’s Losing Earth , a percussion concerto commissioned by the SFS expressly for Nissly and the Orchestra. November 7–9, Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik—occupant of the Naoum Blinder Chair—performs J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Orchestra, led by early music specialist Ton Koopman.
Michael Tilson Thomas and the SF Symphony’s interpretations of core masterworks have been recognized globally for their nuance, mastery, and unique musical perspective. This is reflected in the incredible catalog of award-winning recordings on the SFS Media label, including the Mahler Recording Cycle—recipient of seven Grammy Awards—and several albums dedicated to the music of Beethoven. The 2019–20 season is anchored by many of the masterworks that have been instrumental in establishing the Orchestra’s international artistic reputation under MTT’s leadership, with performances both at home and abroad.
The season showcases MTT’s visionary Mahler interpretations, appropriately beginning with Mahler’s Sixth Symphony—the work that launched the Mahler Project in 2002 and won a Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance—and continuing with performances of selections from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn featuring mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, and the composer’s Ninth Symphony. In what promises to be the musical event of the year, Michael Tilson Thomas closes his remarkable 25-year tenure as Music Director with four performances of Mahler’s transcendent Symphony No. 8, Symphony of a Thousand featuring the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, directed by Ragnar Bohlin, sopranoz Erin Wall and Catherine Naglestad, mezzo-sopranos Sophie Koch and Kelley O’Connor, bass-baritone Greer Grimsley, and others.
In 2019–20, Michael Tilson Thomas and the SF Symphony join the global celebration of the 250th birthday of music’s most iconic composer— Beethoven . MTT conducts the SFS in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2, featuring pianist Emanuel Ax, and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter—whose season-long residency also includes a chamber recital featuring performances of Beethoven’s String Trio in E-flat major and String Quartet in E-flat major. Furthermore, the SF Symphony performs Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, conducted by Dima Slobodeniouk; Symphony No. 2, led by Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt; Symphony No. 5, conducted by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla;   and Overture to King Stephen , led by Music Director Designate Esa-Pekka Salonen. Other concerts honoring the composer’s birthday include all-Beethoven recitals by pianists Yefim Bronfman and Igor Levit.
On June 11, 13, and 15, 2020, MTT and the SF Symphony present a new semi-staged production ofWagner ’s maritime drama Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) . Since the first semi-staged performances of Bernstein’s On the Town in 1996, these unique productions featuring original lighting, set, and costume design have become an annual tradition for MTT and the SFS—a practice since adopted by many other orchestras. Notably, MTT and the SFS’s original semi-staged production of The Flying Dutchman in 2003, recognized by the San Francisco Chronicle for “its superb singing, its cohesive orchestral playing and its resourceful theatricality,” was the first to receive the generous support of the Barbro and Bernard Osher Staged Production Fund, which helps to fund semi-staged productions to this day. The June 2020 performances feature a world-class cast of vocalists including soprano Catherine Nagelstad as Senta, mezzo-soprano Sophie Koch as Mary, tenor Stuart Skelton as Erik, tenor Ben Bliss as Steuermann, bass-baritone Greer Grimsley in the title role, and bass Albert Dohmen as Daland, as well as the Grammy Award-winning San Francisco Symphony Chorus, directed by Ragnar Bohlin.
Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony are deeply committed to enriching and serving the vibrant cultural landscape of the Bay Area by providing compelling musical experiences that celebrate the diversity of its community. Throughout the season, the Orchestra performs a variety of free and low-cost family and community concerts, offering the Bay Area broad opportunities to hear and interact with orchestral music. The MTT/SFS partnership reflects and embodies the spirit of San Francisco—creative and pioneering in nature, embracing of all, and supportive of its community.
Opening Week
The 2019–20 season opening week festivities celebrate the San Francisco Symphony’s commitment to community engagement and music education, with proceeds benefiting the Symphony’s myriad artistic, education, and community programs. The 2019–20 season begins September 4 with the Opening Night Gala in honor of Michael Tilson Thomas & Joshua Robison . The evening’s festivities include four distinct elegant pre-concert dinners, the opening night performance by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, and an After-Party open to all ticketholders. Co-chaired by Nicole Lacob and Rachael Bowman, the 2019 Opening Night Gala promises to be a magnificent musical celebration of MTT’s 25th and final year as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony.
Opening week festivities continue with the All San Francisco Community Concerts on September 5 and 7, co-chaired by Andrea Martin and Selina Weiss. Also led by MTT and featuring former SFS Youth Orchestra violinists Alina Ming Kobialka and Hannah Tarley, these special performances honor local social service and neighborhood organizations, in recognition and gratitude for the work these groups do to enrich the lives of and serve the citizens of San Francisco. Invitations are extended to volunteers and employees from organizations such as La Casa de las Madres, Women’s Audio Mission, First Exposures, and the Justice & Diversity Center, among others. An annual tradition for nearly four decades, these concerts are an integral part of the SF Symphony’s opening week activities and embody the Symphony’s commitment to broadening access and celebrating community.
Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of SFS Education Programs
Providing young people with meaningful connections to orchestral music has always been at the core of the San Francisco Symphony’s mission to serve its greater community. Since the debut of the Children’s Concerts series in 1919, and through MTT’s visionary leadership, the SFS has expanded its commitment to music education for both children and adults, today offering one of the most comprehensive education programs of any orchestra in the world. Often singled out for both their equity and quality, the SF Symphony’s education programs have been described by the Wall Street Journal  as “the industry standard,” while  The New York Times  refers to the SFS as “a music education powerhouse.”
Under MTT’s visionary leadership, the Orchestra has built a leading commitment to music education through global media activities such as Keeping Score , award-winning music education web sites and community activities, expanding its involvement with San Francisco’s public school students, fostering many of the finest young musicians, and embracing access.
Throughout the Greater Bay Area and beyond, the SF Symphony provides unique opportunities for children and young adults to engage with classical music through programs like Music for Families(MFF) with concerts on December 14, conducted by Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, February 29, and a special performance featuring the SFS Youth Orchestra on April 4; Adventures in Music (AIM), which reaches every first through fifth grade student in the SFUSD;  Music and Mentors (MAM) for students in grades 6-12; Concerts for Kids (CFK); SFSKids.org —an interactive website designed to teach about music and music-making; and the prestigious SFS Youth Orchestra (SFSYO).
The SFS Youth Orchestra presents four concerts in the 2019–20 season, led by SFSYO alumnus and newly appointed Wattis Foundation Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, Daniel Stewart. Recognized internationally as one of the finest youth orchestras in the world and by the San Francisco Chronicle as “an ensemble that can play with the sweep and vigor of any of its more experienced adult counterparts,” the SFSYO provides a tuition-free orchestral experience of pre-professional caliber to talented young musicians from the greater Bay Area. Next season’s performances take place at Davies Symphony Hall on November 17, December 15, March 15, and May 10.
Learning opportunities for adults include the national Keeping Score PBS television series and multimedia project, launched by MTT and the SFS in 2004 to make classical music more accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, informative Inside Music pre-concert lectures and post-concert artist Q&A’s, Open Rehearsals, Program Note Podcasts, and archival lobby exhibits.
 SFS Co-Commission of World’s Greatest Synth : The Making of the Orchestra
Through groundbreaking education programs in schools and at Davies Symphony Hall, to innovative multimedia and web projects, the San Francisco Symphony provides an array of entry points for musical learning at all life stages. April 16–18, the SFS presents the West Coast premiere of World’s Greatest Synth, a new work co-commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony from composer Mason Bates. A cutting-edge exploration of the making of the symphony orchestra,World’s Greatest Synth is a vivid concerto for orchestra and animated film integrating music, visual art, and sound design. Imaginatively blending traditional and modern animation styles, the work zooms inside orchestral instruments to explore the connection between creativity and technology as instrument families within the orchestra come together in a spectacular illustration of unity through diversity. World’s Greatest Synth is a collaborative creation by Grammy Award-winning composer and DJ Mason Bates; seven-time Academy Award-winning sound designer and director Gary Rydstrom ( Finding Nemo , Titanic , Jurassic Park ); and Academy Award-nominated animator and writer Jim Capobianco ( Mary Poppins Returns; Finding Nemo; Monsters, Inc ).
Día de los Muertos
The Orchestra’s annual Día de los Muertos celebration, which takes place on November 2, is a multidimensional immersion in the vibrant cultural traditions of the Latin American Day of the Dead holiday. Each year these concerts come together through collaboration with various Bay Area Latin organizations and artists, which have included Casa Círculo Cultural, The Mexican Museum, and the Consulate General of Mexico in San Francisco.
Chinese New Year Concert and Banquet
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the SFS presents its annual Chinese New Year Concert and Banquet on February 1, co-chaired by Gorretti and Lawrence Lui. The event is an elegant and colorful celebration of the Lunar New Year, drawing upon vibrant Asian traditions, past and present. Festivities include a pre-concert Festival Reception open to all ticketholders and a performance of Eastern and Western repertoire by the Symphony. Tickets can be purchased separately for the glamorous Banquet, which follows the concert. Proceeds benefit the Symphony’s education and community programs.
SF Symphony at Frost, Presented by Stanford Live
The San Francisco Symphony recently announced a partnership with Stanford University to present an annual series of concerts in the newly-renovated Frost Amphitheater on the Stanford campus. The series—SF Symphony at Frost, Presented by Stanford Live—kicks off this summer with three performances, July 10, 13, and 14, 2019. San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas leads the SFS in the inaugural series concert on Wednesday, July 10—an all-Tchaikovsky concert featuring the composer’s Symphony No. 4 and Violin Concerto, performed by American violinist Gil Shaham. On Saturday, July 13 and Sunday, July 14, New Zealand-born conductor Gemma New leads the SF Symphony and Chorus in a program featuring Beethoven’s beloved Symphony No. 9.
“Our Orchestra has a great history at Frost and this series serves as a wonderful opportunity for the broader Bay Area community to, once again, enjoy our music under the sun and stars in this historic tree-lined bowl. We also hope our unique partnership will allow an even greater exchange of musical ideas through new creative and academic partnerships with Stanford as it continues to carry and lead in the balancing of the arts with the sciences,” said Symphony President and Stanford Alumna Sakurako Fisher.
2020 European Tour
Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony embark on their tenth and final European Tour together in March 2020, presenting sixteen concerts in eleven cities and bringing their signature and celebrated style to some of the greatest concert halls in Europe. Tour performance venues include New York’s Carnegie Hall, London’s Royal Festival Hall, Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, Berlin’s Philharmonie, Vienna’s Konzerthaus, Munich’s Kulturzentrum, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Atwerp’s Koningin Elisabethzaal, Luzembourg’s Philharmonie, Lyon’s Auditorium de Lyon, and Paris’ Philharmonie. Tour repertoire includes Mahler’s Symphonies Nos. 6 and 9; Stravinsky’s The Firebird ; Michael Tilson Thomas’ Lope ; a new work by John Adams, co-commissioned by the SFS and Carnegie Hall; Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 2 and Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1 featuring cellist Gautier Capuçon; and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 4 featuring pianist Daniil Trifonov.
Bay Area audiences have the opportunity to enjoy the tour repertoire performed in concerts at Davies Symphony Hall throughout the 2019–20 season, including Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 September 12–15 and March 6, John Adams’ New Work September 19–21 & March 6, Stravinsky’sThe Firebird and Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 2 March 12–14, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 in a special concert at UC Davis’ Mondavi Center March 7.
Since his 1974 debut conducting Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas has built a legacy of ARTISTIC EXCELLENCE at the helm of the San Francisco Symphony. Michael Tilson Thomas’ signature interpretations and recordings of core masterworks by composers such as Mahler, Beethoven, and Schumann have been recognized globally for their nuance, mastery, and unique musical perspective.
A native Californian, Michael Tilson Thomas has led the San Francisco Symphony in two decades of showcasing the path-breaking artistic work of AMERICAN MAVERICKS where he has championed music by pioneers of the American sound such as Charles Ives, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Carl Ruggles, John Cage, Henry Cowell, Aaron Copland, Lou Harrison, Henry Brant, Morton Feldman, Edgard Varèse, and Lukas Foss, among others. In 2000 and 2012, MTT and the SFS broke new ground with the far-reaching American Mavericks Festivals, featuring concerts dedicated to these composers, as well as educational partnerships, experiential learning, recordings, a national concert tour, and a host of new media tools to allow for a deeper understanding of this music.
Since his appointment as SFS Music Director in 1995, Michael Tilson Thomas has represented unwavering commitment to championing NEW AND UNFAMILIAR WORKS with the Orchestra. Under his artistic leadership they have established and maintained commissioning relationships with composers such as John Adams, Robin Holloway, Meredith Monk, Steve Reich, and Charles Wuorinen, and formed new bonds with young composers such as Samuel Adams, Mason Bates, and Ted Hearne. In addition to commissioning and performing dozens of new compositions by this era’s most important musical voices, Tilson Thomas has led the Orchestra to champion these new works by taking them on national and international tours, and recording and releasing them on the Orchestra’s in-house record label, ensuring their exposure and life beyond their local premiere. In 2012, in partnership with the publisher Boosey & Hawkes and the New World Symphony, MTT and the SFS established the New Voices program to seek out and promote the work of new composing talents. The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers recognized the Symphony’s commitment to innovative programming with eight awards since 2000.
Michael Tilson Thomas’ creative reimagining of the CONCERT EXPERIENCE has brought cutting-edge original staging to works of the symphonic and operatic repertory. Since 1996, he has conceived acclaimed semi-staged productions ranging from operas such as The Flying Dutchman ,Peter Grimes , and Boris Godunov , to works of musical theater like West Side Story and On the Town , to bold stagings of concert works such as Missa solemnis . Further pushing the boundaries of traditional orchestral performances, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony opened SoundBox in 2014, presenting evenings of eclectic musical exploration to culturally adventurous listeners in a club-like environment. A resounding cultural and critical success, SoundBox has broadened the classical music experience.
Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony’s award-winning MEDIA catalogue began in 1996 with a debut live recording with the Orchestra, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet on RCA Red Seal. It was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance, and several years later Tilson Thomas and the Orchestra won three 1999 Grammy Awards for their all-Stravinsky recording. In 2001, the San Francisco Symphony under Tilson Thomas became the first US orchestra to successfully launch its own audio/video recording label, introducing SFS Media with a renowned Mahler cycle that encompasses all of the composer’s symphonies and major song cycles. The label has gone on to offer recordings of many other major works, including those of Beethoven, Ives, and John Adams, as well as a compilation of American maverick composers and a complete West Side Story . In all there have been 55 SFS Media releases to date. They have captured eight Grammy Awards as well as such honors as France’s Diapason d’Or and Germany’s Echo Klassik and Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik awards. MTT’s unique ability to communicate the joys and context of symphonic music led to the creation of Keeping Score , a multi-year, multi-tier program (inaugurated in 2004) to bring music to tens of millions of Americans through national radio and television programs, DVDs, in-school education programs, and a website that enables visitors to delve deeply into the music, at their own pace.
Guided by Michael Tilson Thomas’ lifelong commitment to music EDUCATION , the San Francisco Symphony has significantly expanded its education and community programs to reach more than 100,000 children, students, educators, and families annually. Its Adventures in Music program now ensures that every child in grades 1–5 in San Francisco’s public elementary schools receives free and equitable access to music education for five consecutive years; after which the Symphony’s training programs for young adults nurture the next generation of musicians and citizens, from amateurs to scholars of the highest pre-professional level. Under Tilson Thomas’ leadership, the San Francisco Symphony’s music education program has grown to be among the most comprehensive of its kind.
Michael Tilson Thomas’ many HONORS AND MILESTONES include the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the US government, presented by President Barack Obama in 2010, Columbia University’s Ditson Award for Services to American Music, and the President’s Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He was named Musician of the Year and Conductor of the Year by Musical America , Gramophone ’s Artist of the Year, and inducted into the magazine’s Hall of Fame. Tilson Thomas has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres of France. During the 2019–20 season, his 25th, Tilson Thomas celebrates his 75th birthday as well as the 50th anniversary of his relationship with the London Symphony Orchestra, where he served as Principal Conductor and is now Conductor Laureate. 2017 marked the 30th anniversary of the New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy, which MTT co-founded and continues to lead as Artistic Director. To date, the San Francisco Symphony has awarded 18 graduates of this program permanent positions in the Orchestra.
Music Director Designate Esa-Pekka Salonen
San Francisco Symphony Music Director Designate Esa-Pekka Salonen leads two weeks of concerts in the 2019–20 Season, before beginning his tenure as the Orchestra’s 12th Music Director in September 2020. One of the most influential and creative forces in music, Salonen has, through his many high-profile conducting roles, work as a leading composer, and as an advocate for accessibility and diverse musical voices, shaped a unique vision for the present and future of the symphony orchestra.
Salonen’s SF Symphony concerts February 20–22 feature Britten’s Les Illuminations  and Ravel’s Three Poems of Stéphane Mallarmé with soprano Julia Bullock, Stucky’s  Funeral Music for Queen Mary , and Ravel’s  Ma Mère l’Oye  ( Mother Goose ). Concerts February 27–29 feature Esa-Pekka Salonen’s own Violin Concerto with Leila Josefowicz, Beethoven’s Overture to  King Stephen , and Nielsen’s Symphony No. 5.
Guest Conductors & Soloists in Guest Weeks
San Francisco Symphony subscription concerts are led by an array of international guest conductors and feature guest artists from around the world, some returning to Davies Symphony Hall and some making their SFS subscription debuts. Conductors returning to lead the San Francisco Symphony include Marek Janowski, Cristian Măcelaru, Ton Koopman, Manfred Honeck, Teddy Abrams, Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, James Gaffigan, Edward Gardner, and Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt. Making their SFS conducting debuts are Karina Canellakis, Antonio Pappano, Dima Slobodeniouk, Fabien Gabel, and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla.
Soloists returning to perform with the San Francisco Symphony in concerts led by guest conductors include pianists Lang Lang, Leif Ove Andsnes, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet; violinists Gidon Kremer, Nicola Benedetti, Sergey Khachatryan, and Leila Josefowicz; and vocalists Julia Bullock, Lauren Snouffer, Stuart Skelton, and Ain Anger. Remarkable artists making their SF Symphony debuts include pianists Gabriela Montero performing Tchaikovksy’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Alexander Gavrylyuk performing Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1; violinist María Dueñas performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto; countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen in Handel’sMessiah ; and soprano Emily Magee singing the role of Sieglinde in Act I from Wagner’s Die Walküre .
The 2019–20 Film Series, which features the San Francisco Symphony performing film scores live as the movies are projected on a large screen above the stage, includes Lee Unkrich’s Academy Award-winning Coco with music by Michael Giacchino, Ivan Reitman’s original Ghostbusters , Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life featuring Dimitri Tiomkin’s timeless score, and Ron Howard’s Academy Award-winning drama Apollo 13 . In addition, the SFS presents one performance of Jordan Peele’s 2017 horror film Get Out , winner of an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
San Francisco Symphony Chorus
One of America’s most distinguished choruses, the 150-member San Francisco Symphony Chorus is known for its precision, power, and versatility. Led by Director Ragnar Bohlin , the SFS Chorus is featured next season in a variety of concert programs, including performances of Stravinsky’sCanticum sacrum and Symphony of Psalms , Handel’s Messiah , Brahms’ A German Requiem , Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, and a semi-staged production of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) .
Great Performers Series & Special Presentations
Continuing its longstanding tradition of hosting a diverse range of world-class artists and orchestras, the San Francisco Symphony presents concerts by visiting orchestras new to Davies Symphony Hall, including the Siberian State Symphony Orchestra led by Vladimir Lande and featuring violinist Pavel Milyukov, Chineke! Orchestra with conductor Kevin John Edusei and pianist Stewart Goodyear, and Metropole Orkest with songwriter Randy Newman. Returning to Davies Hall, violinist Joshua Bell leads and performs with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and world-renowned pianists Yefim Bronfman and Igor Levit perform all-Beethoven recital programs. Also presenting recitals during the 2019–20 season are pianists Yuja Wang, Murray Perahia, Hélène Grimaud, and Chick Corea; flutist Sir James Galway; mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke; cellist Gautier Capuçon; and violinists Ray Chen and Anne-Sophie Mutter—whose season-long residency also includes a quartet chamber performance with violinist Ye-Eun Choi, violist Vladimir Babesko, and cellist Daniel Mueller-Schott.
Subscription packages for the San Francisco Symphony’s 2019–20 season go on sale  TUESDAY, March 12 at 10 am  at   www.sfsymphony.org/MTT25 , (415) 864-6000, and at the Davies Symphony Hall Box Office, located on Grove Street between Franklin and Van Ness. For additional details and questions visit  www.sfsymphony.org/MTT25 .
For a limited time, patrons have the option to get 2 additional DSH concerts free when buying a Davies Symphony Hall 6-concert or more subscription package; 3 additional DSH concerts free when buying a 12-concert or more package; or 3 additional DSH concerts, an additional seat upgrade, and 2 complimentary drink vouchers when subscribing to 18 or more concerts. Offer ends April 12, 2019 .
Single tickets for individual 2019–20 concerts will go on sale July 22, 2019.

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