When the San Francisco Symphony celebrates its centennial this year, it will be a season to remember. An ambitious eleven months of concerts, programs, and events, as well as expanded education programs and media initiatives, will invite the entire region to join in on the festivities. The season will also accentuate the vibrant role of the American orchestra in our communities, in part by welcoming six other major American orchestras to our stage.
“In marking the orchestra’s first hundred years, this season is the moment to define what this orchestra will be for its next hundred,” said John Goldman, president of the SFS. “We celebrate the role our Symphony plays, not just in the lives of those who enjoy our distinctive brand of music-making here at home, but in sharing this great art form with the world and in celebrating its impact on all of our communities.”
The first performance of the San Francisco Orchestra, as it was originally called, took place Dec. 8, 1911, and featured works by Wagner, Haydn, and Tchaikovsky. Fourteen hundred people attended the inaugural concert, with 61 musicians performing and $220,000 in donations collected from 2,400 community members. Today, the SFS has 104 musicians, an annual operating budget of $65 million, a $230 million endowment, and an unusually active and dedicated board of directors with deep philanthropic ties to the city.
To celebrate the SFS’s history, its emergence as a major American orchestra, and its unique spirit, Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas will present a revival of the orchestra’s groundbreaking American Mavericks Festival in March 2012. It will include commissioned world premieres by John Adams and Mason Bates and appearances by soprano Jessye Norman, vocalist and composer Meredith Monk, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, and pianists Emanuel Ax and Jeremy Denk. Thomas and the orchestra will also celebrate the musical roots and heritage of San Francisco in May 2012 with a week of semi-staged concerts of music from the Gold Rush era, titled “Barbary Coast and Beyond.”
“When we started planning this four years ago, we settled on a few general principles,” said Brent Assink, executive director of the SFS. “We wanted there to be an ‘only in San Francisco’ aspect—that gives us things like ‘Mavericks’ and the Barbary Coast concert. But we also noticed that other orchestras, when they hit a big milestone, would often leave home—maybe go on a big tour. And we didn’t understand that. Who is more interested in our 100th season than the audiences at home? So we decided that when you have a major birthday, you invite your friends over.”
Six major American orchestras will be extending their birthday wishes in person, with the orchestras of New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Philadelphia participating in an unprecedented series of two-concert residencies in Davies Symphony Hall during the centennial season. Each orchestra will bring its own commissioned works by composers including Thomas Ades, Magnus Lindberg, and Elliot Carter. In addition to the two-concert programs, the board and staff of each visiting orchestra will also participate in public discussions about the role of symphony orchestras in contemporary life.
Former music directors Edo de Waart and Herbert Blomstedt will return to the podium for concerts, and special Living Heritage media projects include a definitive book on the SFS’s history, a one-hour documentary film, and a media-rich interactive website that delves into the SFS’s digital audio and video archives. Expanded music education programs that mark the centennial season include comprehensive support for every San Francisco public middle school and high school with an instrumental music program, providing music education not just for elementary school students, but also students in grades 6–12 in San Francisco public schools; the formation of a new Community of Music Makers Program to foster amateur music-making for SFS concertgoers, with the creation of an amateur orchestra and chorus that will perform in Davies Hall; and a partnership with the University of California at Irvine’s Center for Computer Games and Virtual Worlds to develop a new interactive children’s music website utilizing the latest in gaming technology for SFSkids.org.