Esa-Pekka Salonen
Esa-Pekka Salonen returns/begins his first season as SF Symphony music director | Credit: Andrew Eccles

San Francisco, open your Davies Hall
You’ll let no stranger wait outside your door
San Francisco, here is your wanderin’ one
Saying I’ll wander no more.

After 14 excruciatingly long months of pandemic shutdown, San Francisco Symphony is reopening Davies Hall ... if all goes well.

The announcement is of the return to live concerts in Davies Symphony Hall, May 6 – June 25, just catching the end of the season that wasn’t.

The long-awaited announcement today does not mention contingencies, but if there is one thing we learned about COVID-19 it is that plans don’t equal outcomes. So, the Symphony’s press release notes, “To maximize the ability to respond to changing conditions, programming for the May 27 and 28 and June 3 and 4 concerts will be announced on May 10, and programming for the remainder of the June concerts will be announced on May 24. Performance schedule for July and August 2021 will be announced the first week June.”

Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the SF Symphony in live indoor performances for medical professionals and community partners May 6 and 7 in a program featuring Sibelius’s Rakastava, George Walker’s Lyric for Strings, Carl Nielsen’s Little Suite for Strings, Caroline Shaw’s Entr’acte, and Grieg’s From Holberg’s Time Suite. Tickets have been given free of charge, and are not available for sale.

A SFS spokesperson explained: “We are reaching out to first responders and community groups with which we have existing relationships, such as UCSF. SFS has been partnering with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital for several years now (one of the prominent programs being Music in the Wards, which features SF Symphony ensembles visiting the hospital monthly to perform for patients, nurses, and hospital staff). Another example is the SF-Marin Food Bank which we partnered with during Throughline, and sent groups of volunteers there over the years.”

Tickets go on sale May 6 for seven additional concert sets led by Salonen, Jeremy Denk, James Gaffigan, Ken-David Masur, Joseph Young, and Joshua Weilerstein.

Joseph Young
Berkeley Symphony Music Director Joseph Young will conduct SF Symphony as the orchestra returns to Davies Hall | Credit: David S. Weiland

These concerts will require proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test for all patrons, musicians, staff, and volunteers as well as universal mask wearing. There will be significantly reduced concert hall capacity, contactless tickets, assigned seats that maximize physical distancing, 75-minute performances without intermission, increased ventilation and filtration standards, social distancing requirements, and other safety measures in place. Read more about it at the SFS safety-protocol portal.

Performances take place each Thursday and Friday, beginning at 7 p.m. throughout May and June, 2021. Tickets may be purchased by calling the SF Symphony Box Office at (415) 864-6000 starting May 6.

“Esa-Pekka and I are overjoyed to be announcing the San Francisco Symphony’s long-awaited return to performing live concerts in our home, Davies Symphony Hall,” said CEO Mark C. Hanson.

“When we recently learned from State and City leadership that we could finally begin giving concerts for live audiences again, we immediately got to work on the plan being announced today that will gather our musicians and audience together in response to what our community wants and needs.

“There is nothing that compares to experiencing music together in a physical space, and after 14 months without sharing these human connections with each other, we simply cannot wait to resume performing for our community on the stage of Davies Symphony Hall.”Salonen himself commented, “A friend recently said to me, ‘We just need to start.’ I feel joy and relief at finally being able to do just that with the San Francisco Symphony. We go into these concerts having worked as a unit to bring music into your homes in unique and meaningful ways this year. We now welcome audiences into our home—something we didn’t realize we had taken for granted. Let’s get started, together.”

Jeremy Denk plays and leads the orchestra at SF Symphony’s May 13–14 concerts in Davies Hall | Credit: SF Conservatory of Music

After the inaugural concerts for the selected audience, the following week, on May 13 and 14, pianist Jeremy Denk leads the SF Symphony from the piano, in William Grant Still’s Out of the Silence; Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, BWV 1052; Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flat Major, K.449; and Gerald Finzi’s Eclogue for Piano and Strings.

On May 20 and 21, James Gaffigan conducts the orchestra in the U.S. premiere of Freya Waley-Cohen’s Talisman, Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

Programs are yet to be announced for the following concerts:

– May 27–28, Ken-David Masur conducting
– June 3–4, Joseph Young conducting
– June 10–11, Joshua Weilerstein conducting
– June 17–18, Salonen conducting
– June 24-25, Salonen conducting