SF Symphony Youth Orchestra
The SF Symphony Youth Orchestra up close | Credit: Jed Jacobsohn

The San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra’s 2023–2024 season, which will feature five concerts conducted by Wattis Foundation Music Director Daniel Stewart, opens on Nov. 19 in Davies Symphony Hall with a program of 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century works.

The most recent, Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Metacosmos, represents the youth orchestra’s traditional inclusion of contemporary works in its repertoire and qualifies the concert as part of this month’s California Festival. Also on the program: Richard Wagner’s “Prelude and Liebestod” from Tristan and Isolde and Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.

Anna Thorvaldsdottir
Anna Thorvaldsdottir | Credit: Anna Maggy

In a program note, Thorvaldsdottir writes about her work:

“The idea and inspiration behind the piece, which is connected as much to the human experience as to the universe, is the speculative metaphor of falling into a black hole — the unknown — with endless constellations and layers of opposing forces connecting and communicating with each other, expanding and contracting, projecting a struggle for power as the different sources pull on you and you realize that you are being drawn into a force that is beyond your control.”

Reviewing the work’s world premiere, Anthony Tommasini wrote in The New York Times that the composer promises “a journey to this realm, where we are drawn by a force beyond our control, amid a power struggle ‘between chaos and beauty.’ That description suggested amorphous music. But I was captivated by the intricacy of the sounds and colors. Ms. Thorvaldsdottir did indeed take us on a dark journey, episodic yet clear.”

The SF Symphony Youth Orchestra will host the Bay Area Youth Orchestra Festival on Jan. 14, 2024, featuring four other local youth ensembles: the California Youth Symphony, Golden State Youth Orchestra, Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra, and Young People’s Symphony Orchestra.

Each orchestra takes a turn onstage, and the concert concludes with a performance by the Festival Orchestra, comprised of musicians selected from all five ensembles. Proceeds from the festival are donated to charitable organizations that support homeless and underserved youth in each orchestra’s local community.

The rest of the SFSYO season:

On Dec. 10, there’s the annual holiday performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, with guest narrator Tom Kenny, an actor best known for voicing the title character on Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants. The program opens with Leroy Anderson’s A Christmas Festival, followed by selections from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite.

— On March 17, 2024, Hiro Yoshimura is the soloist in Alexander Glazunov’s Violin Concerto. Yoshimura, 17, a senior at Cupertino High School, is the winner of the 2023 SFSYO Concerto Competition. The program opens with Felix Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides Overture and includes Arvo Pärt’s Fratres and the Second Suite from Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé.

— And on May 19, 2024, SFSYO plays Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.

Brass and woodwind sections
SFSYO brass and woodwind sections | Credit: Jed Jacobsohn

The youth orchestra, founded in 1981 by Edo de Waart and Jahja Ling, is now twice as old as its members, some 100 musicians ranging in age from 12 to 21, representing communities from across the Bay Area.

SFSYO provides a tuition-free orchestral experience, with weekly rehearsals, coaching by SFS musicians, and national and international tours which have been hailed by audiences and critics. Alumni of the orchestra are soloists and principal members of ensembles around the world.

A former member of the youth orchestra told SF Classical Voice:

“SFSYO is like a taste of what it takes to be a professional orchestral musician. You get to hang out and rehearse in Davies every week. You’re working closely with members of the SF Symphony, and not just those who play your same instrument.

“If a guest conductor who’s in town has the time, they might even lead part of a rehearsal one weekend. Not many youth orchestras — or college orchestras, for that matter — offer that level of immersion, and I feel lucky to have gotten the chance to experience it.”