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California Symphony Continues to Score Big in 2019–2020

May 14, 2019

One of the big stories out of the Bay Area is the continuing surge of the California Symphony past its artistic and budgetary goals. That story continues in the 2019–2020 season as the orchestra expands its performances to two per set. And SFCV hears, since the last subscription concert in early May, that season renewals and new subscriptions are running 30 percent ahead of where they were at the same time last year. You hesitate to say, with any orchestra’s success, that “this is the way to do it,” since circumstances of different ensembles vary widely. Nevertheless, the orchestra has made a few waves in a normally staid industry.

The 2019–2020 schedule has a major warhorse anchoring every concert, but what is interesting is how the rest of the program is worked out. Take the season opener, Sept. 14–15, which pairs Beethoven’s Fifth, a work that is famous even beyond classical music circles, with Gabriela Lena Frank’s La Centinela y la Paloma (The keeper and the dove) and Mahler’s five Rückert-Lieder. The Nov. 16–17 concerts pair Joseph Haydn’s Symphony 104 with Kevin Puts’s Flute Concerto (soloist Annie Wu), a work that was commissioned during the Puts’s time as composer-in-residence at California Symphony, in 1993–1996.

Feb. 1–2, 2020, is Brahms weekend, with Alina Kobialka (violin) and Oliver Herbert (cello) playing the Double Concerto. Music Director Donato Cabrera worked with both these young soloists when they were San Francisco Youth Symphony members during Cabrera’s tenure as the group’s conductor. The Third Symphony in F Major is the other big work on that concert.

On the March 14–15 concerts, the orchestra’s current composer-in-residence, Katherine Balch, is scheduled to offer the world premiere of Cantata for Orchestra and Three Voices, which is going up against Tchaikovsky’s evergreen Symphony No. 5. Avery Fisher Career Grant winner Alexi Kenney returns to the Bay Area to play Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on May 23–24. Also on the set will be Arvo Pärt’s beautiful Fratres (1977), Steve Reich’s Duet for Two Violins and Strings (1993), and the orchestral version of George Walker’s Lyric. That’s a lot of boundary pushing for an orchestra that was supposed to be sticking to the classics.

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.