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S.F. Symphony’s Next Season Promises a Coronation and a Bernstein Celebration

March 6, 2017

Having relished Michael Tilson Thomas’s big season finales over the 22 years of his tenure, I went right to the end of the list when San Francisco Symphony released plans for its next season. Bingo! 

MTT, whose concert and semistaged performances of operas — The Flying Dutchman, Peter Grimes, Fidelio, etc. — were critical and popular successes, will present the original 1869 version of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, June 15–18, 2018, with Russian principal singers making their San Francisco debuts, including Stanislav Trofimov in the title role. (San Francisco Opera's last production, in 2008, was also the original version; it had Samuel Ramey in the title role.)

Then, for good measure, the June 28–30 final concerts of the season will feature “San Francisco’s favorite composer,” Gustav Mahler, with the grandest-of-the-grand Symphony No. 3, featuring mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke as soloist.

There are a number of new, unusual, grand, and “it’s about time” programs among the more than 200 concerts the 106-year-old orchestra will present during the 11-month-long season.

The gala opening on Sept. 14, 2017, is unusual in featuring guest star Yo-Yo Ma in two substantial works, rather than just making a brief appearance. He will be the soloist in the Saint-Saens Cello Concerto No. 1 and the Tchaikovsky Variations on a Rococo Theme. The concert — and so the season — opens, significantly, with the overture to Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, the first of numerous works by MTT’s mentor, whose 100th birthday (Aug. 25, 1918) will be celebrated around the world.

Some of the other works by Bernstein (why not his Mass?) in the calendar include Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs; Chichester Psalms; Arias and Barcarolles; and Symphonic Dances from West Side Story at all-Bernstein concerts, Sept. 22–24, 2017. Further into the season will be his Symphony No. 2 (The Age of Anxiety), Nov. 2–3, 5, 2017; Candide in a concert version, Jan. 18–21, 2018; the film version of West Side Story, Feb. 1–3, 2018; Divertimento and Serenade, Feb. 22–24, 2018.

MTT favorite Charles Ives will be represented by his Symphonies No. 3 (Nov. 16–18, 2017) and 4 (Nov. 10–12, 2018, on the same program with Ives’s Psalm 90). These performances will be recorded for a CD to be released in the following season. MTT says of Ives:

At its core, his music is an expression of the heart and soul of America. The complexity of Ives’s rhythmic and harmonic ideas was very much ahead of his time, and, even as he was often labeled eccentric by his peers, he created a uniquely American sound. My aim with these programs is to reveal the true essence of Ives’s music in order to allow the audience to see America through his eyes.

There will be more contemporary music performances than in recent seasons, featuring a commissioned world premiere by Charles Wuorinen (March 15–17, 2018), Joshua Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields playing a new work by Edgar Meyer (March 11, 2018), and first SFS performances of works by Andrew Norman, Brett Dean, Guillaume Connesson, and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Also scheduled are rarely performed works by Dvorák, Mozart, Sergei Taneyev, and Wilhelm Stenhammar.

Among chamber-music concerts, of special interest is the joint appearance of Itzhak Perlman and Martha Argerich on March 16, 2018. Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov will be in a season-long residency including a solo recital, duo recital with Sergei Babayan, and as soloist in Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with MTT and the SFS.

The orchestra will tour the West Coast next season, with performances in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Costa Mesa with violinist Gil Shaham in March 2018. Visitors to Davies Hall include the Royal Philharmonic (Charles Dutoit conducting, with cellist Gautier Capuçon) and the Israel Philharmonic (Zubin Mehta conducting); Bach Collegium Japan, pianists Yuja Wang, Yefim Bronfman, and András Schiff; violinist Christian Tetzlaff.

No current figures are available for Symphony finances, but for the 2015–2016 season the total operating budget was $76 million, with a deficit of $3.4 million. In answer to a question whether there are further changes contemplated in education programs, an SFS spokesperson said “not at this time.” 

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].