Sound Culture

In San Francisco, a season buzzes with more excitement and anticipation than the winter holidays. The 88th season of the San Francisco Opera and the 99th season of the San Francisco Symphony are in full swing, with passionate operatic arias and bone-rattling symphonic sounds reaching every corner of the historic War Memorial Opera House and monumental Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall every week until July.

One of the world’s most immaculate ensembles, the San Francisco Symphony performs more than 220 concerts annually for an audience of nearly 600,000. The Symphony’s music selections often reflect a true San Franciscan’s fondness of high culture and sophisticated, ahead-of-time compositions. This season is no exception. According to the organization, the 99th season features a “trademark blend of adventurous programs, residences by acclaimed artists and composers, international tours of Europe’s most prestigious festivals and musical capitals, and award-winning media and education projects.”

All that jazz kicked off with the much-talked-about galas this first week of September—the true season openers to the sights, sounds, crowds, and excitement.  In his 16th season, music director Michael Tilson Thomas leads the orchestra in 17 weeks of concerts at home and abroad. The silver-haired music maverick, known to pull out all the stops to keep classical music alive, will highlight Mahler and Beethoven as well as feature SF symphony musicians as soloists. The week of September 22, English hornist Russ deLuna and principal trumpet player Mark Inouye are featured in Copland’s Quiet City, and principal clarinetist Carey Bell is the soloist the week of September 29 in Debussy’s Premiere Rapsodie. And in the second week of October, principal bassoonist Stephen Paulson performs with the orchestra in Villa-Lobos’ Ciranda das sete notas.

SFS attracts a more mainstream crowd this November as contemporary pop icon and singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright and the SF Orchestra perform the world premiere of Five Shakespeare Sonnets for three nights. In December, the SFS brings in long-time Bay resident and renowned American composer John Adams and celebrated pianist Yuja Wang during Project San Francisco, the Symphony’s annual collaboration with the world’s leading composers and musicians.

And if the days following Thanksgiving didn’t jolt you into the holiday spirit, Adams will when he conducts the SFS in three performances of the multilingual Nativity oratorio, El Nino, on December 2-4. The Symphony stirs more holiday magic for the city with pop artist Liza Minnelli performing holiday favorites December 5 with her sextet and performances of Mariachi Sol De Mexico, Handel’s Messiah and ‘Twas the Night, a concert of Christmas carols and holiday sing-alongs. And singers Peabo Bryson, Stephanie Mills, Be Vereen, and Oleta Adams perform at the Colors of Christmas concerts December 13-15.

Other conductors and artists who will grace the stage this season include Pablo Heras-Casado, Ton Koopman, Kirill Karabits, Carlos Kalmar, James Conlon, Kurt Masur, Joshua Bell, Hélène Grimaud, Anne Sofie von Otter, and Leonidas Kavakos.

And for those who missed out on the sizzling festivities of the season-opening galas, the SFS’s annual Chinese New Year concert and celebration are set for January 30, which include a lively show complete with a special dinner and festival reception. Tickets are available at 415.503.5500.