S.F. Symphony plans a long, varied season 

For the San Francisco Symphony's 96th season, Michael Tilson Thomas — music director for 13 years — is trying to cover the range from the conventional to the new and unusual, with a rather heavy emphasis on the former. There will be Mozart (15 works) and Beethoven (30 — András Schiff's two-year Beethoven piano sonata cycle is responsible for that high number), and a summer Brahms festival, but also 13 works new to San Francisco. 

The most exciting news is of the West Coast premiere of Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg's yet-unnamed work, co-commissioned by San Francisco and the Berlin Philharmonic. Linderg and Los Angeles Philharmonic's Esa-Pekka Salonen are founders of the important experimental group, the Toimii Ensemble.

Other San Francisco premieres range from Martinu's unfinished Concerto for Two Pianos and String Orchestra, Op. 133, to Chen Yi's 2005 "Si Ji" (Four Seasons). Not new music, although new to the orchestra, is Ives' 1924 Psalm 90, and Barber's 1962 "Andromache's Farewell."

So, although Monday's Symphony announcement of the 2007-'08 season speaks of the orchestra's "long tradition of affirming the importance of showcasing new, rarely performed, and commissioned works," the lopsided majority of the season is still of familiar classical and romantic works.

In fact, however, the season-opening gala, on Sept. 19, presents an untraditionally challenging mix of glamour and newish music, with Renée Fleming featured in Ravel's "Shéhérazade" and yet-to-selected arias, along with the all-too-familiar suite from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet," but adding John Adams' "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" and an "undiscovered masterpiece," Ruth Crawford Seeger's "Andante for Strings." (She was Pete Seeger's stepmother, lived from 1901 to  1953.)

(Courtesy photo) Renée Fleming

Guest conductors will also carry the torch for the new: Vladimir Ashkenazy leads the first Davies Hall performances of Rautavaara's "Manhattan Trilogy," and, in March, young Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel leads the orchestra in Evencio Castellanos' "Santa Cruz de Pacairigua." Also in March, Alan Gilbert will conduct another SFS premiere, of American composer Steven Stucky's "Son et Lumière."

Significantly, the Symphony is planning to expand its already rich family, youth orchestra and free community concert programs, reaching out all the way to Silicon Valley. In an age of dwindling big-orchestra tours, MTT's band is planning a three-week tour of Edinburgh, Berlin, Frankfurt and Lucerne, with additional concerts in London, Hannover, Cologne, and Düsseldorf.

The much-heralded "Keeping Score" project will present documentaries about Berlioz, Shostakovich, and Ives. MTT's Mahler recording cycle continues with "Das Lied von der Erde." For a complete list of the new season’s events, including the "Great Performers" series, subscription concerts and guest artists, visit the San Francisco Symphony online or call (415) 864-6000.

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