Symphony recalls birth after ‘end of world’ 

San Francisco Symphony’s celebrations of its 100th birthday began in earnest this week with the publication of a luxurious hardback: the meaty coffee-table book “Music for a City, Music for the World.”

Written by Larry Rothe, the story of orchestra begins with the apocalyptic drama of the Great Quake, a mere five years before the birth of SFS in December 1911:

“It started with the end of the world. The earthquake of 1906 destroyed one San Francisco and gave birth to another, also to a new orchestra — aimed at revitalizing the city’s cultural life.”

The story of the rebirth of The City and the beginning of the orchestra together is “a tale of transformation and evolution, about how people who understood music’s power began with an idea, then shaped into a cultural institution. Today we call the San Francisco Symphony great. That reputation was not conferred at birth. Such enterprises are always works in progress.”

An early milestone in The City’s recovery was the 1909 Portolá Festival, celebrating Gaspar de Portolá’s 1769 sighting of San Francisco Bay. The festival paved the way to the crucial 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, which told the world the recently devastated city was back in business.

Rothe traces the twin progress of city and orchestra through chapters about a “guide to making an orchestra,” personal struggles and musical triumphs, the crisis of the Great Depression and fortuitous rescue, eras under Pierre Monteux, Enrique Jorda, Josef Krips and Seiji Ozawa, and then recent decades leading up to Michael Tilson Thomas and today’s worldwide fame, big-budget fortune and unlimited potential.

“So the story continues,” Rothe writes, “as does the music, which leads not to conclusions, but to the verge of what can be.”



San Francisco Symphony 2011-12 season

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: Sept. 7 through June 30, 2012

Tickets: Subscription prices range from $180 to $810 for a six-concert series, $720 to $3,240 for 24 concerts

Contact: (415) 864-6000,


Season No. 100 begins with three days of civic and community celebrations — the opening gala Sept. 7, a free birthday bash concert in Civic Center Plaza on Sept. 8, and the All-San Francisco Concert on Sept. 9.

The first subscription concerts, conducted by MTT in September:

-- Sept. 14-17: Hindemith Cello Concerto, with Yo-Yo Ma; Brahms’ Symphony No. 1

-- Sept. 21-25: Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, with mezzo Katarina Karnéus

-- Sept. 29-Oct. 1: Mozart’s Symphony No. 35, the Thomas Adès/Tal Rosner “Polaris: Voyage for Orchestra,” Stravinsky’s “Petrushka”

Guest conductors take over in October:

-- Oct. 5-9: Vasily Petrenko conducting, Glazunov Violin Concerto, with Joshua Bell; Elgar’s Symphony No. 1, works by Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky

-- Oct. 14 and 16: James Conlon conducting, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 14, with soprano Olga Guryakova and baritone Sergei Leiferkus; Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition

-- Oct. 19-22: Fabio Luisi conducting, Verdi’s Requiem, with soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, mezzo Dolora Zajick, tenor Frank Lopardo and bass Ain Anger

-- Oct. 23-24: Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in music by
John Adams, Enrico Chapela, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Berlioz

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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