Next month composer John Adams will celebrate his 70th birthday on February 15. As was recently announced, San Francisco Symphony (SFS) festivities for the occasion will jump the gun with a pair of SoundBox events that Adams himself will curate on February 10 and 11. However, his actual birthday will be followed by two weeks of subscription concerts that will be distinguished by the first SFS performances of two of his compositions.
The first of these concerts will present a single evening-length work, The Gospel According to the Other Mary. This is a 21st-century Passion oratorio setting a libretto compiled by Peter Sellars. The “other Mary” is Mary Magdalene; and Sellars’ intention was to provide a different perspective on the Passion from the versions presented by the Synoptic Gospels. To this end he has combined Biblical sources with much more recent texts by Dorothy Day, Rosario Castellanos, June Jordan, Louise Erdrich, and Primo Levi.
The conductor for this SFS debut will be Grant Gershon, Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Resident Conductor of the Los Angeles Opera. He will be filling in for previously announced Joana Carneiro, whose pregnancy is now advanced to a stage where her doctor has ordered her not to conduct or travel. The SFS Chorus will be prepared by Director Ragnar Bohlin. The three roles that will be depicted explicitly in Sellars’ libretto will be those of Mary Magdalene (mezzo Kelley O’Connor), Martha (mezzo Tamara Mumford), and Lazarus (tenor Jay Hunter Morris, making his SFS debut). The score also calls for three countertenors, whose parts will be sung by Daniel Brubeck, Brian Cummings, and Nathan Medley.
This concert will be given three performances, all at 8 p.m. on Thursday, February 16, Friday, February 17, and Saturday, February 18. There will be an Inside Music talk given by Alexandra Amati-Camperi that will begin one hour prior to each concert. Doors to the Davies lobbies open fifteen minutes before the talk begins. Ticket prices range from $38 to $162. They may be purchased online through the event page for this program on the SFS Web site, by calling 415-864-6000, or by visiting the Box Office in Davies Symphony Hall, whose entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday.
The following week SFS will give its first performances of Adams’ “dramatic symphony,” “Scheherazade.2.” Adams has acknowledged that he appropriated that description from Hector Berlioz, who used it to describe both his 1830 Opus 14 “Symphonie fantastique” and his 1834 Opus 16 “Harold en Italie” (Harold in Italy), the latter of which included an extensive part for solo viola. Like Opus 16 Adams’ symphony is structured in four movements; but his solo instrument is a violin, rather than a viola. The violinist will be Leila Josefowicz, who gave this piece its world premiere. The conductor will be Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, who will devote the second half of the program to selections from Sergei Prokofiev’s Opus 64 score for the ballet Romeo and Juliet.
This concert will be given four performances, all at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, February 22, Thursday, February 23, Friday, February 24, and Saturday, February 25. The Inside Music talk will be given by Laura Stanfield Prichard, again beginning one hour prior to each concert with doors to the lobbies opening fifteen minutes before the talk begins. Ticket prices range from $15 to $162. They may be purchased online through the event page for this program on the SFS Web site, by calling 415-864-6000, or by visiting the Box Office in Davies Symphony Hall, whose entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday. In addition, there is a podcast about Romeo and Juliet hosted by KDFC’s Rik Malone, which has a Play hyperlink for streaming from the event page.