Yesterday afternoon the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) and its Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas announced plans for the 2018–19 season. My copy of the press release ran to eight pages, which was no surprise. Davies Symphony Hall is kept busy for close to twelve months of every season, and accounting for all of that activity is inevitably exhausting for both writers and readers. Last year I decided to focus on those items that I felt would be particularly special for the season. I ended up writing two articles, one about conductors making their debut on the SFS podium, followed by a similar article about the performers. My intention is to follow the same plan this year, beginning, again, with conductors.
There are three of them; and the most interesting among them is probably Cristian Mӑcelaru. This is because he was recently appointed as the new Music Director and Conductor of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. Contemporary music will play a major role in the program that he will bring to Davies this October, which will feature two premieres. There will be a world premiere offering of a symphonic suite prepared by Kevin Puts based on the score of his opera Silent Night. Support for the creation of that suite was funded in part by SFS. In addition, the program will begin with the SFS debut performances of Anna Clyne’s “Masquerade.”
Puts’ suite will be complemented by another suite compiled by the composer of a successful opera. That composer was Richard Strauss and the opera was his Opus 59 Der Rosenkavalier, probably best known for the ample presence of waltz material. The other familiar music on the program will be Édouard Lalo. Ray Chen will be violin soloist in a performance of his Opus 21 “Symphonie espagnole.” Coincidentally, Chen will be making his SFS debut at the beginning of this coming May, when he will perform Johannes Brahms’ Opus 77 violin concerto in D major with returning visiting conductor Juraj Valčuha. (Readers may recall that Chen has already performed in Herbst Theatre, when he served as Guest Concertmaster and soloist in the New Century Chamber Orchestra in November of 2016.)
In almost exactly one year from today, François-Xavier Roth, currently General Music Director of the City of Cologne, will make his debut conducting SFS. This concert will also see the SFS debut of the concerto soloist, pianist Cédric Tiberghien. Like Chen, Tiberghien is no stranger to San Francisco, having appeared twice with violinist Alina Ibragimova, most recently in a San Francisco Performances recital given in April of 2017. Performing with Roth, Tiberghien’s concerto selection will be Franz Liszt’s first piano concerto in E-flat major. The full program will follow the usual overture-concerto-symphony format, beginning with the overture that Robert Schumann composed for his Opus 111, a musical setting of Lord Byron’s dramatic poem Manfred. The symphony will be Johannes Brahms’ Opus 73 (second) in D major.
The remaining conducting debut of the season will take place in January of 2019. The conductor will be Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, currently Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Associate Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Her concerto soloist will be Gabriela Montero, who will play Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Opus 23 (first) piano concerto in B-flat minor. The second half of the program will be devoted to the cycle of four tone poems that Jean Sibelius composed for his Opus 22, which he called Legends from the Kalevala.
Following the trend of the current season, all three of these conductors promise to bring new perspectives on both familiar and unfamiliar music, thus setting a high bar of expectations!