Performance Friday, April 7, 2017 | 8 PM

San Francisco Symphony

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Three visionary 20th-century composers approach classic forms—the ballet and concerto—in unique ways. Conceived as a ballet, The Seasons has some of Cage’s most subtly shaded and gently melodic music. The outer movements of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 are dashed with sardonic humor—its finale even irreverently quotes one of Stalin’s favorite songs—but its emotional core is a melancholy theme that recalls the funeral march from Beethoven’s “Eroica” and leads to a breathlessly energetic cadenza. Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra treats color, harmony, and counterpoint with virtuosic flair in a work infused with mystery, humor, and fire.


  • San Francisco Symphony
    Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director and Conductor
  • Gautier Capuçon, Cello


  • CAGE The Seasons
  • SHOSTAKOVICH Cello Concerto No. 1
  • BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra

Event Duration

The printed program will last approximately two hours, including one 20-minute intermission.


SHOSTAKOVICH Cello Concerto No. 1 (Allegretto)
Gautier Capuçon, Cello | Valery Gergiev, Conductor | Mariinsky Orchestra

At a Glance

Although the works heard in this program were composed within 15 years of one another, the circumstances surrounding their creation (and their creators) could not have been more different.

By 1947, a burgeoning partnership with dancer-choreographer Merce Cunningham had begun to push John Cage along his path to becoming the premier American Maverick composer. According to Cage, the music for The Seasons is “an attempt to express the traditional Indian view of the seasons as quiescence (winter), creation (spring), preservation (summer), and destruction (fall). It concludes with the “Prelude to Winter,”with which it begins.”

The Cello Concerto No. 1 comes from one of the more serene periods in Dmitri Shostakovich’s life, as Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization campaign was in full swing. But Shostakovich’s catalogue of works for any given year does not, however, necessarily reflect such vicissitudes. Even though he was free from harassment in 1959, the Cello Concerto No. 1 is a work that feeds on grim memories.

Having moved to New York in 1940 to escape the rising tide of National Socialism in Central Europe, the 59-year-old Béla Bartók felt depressed and isolated in his new surroundings. He lacked energy and was plagued by the first symptoms of the leukemia that would kill him. Providence smiled on Bartók when conductor Serge Koussevitzky offered the composer a commission for a new symphonic work. Bartók accepted and during the summer and early fall of 1943 wrote the entire Concerto for Orchestra at a rural mountain getaway in the north of New York State. The composer provided a comment to help the listener: “The general mood of the work represents, apart from the jesting second movement, a gradual transition from the sternness of the first moment and the lugubrious death-song of the third to the life-assertion of the last one.”
Program Notes
This performance is part of Orchestral Masterworks.