Cancelled: San Francisco Symphony
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director and Conductor
MAHLER Symphony No. 6
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At a Glance
In the summers of 1903 and 1904, Mahler was as happy as ever in his life. Yet it was then that he wrote some of his darkest music, including the Sixth Symphony (which he may or may not have called the “Tragic,” though others certainly have). He was convinced that an artist has the power to intuit, even to experience, events before they occur. Mahler imagined the finale of the Sixth Symphony as a scenario in which “the hero” is assaulted by “three hammer-blows of fate, the last of which fells him as a tree is felled.” (In the final version of the score, Mahler calls for two literal hammer-blows—the third is implied—for which he wants the effect of a “short, powerful, heavy-sounding blow of non-metallic quality, like the stroke of an ax.”) The summer of 1907 brought him three such blows: the death of his eldest daughter, the discovery of his own severe heart disease, and the bitter end of his directorship of the Vienna State Opera.
Mahler’s wife, Alma, maintained the Sixth Symphony was autobiographical, written ahead of time. But was Mahler writing about himself? Was he writing about the apocalypse of 1914? About Auschwitz and Babi Yar? Was he just writing a symphony? We know only that the Sixth Symphony is a work imbued with a dark vision, unique among Mahler’s symphonies in its tragic, minor-key conclusion.
Another prediction came in the form of a note from Mahler to his first biographer, Richard Specht: “My Sixth will propound riddles whose solution can be attempted only by a generation that has absorbed and truly digested my first five symphonies.” It was an accurate prediction.
San Francisco Symphony
The San Francisco Symphony (SFS) gave its first concerts in 1911 and has grown in acclaim under a succession of distinguished music directors: Henry Hadley, Alfred Hertz, Basil Cameron, Issay Dobrowen, Pierre Monteux, Enrique Jordá, Josef Krips, Seiji Ozawa, Edo de Waart, Herbert Blomstedt, and Michael Tilson Thomas, who assumed his post in 1995. Esa-Pekka Salonen was recently named the symphony’s next music director, beginning in September 2020. The SFS has won such recording awards as France’s Grand Prix du Disque, Britain’s Gramophone Award, and the United States’ Grammy. The SFS education program Adventures in Music brings music to every child in grades 1–5 in San Francisco’s public schools. In 2004, the SFS launched the multimedia Keeping Score on PBS and the web. In 2014, the SFS inaugurated SoundBox, an experimental performance venue and music series located backstage at Davies Symphony Hall. SFS radio broadcasts, the first in the nation to feature symphonic music when they began in 1926, today carry the orchestra’s concerts across the country. For more information, go to sfsymphony.org.
Michael Tilson Thomas
Michael Tilson Thomas first conducted the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in 1974 and has been music director since 1995. In what is widely considered one of the most dynamic and productive partnerships in the orchestral world, Mr. Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have been praised for their innovative programming, enhancing the orchestral concert experience with multimedia and creative staging, showcasing the works of American composers, and attracting new audiences to orchestral music, both at home at Davies Symphony Hall and through the orchestra’s extensive media projects. A Los Angeles native, he studied with John Crown and Ingolf Dahl at the University of Southern California, becoming music director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra at age 19. He worked with Stravinsky, Boulez, Stockhausen, and Copland at the famed Monday Evening Concerts, and was pianist and conductor for Piatigorsky and Heifetz master classes. In 1969, Mr. Tilson Thomas won the Koussevitzky Prize and was appointed assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO). Ten days later, he came to international recognition, replacing Music Director William Steinberg mid-concert at Lincoln Center. He went on to become the BSO’s principal guest conductor, and he has also served as music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and as a principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. With the London Symphony Orchestra he has served as principal conductor and principal guest conductor; he is currently conductor laureate. He is artistic director of the New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy, which he co-founded in 1987. Mr. Tilson Thomas’s recordings have won numerous international awards, including 11 Grammys for SFS recordings. In 2014, he inaugurated SoundBox, the San Francisco Symphony’s new alternative performance space and live music series. His television credits include the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts, and in 2004 he and the SFS launched Keeping Score on PBS. His compositions include From the Diary of Anne Frank; Shówa/Shoáh; settings of poems by Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Rainer Maria Rilke; Island Music; Notturno; and Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind. Mr. Tilson Thomas is a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, was Musical America’s Musician and Conductor of the Year, and was inducted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame in 2015. He has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Academy of Arts and Letters, was inducted in the California Hall of Fame, and was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama. Most recently, he was a 2019 recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors.