Founded in 1911, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) is widely considered to be among the country’s most artistically adventurous and innovative arts institutions. Under Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT), the SFS presents more than 220 concerts and presentations annually for an audience of nearly 600,000 in its home of Davies Symphony Hall, in other Bay Area venues, and through an active national and international touring program.
Tilson Thomas assumed his post as the SFS’s eleventh Music Director in September 1995. Together, he and the San Francisco Symphony have formed a musical partnership hailed as one of the most inspiring and successful in the country. MTT celebrates his 15th season as Music Director in 2009-10; his tenure with the Orchestra has been praised by critics for outstanding musicianship, innovative programming, highlighting the works of American composers, and bringing new audiences to classical music.
In 1996, Tilson Thomas led the Orchestra on the first of their thirteen national tours together, and they have continued an ambitious yearly touring schedule that has taken them to Europe, Asia and throughout the United States. Recent touring highlights include a 2006 Asian tour that included the Orchestra’s first appearances in mainland China, and a three-week 2007 European tour that featured two televised appearances at the BBC Proms in London and concerts at several other major European festivals. In September 2008, MTT and the Orchestra opened Carnegie Hall’s 2008-09 season with a gala tribute to Leonard Bernstein that was filmed and broadcast nationally on PBS’ Great Performances. The DVD of the performance, A Celebration of Leonard Bernstein: Carnegie Hall Opening Night 2008, was released in October 2008 on the Orchestra’s own SFS Media label.
Since 2001, Tilson Thomas and the Orchestra have recorded all nine of Mahler’s symphonies and the Adagio from the unfinished Tenth Symphony, and the composer’s works for voices, chorus, and orchestra for SFS Media. In November 2008, MTT and the SFS recorded Mahler’s sweeping Symphony No. 8, Symphony of a Thousand, for release with the Adagio from Mahler’s unfinished Symphony No. 10 in August 2009. The San Francisco Symphony has also recorded scenes from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, a collection of Stravinsky ballets, a Gershwin collection, and Charles Ives: An American Journey, among others. In addition to eleven Grammy Awards, the SFS has won some of the world’s most prestigious recording awards, including Japan’s Record Academy Award and France’s Grand Prix du Disque.
In fall 2006, Tilson Thomas and the SFS launched the national Keeping Score PBS television series and multimedia project. Keeping Score is the San Francisco Symphony’s national program designed to make classical music more accessible to people of all ages and musical backgrounds. The project is anchored by a national PBS television series that debuted in 2006, and includes an innovative website, www.keepingscore.org, to explore and learn about music; a national radio series; documentary and live performance DVDs; and an education program for K-12 schools to further teaching through the arts by integrating classical music into core subjects. To date, nearly five million people have seen the Keeping Score television series, and the radio series has been broadcast on almost 100 stations nationally. The second series of Keeping Score television programs, with episodes on composers Hector Berlioz, Charles Ives, and Dmitri Shostakovich, is scheduled for national broadcast on PBS-TV in October 2009.
The San Francisco Symphony provides the most extensive education and community programs offered by any American orchestra today. In 1988, the Symphony established Adventures in Music (AIM), a free, comprehensive music education program that introduces every first- through fifth-grade child in the San Francisco Unified School District to music from around the world. The SFS also offers opportunities to hear and learn about great music through its programs Concerts for Kids, Music for Families, the internationally-acclaimed SFS Youth Orchestra, an instrument training program for middle- and high school students, and annual free community concerts.