MTT makes return visit to San Francisco Symphony

Michael Tilson Thomas (c) Vahan Stepanyan

Michael Tilson Thomas, Conductor Laureate of the San Francisco Symphony, returns to Davies Symphony Hall this month to lead the orchestra in two programs. The first features the United States premiere of Danny Elfman’s Cello Concerto with guest artist Gautier Capuçon, and the following week MTT leads an all-Brahms program with guest pianist Emanuel Ax.

Danny Elfman’s Cello Concerto was co-commissioned by the Wiener Konzerthaus, Wiener Symphoniker, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and the San Francisco Symphony. The world premiere took place in the Vienna Konzerthaus on March 18 and 20 this year, with Capuçon – for whom the concerto was written – as soloist, and David Robertson leading the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Capuçon also appeared at the French premiere on May 20 this year with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, led by Mikko Franck.

Gautier Capuçon (c) Anoush Abrar

Elfman has has collaborated with some of the best-known film directors, including Tim Burton, Peter Jackson, Ang Lee and David O’Russell, and has scored over 100 films – including the soundtrack for Milk, Good Will Hunting, Men in Black, Spiderman and Sommersby . He has also done the scores for television series such as The Simpsons and Desperate Housewives. This year, he’s celebrated the world premiere of a new Percussion Concerto which he wrote for British percussionist Colin Currie, which was premiered by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Ludwig Wicki, at the Royal Festival Hall. He also wrote another new work, Wunderkammer, which was commissioned and performed by The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain – an ensemble of over 150 teenage musicians led by Andrew Gourlay.

Multiple award-winning cellist Gautier Capuçon is committed to exploring and expanding the cello repertoire, performing a wide range of works each season and regularly premiering new commissions. “The lightness of his touch and the consistent clarity of his bow strokes are quite admirable in themselves,” writes Gramophone magazine, “but when combined with an uncanny sweetness of tone in the higher registers they are breathtaking”. Frequently appearing with many of the world’s finest orchestras, conductors and instrumentalists, Capuçon is both founder and leader of the ‘Classe d’Excellence de Violoncelle’ at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris and a passionate ambassador for the Orchestre à l’École Association, which takes classical music to more than 40,000 thousand school children across France.

This San Francisco Symphony concert opens with Igor Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments. Dedicated to Claude Debussy, the work was written in 1920 and began as a memorial tribute to Debussy – who had died two years previously. It initially took the form of a piano chorale, but Stravinsky later turned it into a longer instrumental piece, for which the chorale provided the ending. The work is not a symphony in the normal sense of the word, but – according to Jonathan Cross, Lecturer in Music at the University of Oxford and Tutor of Christ Church – is used in the plural to signify a ‘sounding together’.

Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous Serenade for Strings brings this concert to a close. It’s an elegant and romantic piece, written in September and October of 1880, which the composer says he “…wrote from inner compulsion. This is a piece from the heart and so, I venture to say, it does not lack artistic worth”. Indeed it does not, and so melodious is it that choreographer George Balanchine set a ballet to the work – which he called simply Serenade.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony – with guest artist Gautier Capuçon – in a program of works by Stravinsky, Danny Elfman and Tchaikovsky. The concerts take place at Davies Symphony Hall from November 11 to 13. Tickets  can be purchased and more information is available on the San Francisco Symphony website .

The second program in which Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony features Brahms’ Serenade No 1, and his First Piano Concerto played by Emanuel Ax.

Emanuel Ax (c) Nigel Parry

Multi award-winning pianist, Emanuel Ax, makes a welcome return to Davies Symphony Hall this month. Highlights of his very full 2022-23 season include a tour with Itzhak Perlman “and Friends”, and he will continue his touring and recording project, Beethoven For 3, with Leonidas Kavakos and Yo-Yo Ma, on the west coast of the United States. Mr Ax will also appear in recital and with orchestras right across the US, as well as on tour in Europe, a tour which includes performances in Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and France.

Brahms’ First Piano Concerto was completed in early 1858, the composer including some material that dates back to 1854. The work actually started out as a symphony, then became a sonata for two pianos, before Brahms finally decided on a piano concerto, although he continued to revise passages until he was satisfied that he had got it right. Brahms played a reading rehearsal, with Joseph Joachim leading the Hanover Court Orchestra, on March 30, 1858, and the world premiere took place on January 22, 1859, with Joachim again leading the Hanover Court Orchestra.

The San Francisco Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting in rehearsal on Tuesday afternoon, June 28, 2016.

This program opens with Brahms’ Serenade No 1, a work known for its unusually symphonic quality. Initially, the work was scored for nine wind and string players, but friends – including pianist Clara Schumann and violinist Joseph Joachim – persuaded him to revise it for a larger ensemble. Joachim conducted the original version in Hamburg in 1859, and also led the first performance of the final version, which had its world premiere in Hanover on March 3, 1860.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony – with guest artist Emanuel Ax – in a program of music by Johannes Brahms at Davies Symphony Hall from November 17 to 19. More information is available and tickets  can be purchased on the San Francisco Symphony website .

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes
Danny Elfman
Gautier Capuçon
Stravinsky Symphonies of Wind Instruments
Tchaikovsky – Serenade for Strings
Emanuel Ax
Brahms Piano Concerto No 1
Brahms Serenade No 1

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