MTT & San Francisco Symphony celebrate the unifying power of music

Michael Tilson Thomas and Audrey Hepburn at the premiere performance of ‘From the Diary of Anne Frank’ 1990 – Photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony

San Francisco Symphony Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas, leads the Symphony this week in a program both poignant and celebratory, the first of two programs marking the 70th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There are two works in this first program – a narration of extracts from The Diary of Anne Frank which MTT set to a piece of music written for his friend and UNICEF ambassador, Audrey Hepburn – narrated by guest artist Isabel Leonard – followed by Beethoven’s grand and heroic Symphony No 3, Eroica.

The purpose of these performances is to shine a light on the power of music as a vehicle for unity, compassion, healing, teaching and social justice – ending with the triumphal ring of liberty.

From the Diary of Anne Frank is a dramatic work for narrator and orchestra, commissioned by UNICEF, and based on the diary kept by the young Anne Frank whilst she was in hiding at the time of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War. Michael Tilson Thomas wrote the work for Audrey Hepburn, an ambassador for UNICEF at the time, who not only was the same age as Anne Frank, but also grew up in occupied Holland. “I now realize,” says Tilson Thomas, “that so much of this work is a reflection not just of Anne Frank, but of Audrey Hepburn. Audrey’s simplicity, her deeply caring nature, the ingenuous sing-song of her voice are all present in the phrase shapes of the orchestra. The work would never have existed without her, and it is dedicated to her.”

The work was premiered in 1990 by the New World Symphony, led by Michael Tilson Thomas, and narrated by Audrey Hepburn.
Taking that role this week is American soprano Isabel Leonard, who appeared as a guest of the San Francisco Symphony in September 2017 during the celebration of the Leonard Bernstein Centennial, and featured on the Symphony’s digital release of Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles. Ms Leonard – who won a Grammy Award in the Best Opera Recording category for her performance in Thomas Ades’ The Tempest – was also the recipient of the 2013 Richard Tucker Award.

With a repertoire ranging from Vivaldi to Mozart to Ades, Isabel Leonard has appeared on the stages of the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, Paris Opera, Salzburg Festival, Bavarian State Opera, Glyndebourne Festival, Lyric Opera of Chicago and San Francisco Opera, and with orchestras such as the Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, and Vienna Philharmonic.

Soprano Isabel Leonard – Photo © Becca Fay – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The second work on the program is Beethoven’s dramatic and uplifting Eroica Symphony, originally inspired by the efforts of Napoleon to bring about social reform for the benefit of the working classes. However, when Napoleon declared himself the Emperor of France, Beethoven was filled with disgust at what he viewed as the act of a tyrant, and is said to have scratched out the name of Napoleon from the front page of the score, replacing it with a sub-title that referred more generally to heroism rather than the deeds of any person in particular.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony, with guest narrator Isabel Leonard, in his own work, From the Diary of Anne Frank, and Beethoven’s Symphony No 3. The performances take place at Davies Symphony Hall, and further information about the program and tickets is available on the San Francisco Symphony website.

Michael Tilson Thomas and Audrey Hepburn at a rehearsal for the 1990 premiere of ‘From the Diary of Anne Frank’ – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The second in this set of concerts celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights takes place at Davies Symphony Hall next week – November 23rd to 25th. Michael Tilson Thomas again leads the San Francisco Symphony, in performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No 9, with Ragnar Bohlin’s San Francisco Symphony Chorus, and guest soloists Susanna Phillips (soprano), mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, tenor Nicholas Phan and bass-baritone Davóne Tines.

The program also features Berg’s Seven Early Songs, with Susanna Phillips as soloist, a performance which will be recorded live for future release on SFS Media.  For tickets and more information visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

The concerts both this week and next are dedicated to the memory of the victims of the tragic events which took place in Pittsburgh on October 27th this year.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Isabel Leonard

 

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