SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY – 100th Anniversary Concert, December 8th, at Davies Hall

Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

On Friday, December 8th, 1911 at 3:15 p.m., at San Francisco’s Cort Theater, American conductor Henry Hadley picked up his baton to lead the newly formed San Francisco Orchestra in its first ever concert. As the first notes of Wagner’s Prelude to Act I of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg were played to a sold-out house of 1,400 people, a new era in San Francisco’s cultural life began.


In addition to the Wagner prelude, the inaugural concert also featured Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, Haydn’s “Theme and Variations” from the Emperor Quartet, and Liszt’s Les Preludes. Then music editor Harvey Wickham described the audience as having reacted with thunderous cheers and were collectively “one of the most fashionable to ever attend a matinee.” So were the players, all readied in standard concert attire for the afternoon premiere. Wickham concluded that The City “has had a great symphony orchestra lying around loose for a long time without knowing it.”

The formation of a professional orchestra was part of San Francisco’s bold rebirth following the devastation of the 1906 earthquake. It was a community-driven project, and some of the Orchestra’s very first concerts were dedicated to working people and kids. Throughout the next century, the Symphony has continued to reflect and complement the community it serves. With that community support, it has grown into an internationally-acclaimed orchestra with a year-round performance schedule at Davies Symphony Hall, national and international tours, and a music education program in the public schools unequalled by any other American orchestra. In addition to its rich history of live performances, the San Francisco Symphony has a robust recorded legacy that dates almost to its 1911 inception.

CORT THEATER (ca. 1911), 64 Ellis Street, San Francisco.

The Symphony’s 100 years of accomplishments are the focus of a variety of television, editorial, recording, and multimedia projects created to mark the anniversary, including a new one-hour documentary about the Symphony to be broadcast on NBC Bay Area in December. In addition, the Symphony’s Centennial Season Opening Gala will be broadcast nationwide on THIRTEEN’S Great Performances in spring 2012. The national PBS Gala broadcast will be followed by a DVD release of the Gala performance paired with the documentary about the Symphony’s colorful past. Also, a new 12-part audio series on the history of the SF Symphony and its recordings, curated and hosted by musicologist Scott Foglesong, will be available at SFSymphony/Podcasts beginning December 6th. These podcasts feature excerpts from SF Symphony archival recordings that have been long out of print or exist only in now-antiquated formats. An extensive interactive historical timeline with images, text and video clips from the documentary tells the Symphony’s story at SFSymphony/Timeline. In his recently published book, Music for a City, Music for the World, Larry Rothe tells the story of the people behind the scenes in an orchestra’s century-long journey through hard times and good times. A comprehensive history, the book is filled with hundreds of archival photos and images providing readers a glimpse into the inner workings of one of the world’s foremost orchestras.
Click here to order on-line: SFS Store


This year, on December 8th–10th, the Anniversary Concerts will will be conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, former music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Salonen, known equally for his conducting and his composing, will lead the SFS Orchestra in his own Violin Concerto, written for and featuring violinist Leila Josefowicz.

“Leila Josefowicz turned out to be a fantastic partner in this process,” said Salonen. “She knows no limits, she knows no fear, and she was constantly encouraging me to go to places I was not sure I would dare to go. As a result of that process, this Concerto is as much a portrait of her as it is my more private narrative, a kind of summary of my experiences as a musician and a human being at the watershed age of 50.” Salonen is currently Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Philharmonia Orchestra London and Artistic Director of the Baltic Sea Festival. The performances will also include Sibelius’ tone poem Pohjola’s Daughter, and soprano Christine Brewer will sing “Brünnhilde’s Immolation” from Wagner’sGötterdämmerung.
Click here to order tickets on-line: SFSYMPHONY

Conductor Henry Hadley with violinist Fritz Kriesler at the Cort Theatre


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