Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas Leads The San Francisco Symphony,
San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Soloists And Actors In An All-New Multi-Media Production Of Scandinavian Classic Peer Gynt

Performance features specially curated music for Peer Gynt
written by Grieg, Schnittke and Robin Holloway

Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas MTT) leads the San Francisco Symphony  (SFS) and San Francisco Symphony Chorus in an all-new semi-staged production of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt January 17, 18 & 19 at 8:00 pm at Davies Symphony Hall. To achieve Tilson Thomas’ vision for accessing this epic drama, the production will utilize selections from music for Peer Gynt written by three composers, enhanced by original video projections, actors and theatrical elements. For these performances MTT has chosen a combination of musical excerpts written for Peer Gynt by composers of diverse eras and nationalities; Edvard Grieg, Alfred Schnittke and never-performed-before music by Robin Holloway. Combined, these selections will express Tilson Thomas’ unique imagining of this great work of Scandinavian literature and poetry. The performances will be sung and acted in English.

Of his choosing to perform Peer Gynt with the San Francisco Symphony this season MTT said, “Peer Gynt is a gigantic, sprawling play, probably best known through Grieg’s music. I don’t think that people have an idea of what a challenging and provocative play it is—filled with questions about life, and love, and all of those things. Both Alfred Schnittke and Robin Holloway produced huge scores for Peer Gynt. This program is a wonderful opportunity to connect Ibsen’s play with these three composers. Given the vast length of the [original] play—four hours!—we can offer a musical and dramatic snapshot of both music and text [in our abridged production.]” Semi-staged productions such as this one, Debussy’s Le martyre de Saint Sebastien and Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle last season plus the upcoming performances of Beethoven’s Missa solemnis in June reflect Michael Tilson Thomas’s creative vision and passion for combining theater and classical repertoire in a fresh, contemporary way setting stories in a new context for the concert hall.

Peer Gynt was written by Norwegian author Henrik Ibsen in 1867 and tells the tale of a selfish young man’s adventures in wrongdoing and is based on Norwegian folktales expressing a dark view of human nature. Ibsen asked Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg to write a score for Peer Gynt and Grieg’s music premiered along with the play in 1876 in Oslo. MTT & the SFS’ production will feature excerpts from Grieg’s incidental music for Peer Gynt.  Following intermission, MTT and the Orchestra will perform selections from Peer Gynt written by Russian composer Alfred Schnittke in the 1980s for American choreographer John Neumeier’s adaptation of Ibsen’s play. Schnittke’s is a massive score for huge orchestra which the composer continued to work on even after his first major stroke in 1985. The ballet is reputed to offer the best single introduction to Schnittke’s musical and aesthetic philosophy.

The first performances of music for Peer Gynt written by English composer Robin Holloway acts as a finale to the semi-staged production. The composer offers, “I wrote music for the complete Peer Gynt in the late 80s and 90s, it was not commissioned, but my desire to write it was so great, that I would have burst if hadn’t. I am absolutely thrilled that MTT and the San Francisco Symphony will be performing my orchestral epitome of Ibsen’s act four, for the very first time in this multi-media production.”  The composer adds, “The music I wrote for Peer Gynt’s 40-year ocean voyage is a symphonic picture of his travels around the world in which he visits every continent, gaining and losing a fortune in each, and getting entangled and disentangled with a series of loves. It begins with America, moving westwards, crossing the Pacific, to encounter the Orient, then explore the dark heart of Africa, moves north to encounter the pyramids and the Sphynx of Egypt; this is his final encounter with the wider world before he is driven back home to Norway as an old man to face up to the guilt of his youthful past.”

Actor Ben Huber makes his SFS debut performing the role of Gynt. Huber’s New York credits include Daniel Sullivan’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in Central Park for the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, Perfect Harmony at the Clurman Theater, Sextet at New York Theater Workshop.  Regionally he’s been seen in Zoe Kazan’s Absalom at Actor’s Theater of Louisville/Humana Festival, Between Us Chickens at South Coast Repertory, The Importance of Being Earnest at Baltimore Centerstage, Eurydice at The Wilma in Philadelphia, Or, at The Magic Theater in San Francisco, and most recently, Glass Menagerie at Seattle Repertory Theater He holds an MFA from the Graduate Acting Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Soprano Joélle Harvey performs the role of Solveig, Peer’s untiring love interest. This season she was recently featured in performances of Handel’s Messiah with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus December 13-16 . She performed previously with the SFS in Carmina burana in November 2010 and Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe in 2009

Actor Jesse Merlin makes his San Francisco Symphony debut in this production as Solveig’s Father, the Troll King, the Captain, and the Lean One. Merlin is a former Resident Artist with Opera San José, and has performed forty-five roles with Opera Santa Barbara, Opera Las Vegas, Long Beach Opera, Opera A La Carte, and Théâtre du Rond-Point. He performed the role of Dr. Hill in Re-Animator: The Musical at the Edinburgh Fringe, New York Musical Theatre Festival, Hayworth Theatre, and the Steve Allen Theater for which he received an Ovation Award Nomination.

James Darrah  will direct these performances. Darrah designed new productions of Handel’s Teseo and Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Médée for Chicago Opera Theater in their 2011 and 2012 seasons. He made his Los Angeles Philharmonic debut with Luciano Berio’s Recital for Cathy while working as an assistant to director Christopher Alden for the LA Phil Don Giovanni. Of the staging for the SFS production of Peer Gynt Darrah said, “to fully integrate the staged, musical, and visual components, the Symphony production’s design envelops the orchestra into its scope. The direction moves the action into a minimalist dreamscape, allowing an intimate connection with the text and characters. Production inspiration is drawn from experimental modern photography using mirrors, reflections, and shadow play. The costumes are a timeless re-imagining of modern dress in a myriad of silhouettes.”

For this production Adam Larsen will design abstract video projections, inspired by Norway’s topography, evoking the vague landscapes of a restless mind. Larsen last created video for MTT & the SFS’ performances of Debussy’s Le martyre de Saint Sébastien in January 2012. He holds a B.F.A. in cinematography from North Carolina School of the Arts and is currently self-producing a feature documentary on autism entitled Neurotypical. He has designed projections for Hal Prince’s LoveMusik (Broadway), The Gospel at Colonus (Herod Atticus, Athens), world premieres of The Women of Brewster Place (Alliance/Arena Stage) and Christmas Carol 1941 (Arena Stage) and recently The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (Ohio Theater) and Love Lies Bleeding, a ballet based on the life of Elton John (Alberta Ballet).

Lighting designer Cameron Jaye Mock’s work includes a multi-year long residency with the Latino Theater Company and Los Angeles Theater Center creating lighting and projections for Charity and Hope, as well as lights, sets, and projections for Faith, each a part of The Mexican Trilogy. Opera credits include designing scenery and lighting for Dialogues des Carmélites, lighting for productions of L’incoronazione di Poppea, the US West Coast premiere of Jonathan Dove’s Flight, Dido and Aeneas, and Cavalli’s Giasone with Opera UCLA and Berkeley Opera’s L’ Elisir D’ Amore. He earned his MFA from the UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television.

The SFS last performed Peer Gynt in Norwegian under the baton of then Music Director Herbert Blomstedt in 1988 selections from which were released on recording in 1991.


Thursday, January 17 at 8 pm

Friday, January 18 at 8 pm                                                                                    

Saturday, January 19 at 8 pm 

PRE-CONCERT TALK:        Laura Stanfield Prichard will give an “Inside Music” talk from the stage one hour prior to each concert.  Free to all concert ticket holders; doors open 15 minutes before.

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