SF Symphony Concludes Season with Three Weeks of Concerts Celebrating Benjamin Britton’s Centenary

 First concert week includes Britten’s Prince of the Pagodas and a special appearance by the Balinese performing arts group Gamelan Sekar Jaya

Second week of concerts feature Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings with Toby Spence and SFS Principal Horn Robert Ward, along with works by Copland and Shostakovich


Season concludes with semi-staged production of Peter Grimes, the first SF Symphony performances of the complete opera, and Four Sea Interludes with an SFS co-commissioned video accompaniment by Tal Rosner


Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony conclude the 2013-14 season with three weeks of concerts June 12-29 that celebrate the centenary of English composer Benjamin Britten. These season-ending concerts explore Britten’s works for opera, vocal music, ballet, and orchestra, and span the prolific career of a composer, conductor and pianist who died in 1976 at the age of 63. The Britten concerts begin June 12-15 with excerpts from the composer’s ballet score The Prince of the Pagodas, along with an instrumental and dance work from the Balinese performing arts group Gamelan Sekar Jaya, and Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with Gil Shaham. Concerts on June 19-21 include works by Copland and Shostakovich—Britten’s friends and colleagues—alongside Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, featuring tenor Toby Spence and SFS Principal Horn Robert Ward. MTT’s 19th season as Music Director comes to a close with the June 26-29 semi-staged production of the composer’s celebrated opera Peter Grimes, which the SF Symphony will be performing for the first time. During the week of the Peter Grimes performances, MTT leads an additional concert featuring Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, with an original co-commissioned video by visual artist Tal Rosner.

On June 12-15, MTT leads the SFS in excerpts from The Prince of the Pagodas, a 1957 composed by Britten for The Royal Ballet. The score is heavily influenced by Balinese gamelan music, which Britten first heard during his time in the United States (1939-42), and again on a two-week vacation in Bali in 1956. Audiences will also experience first-hand the Balinese performing arts that influenced Britten’s work, as the Bay Area-based group Gamelan Sekar Jaya opens the concerts with a traditional instrumental work, Tabuh Pat Jagul, on June 13 and 15, and a gamelan and dance work titled Legong Pengleb on June 12 and 14. The classical instrumental piece Tabuh Pat Jagul is from the lelambatan tradition, considered the true classical repertoire of Balinese gamelan music. The broad and stately architecture of lelambatan music, ranging in style from simple, older renditions to complex, modern kebyar-influenced arrangements, is considered an essential component of temple ceremonies. The dance piece Legong Pengeleb is a tribute to North Bali’s leadership and a masterpiece of the kebyar genre, featuring dynamic rhythms, precise and ornamented connections between music and dance, and constant melodic shifts. This piece, originally created in the early 20th century, was part of the musical renaissance that has now thrived for nearly a century in Bali. Frequent SFS guest artist Gil Shaham also appears on this program in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2.

The second week of concerts June 19-21 showcases Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, featuring tenor Toby Spence and SF Symphony Principal Horn Robert Ward. The Serenade is a setting of a selection of six poems by British poets on the subject of night, exploring both its calm and its sinister aspects. It was written in 1943, not long after Britten returned to England after a three-year stay in the United States, where he picked up musical influences from his friend and contemporary Aaron Copland. In recognition of the influence that the American sound had on Britten during these years, the program also includes Copland’s Danzón Cubano. Music by another friend and colleague of Britten’s, Dmitri Shostakovich, is included in these concerts with his Symphony No. 15 in A major.

The SF Symphony’s Britten centennial celebration culminates June 26-29 with MTT leading a semi-staged production of the composer’s most famous opera, Peter Grimes. These concerts are the first San Francisco Symphony performances of the complete work, and these are the only San Francisco presentations of Peter Grimes during his centenary season. Tenor Stuart Skelton returns to the SFS to perform the title role, which he has performed at the English National Opera, Opera Australia, and London Philharmonic, as well as with the Royal Opera House production at the National Theatre of Tokyo. The all-star cast includes soprano Elza van den Heever (Ellen Orford), baritone Alan Opie (Captain Balstrode), mezzo-sopranos Ann Murray (Auntie) and Nancy Maultsby (Mrs. Sedley), tenors Richard Cox (Bob Boles) and Kim Begley (Horace Adams), baritone Eugene Brancoveanu (Ned Keene), bass John Relyea (Mr. Swallow), and the SFS Chorus. Stage director and costume designer James Darrah and video designer Adam Larsen return to the SFS to provide staging, costumes and video projections to bring the drama to life. Specially-designed video by Larsen will be projected onto a panoramic scrim that encompasses the stage. Darrah and Larsen’s work was last seen at the SFS in January 2012 for the semi-staged production of Peer Gynt. Cameron Mock serves as the scenic and lighting designer, and Sarah Schuessler is associate costume designer.

A special concert with MTT and the SFS on June 28 features by Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, which was published separately as its own orchestral suite, as well as excerpts from The Prince of the Pagodas. Four Sea Interludes is accompanied an SFS co-commissioned video interpretation of the work by artist Tal Rosner, whose work was last seen at the SFS in September 2011 in conjunction with Thomas Adès’s Polaris: Voyage for Orchestra, also an SFS co-commission. Rosner’s video for Four Sea Interludes was commissioned by the New World Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra and Los Angeles Philharmonic. It received its world premiere at the New World Center in Miami with Michael Tilson Thomas the New World Symphony in October 2013. On designing the visuals for this commission, Rosner explains, “I decided to portray the piece only with footage of American places, from the four cities that commissioned the work. I was looking for a connecting theme among the four. They’re all historically different, built differently. Then I hit on the idea of the bridge. Each city is on or near a large body of water, and I was drawn to the idea of places that were not destinations in themselves but were transitional places. So, bridges and underpasses.” Rosner’s San Francisco focus was on the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges. Rosner filmed the Bay Bridge from Treasure Island. From this unusual angle, the familiar structure turns into an abstraction, and as Rosner explains, “These structures themselves are pieces of art, as well as engineering.” Click here to watch a video of Tal Rosner talking about Four Sea Interludes at New World Symphony.

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