Shostakovich with Matthias Goerne and Tchaikovsky's Fifth: an Open Rehearsal

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2016-17 SeasonExperience a powerful program of music that grapples with questions of life, death, and fate. Shostakovich’s Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti is brought to life. Then, Tchaikovsky’s soaring Fifth Symphony fills the hall with its massive orchestral texture and unforgettable melodies.

Listen as conductor Manfred Honeck weaves together the themes of a symphony with the passion of the performers. This special behind-the-scenes experience begins at 8:30am with coffee and complimentary doughnuts, and a half-hour informative talk at 9am.

Katharine Hanrahan Open Rehearsal is a working rehearsal. The pieces rehearsed are at the conductor’s discretion.

The Open Rehearsals are endowed by a bequest from the estate of Katharine Hanrahan. For information about including the SF Symphony in your estate plans, contact Gift Planning at 415-503-5482 or


Manfred Honeck


San Francisco Symphony



Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti


Symphony No. 5

All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.


Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5

At a Glance

Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti
 1974  |  45 mins
Completed less than a year before his death, Shostakovich’s setting of the texts of the Michelangelo Suite are an extended meditation on aspects of an artist’s life and work. The opening song grapples with the question of truth, the next three with love, then three on the relationship of the artist to the powerful (especially grappling with exile), two on the joys and sorrows of being a creative person, and, to end, contemplations of death and immortality. Autobiographical references are subtly worked into the score, including the dedication of the Suite to the composer’s wife, Irina.

Symphony No. 5
 1888  |  49 mins
Tchaikovsky offered no written program for this symphony. Yet the opening theme has a function other than its musical one: It recurs as a catastrophic interruption of the second movement's love song, as an enervated ghost that approaches the languid dancers of the waltz, and finally in majestic triumph. He begins with a portentous introduction. The tempo is slow, the colors are dark. The theme, suggestive here of a funeral march, sticks easily in the memory. Let’s call it the Fate theme. He builds a strong, highly energized movement, which, however, vanishes in utter darkness.

In 1939, the world fell in love with a pop song called “Moon Love.” It had a great tune—by Tchaikovsky. It is the one you now hear the French horn play in the second movement. Later, the clarinet introduces a new and wistful phrase, picked up and carried further by the bassoon and then the strings. This idea is then brutally interrupted by the Fate theme. The music stops in shocked silence. Order is eventually restored, but again the Fate theme intervenes. This time there is no real recovery, and the movement sinks to an exhausted close.

Next Tchaikovsky gives us a graceful, somewhat melancholic waltz. Varied and inventive interludes separate the returns of the initial melody, and just before the end the Fate theme ghosts softly over the stage.

The finale begins with the Fate theme. This time, though, it is possessed by an almost violent energy, and a highly dramatic movement unfolds. Toward the end, Fate reappears, this time just as a rhythm. It’s a headlong race to the finish!

Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.




Buy Tickets

  1. Thu, May 25, 2017 at 10:00am

    Davies Symphony Hall

If you would like assistance purchasing tickets for patrons with disabilities, please call the box office at 415-864-6000.

Pre- and post-show Events

Inside Music, an informative talk by Scott Foglesong, begins one hour prior to rehearsal. Free to ticketholders. Learn More.