The Prelude Series

For a select number of concerts each month, join us 45 minutes before the performance to take part in a free pre-concert discussion hosted in a casual, intimate lounge setting on the First Tier Lobby of Davies Symphony Hall. These events foster a lively exchange of ideas and are sure to illuminate your concert experience. Feel free to come with a drink or a bite to eat from our café, The Tuning Fork.

Past Prelude Series Concerts

Mar 22–25: MTT Conducts Mahler's Fifth

Discussion Topic: Speaking Through Another's Voice

What might it mean for someone to speak with or through another person's voice in music, visual art, or literature? Many creators have reframed the works or words of others to say something distinctly their own. What might this mean in the context of tonight's performance, and how might assuming the voice of another person strengthen or complicate one's own identity?

Mar 8–10: Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

Disucssion Topic: The Art of Interpretation

There’s a multitude of options for a musician or conductor to consider in interpreting a piece of music. For example, how many possible ways can the opening to Rhapsody in Blue be played? Being the most famous clarinet moment in the orchestral repertoire, each personalized nuance will likely be under intense scrutiny: when does the trill end and the sliding up start? Does the slide go up evenly and land squarely on the top note, or does it start slowly and swoop up at the last minute? There’s an art to this daunting task, but what is it, and what kind of decisions does a musician make?

Feb 22–24: The SF Symphony Performs Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5

Discussion Topic:The Psychology of Music and Emotion

Out of all auditory expressions, music has the power to give us chills, to inspire joy, and even bring us to tears. But is there such a thing as music being too emotional?

Russia’s rebel composer Dmitri Shostakovich is often criticized for his compositions sounding overly cinematic, like “film music.” But, what does that mean? Isn’t the honesty of that emotional resonance part of makes Shostakovich so powerful? American musical legend Leonard Bernstein likewise had a penchant for infusing dramatic, soul-searching narratives beneath the surface of his symphony-scaled Broadway tunes. This engaging discussion delves into the emotional power of music and asks if that’s ever too much of a good thing.

Feb 15–17: Beethoven's Eroica

Discussion Topic: "Seeing" in a Digital Age

How do we appreciate the familiar? Can we even see the Mona Lisa or hear Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with fresh perspective anymore? Does a digital culture where everything is accessible make our responses jaded? What are the new ways into the deeply familiar?

Host: Steven Winn, an award-winning writer and veteran theater and culture critic from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Nov 24–26:  MTT Conducts Mahler's Fourth

Discussion Topic: Music to Brain Coupling

What happens when you couple the visual movements of musicians on stage with the dynamic acoustics of a large concert space? Join us for an enlightening discussion on how attending a live musical performance has profound effects on our brains and how it helps us to better understand ourselves.

Hosts: Barbara Bogatin, a veteran cellist with the San Francisco Symphony, and her husband, Clifford Saron, PhD, a research neuroscientist at the Center for Mind and Brain and MIND Institute at UC Davis.

Nov 10–12:  American Masters: Gershwin, Ives, and More

Discussion Topic: What makes something distinctly American?

Within a concert featuring three very different perspectives of the American sound, this discussion will explore the infinite diversity of the American experience and how these dynamics are expressed through culture and music. For example, the glittering jazz world of Gershwin’s An American in Paris and the quaint choral setting of Ives’ Psalm 90 juxtapose the secular and the sacred in a particularly intriguing American way.

Host: Steven Winn, an award-winning writer and veteran theater and culture critic from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Apr 12–14: Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto

Discussion Topic: Musical Metamorphoses

Revolutionary composers like Beethoven and Strauss ushered in a transformation of orchestral sounds and structures from the Classical to the Romantic and beyond. This casual conversation will explore how these pivotal figures propelled music into a new age and how the standardization of instruments and technological advancements further influenced composition and style.

Host: Lolly Lewis is a prolific educator who devotes her time to supporting music-making in the Bay Area and a veteran producer with more than twenty-five years of experience working with award-winning composers and ensembles.

Apr 26–27, 29: Cosmic Wonders: Holst's The Planets

Discussion Topic: Visual Soundscapes

Drawing inspiration from mythology, literature, history, and art, the highly descriptive nature of program music is designed to paint vivid soundscapes in the listener’s mind. This lively discussion focuses on two masters of this craft—Franz Liszt and Gustav Holst—and explores the ways in which their works evoke visual worlds of fantasy.

Host: Lolly Lewis is a prolific educator who devotes her time to supporting music-making in the Bay Area and a veteran producer with more than twenty-five years of experience working with award-winning composers and ensembles.

May 10–12: Gautier Capuçon and Pines of Rome

Discussion Topic: Musicians’ Brains

How does playing an instrument change your brain? Discover the crucial role of brain neuroplasticity and how our shared biology is uniquely expressed in musicians. This pre-concert talk explores the many brain systems that work together in making music, and the role of entrainment when musicians play in an ensemble and follow the conductor.

Host: Barbara Bogatin is a veteran cellist with the San Francisco Symphony. Her husband, Clifford Saron, PhD, is a research neuroscientist at the Center for Mind and Brain and MIND Institute at UC Davis.

May 31–Jun 2: Bychkov Conducts Tchaikovsky

Discussion Topic: Reveling in Romanticism

Though Tchaikovsky was the master of the Romantic style, some critics have disparaged the opulent expressiveness of his music, having grown up in a cynical “age of irony.” This pre-concert discussion explores the questions: Is it possible to leave all those jaded notions behind and just revel in the beauty of pure Romanticism? And what’s so wrong with wearing your heart on your sleeve?

Host: Lolly Lewis is a prolific educator who devotes her time to supporting music-making in the Bay Area and a veteran producer with more than twenty-five years of experience working with award-winning composers and ensembles.

June 7–9: Susanna Mälkki and Nikolaj Znaider

Discussion Topic: Seeing Sound

How does music translate into light, color, and visuality? Together, we will consider ways in which music can embody or refer to visuality, through the ideas of composers interested in concepts of color, light, and visual form, as well as in our own experiences of film, music, and the visual arts.

Host: Michiko Theurer, an active violinist, musicologist, and visual artist passionate about building conversations between different disciplines and experiences.