The Symphony’s free Program Note Podcast Series highlights a great work being performed each week by the orchestra. Hosted by KDFC’s Rik Malone, the podcasts feature music from Symphony concerts and recordings, and commentary based on our award-winning program notes by James Keller and Michael Steinberg. You can hear them on the way to the concert, on your smart phone or computer. Listen here, and subscribe to get future episodes automatically.
During childhood summers spent at the beaches at Cannes, Debussy learned to love the unpredictable and ever-changing sea. The most traditionally ‘symphonic’ of Debussy’s orchestral works, La mer is comprised of three sketches: From Dawn to Noon on the Sea, Play of the Waves, and Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea.
Richard Strauss was just 22 when he wrote his musical travelogue Aus Italien, and—as he put it—"This is the first work of mine to have met with opposition from the mob, so it must be of some importance . . . The first step towards independence."
Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote his Symphony No. 2 while living in Dresden. At age 33, he was a sought-after conductor and pianist, and had relocated to escape the clamor for his talents. After completing the work, he declared he would never write another symphony, and waited almost thirty years to do so.
Audiences were outraged at Mahler's Symphony No. 1 when it premiered in 1889; they had never heard anything like it. But he himself said "My time will come." And it certainly has.
John Cage's ballet music The Seasons gurgles, twitters and shimmers with the sounds of nature, and—just like the first day of Spring—it was the first sign of a new type of artistic collaboration.
After fleeing Hungary during World War II for the United States, Béla Bartók was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony, to write a piece for orchestra. This resulted in one of Bartók’s best-known works, the Concerto for Orchestra, which contains a parody of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7.
Ever the brutal self-critic, Brahms did not write his first symphony until the age of 42. By the time he wrote his Symphony No. 4 in 1885, he had reached the pinnacle of his orchestral composition—the music he had always wanted to write.
Beethoven was, at heart, a man of the theater, and his overture to the play "Coriolan" is one of the most vivid, concise and dramatic character studies ever composed.
The premiere of Symphony No. 7 was perhaps Beethoven’s greatest rock-star moment. Buoyed by the excited troops in whose honor the concert was being performed, he “tore his arms with a great vehemence asunder...at the entrance of a forte he jumped in the air” (according to orchestra violinist and composer Louis Spohr).
Following multiple failed agreements with various ballets (including the Bolshoi, which declared the music impossible to dance to), Sergei Prokofiev reduced what would eventually become his most popular ballet to three orchestral suites. Described by Michael Tilson Thomas as "a great lyrical symphonic epic," the work uses character and emotional motifs to capture the dramatic action in Shakespeare’s classic love story.
Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony was not his farewell statement, although at the time of its first performances it may have seemed like one. What it did do was explore new depths of emotion, even for a composer used to wearing his heart on his musical sleeve.
Often called the greatest piece of music ever written, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 was the last he would ever write. The first symphony to feature a chorus and vocal soloists, Symphony No. 9 also includes the famous Ode to Joy.
After composing Serenade No. 1, Johannes Brahms waited fifteen years before he wrote another purely orchestral work for large ensemble. Infamous for his harsh self-criticism and haunted by the feeling that he was living in Beethoven’s shadow, Brahms finally broke his symphonic silence at the age of forty-two with the Haydn Variations, a musical experiment with the arrangement of sonic shapes. By the time he composed his Symphony No. 3, ten years later, he had fully realized his true voice as a symphonic master.
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201 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94102
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