Press Room


Davies Symphony Hall
201 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102

(415) 503-5474
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Oct 19, 2023


The California Festival: A Celebration of New Music, taking place November 3–19, is a two-week, statewide festival featuring 100 organizations and ensembles across the state celebrating the most innovative and compelling music composed around the world in the last five years

November 10–12 performances feature the world premiere of Emerging Black Composers Project winner Jens Ibsen’s Drowned in Light, Salonen’s kínēma featuring San Francisco Symphony Principal Clarinet Carey Bell, and Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements

November 17–18 performances feature Gabriella Smith’s Breathing Forests with organist James McVinnie alongside two works by Igor Stravinsky: Octet for Winds and Brass and Les Noces, featuring animated shorts by artist Hillary Leben

Additional San Francisco Symphony’s California Festival programming includes performances of works by Clarice Assad, Jason Hainsworth, Betsy Jolas, and Sarn Oliver, as well as SF Symphony Youth Orchestra performance of Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Metacosmos

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the San Francisco Symphony in two Orchestral Series programs, November 10–12 and November 17–18, featuring works by composers with California ties: Emerging Black Composers Project winner Jens Ibsen’s Drowned in Light, Gabriella Smith’s Breathing Forests, Salonen’s own kínēma, and three works by Igor Stravinsky.

The programs are part of the California Festival, a two-week, statewide festival of music from around the world aimed at showcasing today’s most compelling and forward-looking voices in performances of works written within the past five years. Taking place November 3–19, the new festival—which features 100 California-based organizations and ensembles—was conceived by Esa-Pekka Salonen alongside LA Philharmonic Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel and San Diego Symphony Music Director Rafael Payare as a festival that highlights the collaborative and innovative spirit that thrives in California.

In addition to Salonen’s two Orchestral Series programs, the San Francisco Symphony’s California Festival programming includes Betsy Jolas’s Latest, performed by the San Francisco Symphony and conductor Ludovic Morlot (Nov. 2–4); Clarice Assad’s Bonecos de Olinda, performed by conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Orchestra during the SF Symphony’s annual Día de los Muertos concert (Nov. 4); chamber works by Jason Hainsworth and SF Symphony violinist Sarn Oliver (Nov. 5); and a San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra performance of Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Metacosmos (Nov. 19).

Further information about the California Festival and the 100 participating organizations can be found on the California Festival website: Press information is available at

“California holds a unique place in music and culture, not just in the United States but in the wider world as well,” said Gustavo Dudamel, Rafael Payare, and Esa-Pekka Salonen in a joint statement when the California Festival was announced in January 2023. “It brings out the unexpected and illuminates the unseen, moving even the most reserved among us.

“For more than a century, California has been a home for musical experimentation. It is where countless composers came, fleeing war and intolerance, and found stability and freedom of expression that allowed them to transcend the strict artistic boundaries they had constructed for themselves. It is where a film industry founded by outcasts and refugees became a global cultural center, creating a constant demand for ever-more-creative musical compositions that have evolved into a genre in its own right. And it is where American composers are transforming the way music is composed, performed and heard. Today, California—a state with the economic power of a country, the ecological diversity of a continent, and the cultural diversity of the planet—represents a powerful vision for classical music.

“Our three orchestras, in partnership with other arts organizations from throughout this state, have come together to celebrate the sheer magnitude of California’s contributions to classical music and to dream of new ways that we can work together to express our deep appreciation for the environment, communities and technological innovation that make this state so deeply unique.”

November 10–12: To the Edge
On November 10 at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall, presented by Cal Performances, and November 11 & 12 at Davies Symphony Hall, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts a program featuring the world premiere of 2022 Emerging Black Composers Project winner Jens Ibsen’s Drowned in Light. The work, Ibsen notes, is inspired in part by his personal obsessions with “classical-era musical forms like sonata and rondo form, modern pop song structures, bass-driven grooves, polyrhythm, and vernacular musical styles—in short, chasing after the sweet spot of what’s catchy and complex. This piece incorporates all of these elements; it is a concise distillation of my musical philosophy and my feelings about the San Francisco Bay Area, my home.”

The program begins with the San Francisco Symphony’s first performances of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s kínēma (2021), comprising five cinematic scenes for solo clarinet and string orchestra. The piece features San Francisco Symphony Principal Clarinet Carey Bell (William R. & Gretchen B. Kimball Chair) as soloist. Salonen also conducts Igor Stravinsky’s turbulent Symphony in Three Movements, the first of three works featured across two programs by the composer, who was deeply inspired by his years spent in California.

On Saturday, November 11, at 6:30pm, composer Jens Ibsen participates in a preconcert discussion facilitated by Chief Artistic Officer Phillippa Cole. On Sunday, November 12, at 1pm, Sarah Cahill gives a preconcert talk about California's influence on Igor Stravinsky. Both events are free to all ticketholders and are presented from the Davies Symphony Hall stage.

November 17-18: From the Edge
November 17–18, Salonen conducts the San Francisco Symphony’s first performances of Gabriella Smith’s organ concerto, Breathing Forests (2021), featuring organist James McVinnie as soloist. Smith’s work reflects on the complex relationship between humans, forests, climate change, and fire.

Stravinsky’s Octet for Winds and Brass, a uniquely scored neoclassical work inspired by a late-night dream, opens the program. Salonen and the Orchestra are joined by soprano Lauren Snouffer, mezzo-soprano Kayleigh Decker, tenor Paul Appleby, and bass David Soar, as well as the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (led by new Chorus Director Jenny Wong), for Stravinsky’s Les Noces. The ballet, which depicts a festive, folk-inflected Slavic wedding, is augmented by Steven Stucky’s orchestration and artist Hillary Leben's vivid new animated shorts. Leben previous collaborated with the San Francisco Symphony in February 2022, creating whimsical animations to accompany Salonen and the Orchestra’s performances of Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus.

On Saturday, November 18, at 6:30pm, Hillary Leben will participate in a preconcert discussion with Chief Artistic Officer Phillippa Cole about how she translated music into animation for Les Noces. The event is free to all ticketholders and takes place on the Davies Symphony Hall stage.

Additional SF Symphony & SF Symphony Youth Orchestra California Festival Performances
Kicking off the San Francisco Symphony’s California Festival concerts is a program November 2–4 featuring conductor Ludovic Morlot leading the San Francisco Symphony in the United States premiere of Betsy Jolas’s Latest, a San Francisco Symphony co-commission. Jolas has been active as a composer for over 70 years, and she notably studied with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire, becoming his teaching assistant and then succeeding him as a professor of analysis and composition. Now, at the age of 97, Jolas says, “The fact that I learn a lot of music by heart just to keep my old fingers going is an incredible composition lesson for me at my age all the time... I’m still learning and I’m still trying things I’ve never done before.”  The program also features Augustin Hadelich in Antonin Dvořák’s Violin Concerto, as well as Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Inspired by Pictures at an Exhibition, newly commissioned artwork by Bay Area artists Liz Hernández and Fernando Escartiz will be displayed in the Davies Symphony Hall lobby and on screen during the concert.

On November 4, the San Francisco Symphony presents its 16th annual Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration at Davies Symphony Hall. The event features a concert program of traditional and contemporary Latin American music conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya and featuring vocalist Edna Vázquez, along with dancers from Casa Círculo Cultural and performers from Canción de Obsidiana. As part of the California Festival, Harth-Bedoya will conduct Clarice Assad’s 2019 composition, Bonecos de Olinda, which was inspirated by “bonecos,” the large papier-mâché puppets created for the city of Olinda in Brazil’s annual Carnival parades. The program also includes works by Arturo Márquez, Alfonso Leng, Silvestre Revueltas, and Arturo Rodríguez. The concert is preceded by a festive array of family-friendly activities and followed by the ¡Fiesta! Día de los Muertos fundraiser. Learn more about the San Francisco Symphony’s Día de los Muertos concert.

On November 5, the San Francisco Symphony’s Chamber Music Series features three recent works written by California-based composers—Reena Esmail’s Saans (Breath), Jason Hainsworth’s Urban Cityscapes, and Symphony violinist Sarn Oliver’s Self Portrait—alongside Johannes Brahms’s String Quartet No. 2.

The San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra and Wattis Foundation Music Director Daniel Stewart open the ensemble’s 2023–24 season on November 19, with a program featuring Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Metacosmos. The work received its world premiere by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the New York Philharmonic in April 2018. In a program note, Thorvaldsdottir wrote, “The idea and inspiration behind the piece, which is connected as much to the human experience as to the universe, is the speculative metaphor of falling into a black hole—the unknown—with endless constellations and layers of opposing forces connecting and communicating with each other, expanding and contracting, projecting a struggle for power as the different sources pull on you and you realize that you are being drawn into a force that is beyond your control.” The SFSYO’s concert also features the Symphonic Dances from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story and Prelude and Liebestod from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

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