French Greats: Debussy and Ravel

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Susan Graham


San Francisco Symphony



Debussy (orch. Ravel)

Sarabande from Pour le Piano

Debussy (orch. Ravel)
Maurice Ravel
All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.


Maurice Ravel


Davies Symphony Hall

Thu, Apr 19, 2018 at 11:00PM

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Davies Symphony Hall

Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 11:00PM

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Davies Symphony Hall

Sat, Apr 21, 2018 at 11:00PM

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Event Description

The SF Symphony performs French interpretations of classic texts, featuring Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé in a unique orchestral arrangement by renowned Iceland Symphony Chief Conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier. Inspired by the ancient Greek tale of two lovers, hear what Ravel described as “a vast musical fresco, faithful to the Greece of my dreams.” Also on the program, Ravel’s mesmerizing Shéhérazade performed by the incomparable mezzo-soprano Susan Graham.

At a Glance

Maurice Ravel’s two appearances conducting the San Francisco Symphony at the Curran Theatre in 1928 introduced local audiences to his Shéhérazade and his orchestrations of Debussy’s Sarabande and Danse. Tonight's concert pays homage to Ravel’s remarkable tour of 90 years ago.

DEBUSSY (orchestrated by Ravel)
Sarabande and Danse
 1894 and 1890/orch. 1992  |  10 mins
In 1922, Ravel was asked to orchestrate two unrelated piano movements by Claude Debussy (1862-1918)—a Sarabande and a Danse. The Sarabande was originally conceived by Debussy as part of a set of three movements called Images. He later plucked the Sarabande from Images and incorporated it, practically unaltered, into his beloved piano suite Pour le Piano. When it premiered, Pour le Piano was hailed as revolutionary in its approach to piano writing. Debussy’s Danse originally launched in 1890 as a tarantella (a lively folk number danced by Italian or Austrian/Slovenian peasants to work venom from a tarantula bite out of their systems). Today, this spirited piece mostly lives on through Ravel’s orchestration, paired with the stately Sarabande, as presented at these performances.

 1903  |  19 mins
Ravel’s Shéhérazade owes its existence to the composer’s affiliation with Les Apaches, a high-spirited group of Parisian writers, musicians, and artists who would gather on Saturday evenings to share their latest work, discuss cultural events of the moment, and do whatever else creative types do on Saturday nights. DID YOU KNOW? Apaches member Tristan Klingsor (1874-1966) had just published a volume of symbolist poems titled Shéhérazade, and Ravel pounced on three for his rather mysterious settings, in which the composer himself observed that “the influence of Debussy is fairly obvious.” “Here again,” he said, “I yielded to the profound attraction that the East has always held for me since my childhood.”

Daphnis et Chloé (concert version arrangement by Yan Pascal Tortelier)  1912  |  40 mins
Ravel described his Daphnis et Chloé as “a great choreographic symphony. . . a vast musical fresco . . . faithful to the Greece of my dreams, which identifies quite willingly with that imagined and depicted by late eighteenth-century French artists.” Its themes and its orchestration—its “color”—are quite a thing to behold’ the sound of this score is sublimely exceptional. In Daphnis et Chloé Ravel employs the largest orchestra he would ever require, but rather than merely using it as a show of force, he often spotlight solo players in a way that recalls chamber music. SFS piccolo player Catherine Payne comments: “Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé is an incredibly lush and evocative score about love and desire. Featuring one of the most gorgeous flute solos ever composed and terrific writing for all the members of the section, flutists spend hundreds of hours practicing the ferociously difficult parts. The sounds Ravel manages to coax from the orchestra are extraordinary and always affect me deeply. There is nothing more dramatic than ‘hearing’ the sunrise at the beginning of the final section of the piece as the music is slowly warmed by brightening rays of light (complete with piccolo bird calls) until the sun bursts over the horizon in an ecstatic orchestral climax.”

Conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier, who shares that “Ravel is the composer I hold closest to my heart,” has selected portions of the full concert version of Daphnis et Chloé. For more from Mr. Tortelier on Ravel, click here.

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


Concert Extras

Inside Music, an informative talk by James Keller, begins one hour prior to concerts. Free to ticketholders. Learn More.

Guest artist signing: Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham will be available for autographs following the April 20 concert. Signing takes place in the orchestra lobby, near the Symphony Store.

Ravel in America
Discover more about the life and work of composer Maurice Ravel and his connection to the San Francisco Symphony in a special exhibition located on the First Tier. Learn More.

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