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In 1922, the genius orchestrator Maurice Ravel had his way with a suite for piano by the gifted—and capricious—Modest Mussorgsky. Coaxing radiant hues out of unorthodox coxmbinations of instruments, Ravel transformed Mussorgsky’s monochrome pieces into one of the most popular works for orchestra. How did he do it? He leaned into the ensemble’s soloists. This week, the San Francisco Symphony spotlights the artistry and eloquent precision of its principal players. In a parade of famous solos, the Symphony presents Ravel’s ingenious orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition.
Guest conductor Cristian Măcelaru keeps the spotlight on the Symphony’s own with a world-premiere concerto featuring SFS Principal Percussionist Jacob Nissly. An SFS commission, this concerto by L.A.-based composer Adam Schoenberg is part of the San Francisco Symphony’s ongoing exploration of the new American Sound. Setting the tone is a spritely work by Lili Boulanger, who in 1913 became the first woman to win the prestigious Prix de Rome.