MTT & Mahler: Love & Lyricism

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In his final season as San Francisco Symphony Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas returns to the composer who, more than any other, brought the SFS into the hearts of music-lovers across the globe: Gustav Mahler. In this concert, love’s anguish finds its voice in Mahler’s settings of the classic folk poems Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Driving the marriage of music and poetry into the present, MTT leads the San Francisco Symphony in the world premiere of his latest composition, Meditations on Rilke, a six-part song cycle based on the lyric poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, featuring Grammy Award-winning mezzo Sasha Cooke (in residence this season) and gorgeously resonant bass-baritone Ryan McKinny. 

Part of the Symphony’s ongoing commitment to the new American Sound, these performances of Meditations on Rilke are being recorded for future release on the SFS Media label.


Sasha Cooke


Ryan McKinny


San Francisco Symphony



Overture to Benvenuto Cellini 

Michael Tilson Thomas

Meditations on Rilke


Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn


La Valse

All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.


Ravel: La Valse

At A Glance

Overture to Benvenuto Cellini 1837 | 11 mins |  from notes by Michael Steinberg
In 1833, there appeared a new French translation of the Vita di Benvenuto Cellini, the crackling, uninhibited, sometimes taller-than-life autobiography of the sixteenth-century Florentine goldsmith and sculptor. When Berlioz read it in 1833, he responded to its vitality and passion. He also (in his own words) "had the misfortune to believe [it] would make an interesting and dramatic subject for an opera." Of the premiere at the Paris Opéra, Berlioz wrote, "The Overture was extravagantly applauded, the rest was hissed with exemplary precision."  Read more

Meditations on Rilke 
2019 |  By Michael Tilson Thomas
These Six Rilke Songs, or perhaps “Meditations on Rilke Texts” are reflections of the many moods the poems suggest. The motives and harmonies of these pieces have been with me for years, decades. This approach to music as a kind of lifelong journal, or confessional companion, was what my father, and as I now have learned, my grandfather, and even my great-grandfather, experienced. My fondest wish is that all people would have this kind of relationship to music—music spontaneously popping into their minds—perhaps in recollection, perhaps in anticipation of places within their spirits. Read More

Des Knaben Wunderhorn 1892–98 | 18 mins | from notes by James M. Keller 
Des Knaben Wunderhorn pretended to be a collection of authentic folk poems reaching deep into the German past. In fact, it was anything but authentic. No matter: A “Who’s Who” of German song composers would turn out settings in the ensuing century, including Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Richard Strauss, and—most remarkably of all—Gustav Mahler. Mahler’s songs exhibit many of the characteristics that we cherish most in his symphonies: a tendency to turn on a dime, to shift instantly between different emotional states, to expose states of mind or soul in highlighted relief. Read More

La Valse  1920 | 13 mins | From notes by Michael Steinberg
As early as 1906, Maurice Ravel planned a tribute to Johann Strauss, to be called Wien. When, late in 1919, he began work on the score, waltzing Vienna was no longer to be seen in quite the same way. La Valse became a bitter fantasy, a terrifying tone poem that helped define a new language of musical nightmare. In a prefatory note in the score Ravel hints of a scenario: “Swirling clouds afford glimpses, through rifts, of waltzing couples. The clouds scatter little by little; one can distinguish an immense hall with a whirling crowd. The scene grows progressively brighter. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo. An imperial court, about 1855.” Read More

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  1. Thu, Jan 9, 2020 at 8:00pm

    Davies Symphony Hall

  2. Fri, Jan 10, 2020 at 8:00pm

    Davies Symphony Hall

  3. Sat, Jan 11, 2020 at 8:00pm

    Davies Symphony Hall

  4. Sun, Jan 12, 2020 at 2:00pm

    Davies Symphony Hall

If you would like assistance purchasing tickets for patrons with disabilities, please call the box office at 415-864-6000.

Pre- and post-show Events

Inside Music: an informative talk by Laura Prichard, begins one hour prior to concerts. Free to ticketholders. Learn More.

Program Support

These concerts, a part of The Barbro and Bernard Osher Masterworks Series, are made possible by a generous gift from Barbro and Bernard Osher.