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Articles & Interviews

These Symphony-commissioned feature articles offer insights into the music you'll hear in the concert hall. We hope you'll find them provocative and entertaining.

Sep 25, 2017

Prost!: Celebrate Oktoberfest with the San Francisco Symphony

Contrary to both of their reputations, symphonic music and lively parties enjoy a long and loving relationship with one another.

“A lot of the classical music that we think is holy and only belongs in a concert hall originated at parties,” San Francisco Symphony Resident Conductor Christian Reif said, adding that a lot of Mozart is definitely party music.

“Up until the 19th century, often there was talking during the shows and clapping in-between movements. It was only at the beginning of the 20th century that composers wanted their music experienced without interruption,” he continues. “I mean, the reason why the opera starts with an overture—and usually quite a loud one—is to shut people up!”

This October, consider continuing one of classical music’s oldest traditions by clanking steins and eating endless pretzels and sausages at the San Francisco Symphony’s first ever Oktoberfest celebration, supporting the Symphony’s myriad artistic, community, and education programs with your participation.

Over the phone, Reif can barely contain his excitement about hosting this event. Originally from a town outside Munich, Reif played in a lot of polka bands. After church on Sunday he and his bands would travel from beer garden to beer garden and entertain Bavarians as they enjoyed their afternoons. So donning a pair of lederhosen and teaching songs to a crowded hall will be a welcome taste of home for the German conductor.

For those who choose to purchase VIP tickets, the evening begins with a biergarten—enjoy a brew of your choice, nosh on some pretzels, mingle, and maybe say hi to Bay Area philanthropist Libby Leffler Hoaglin who chairs the event.

Once you’re warmed up you’ll head into the concert hall—and yes, you’ll be encouraged to bring your beverage of choice inside—where you’ll hear a 90-minute program of jovial Teutonic tunes.

Reif says most of the songs you’ll hear would be heard in a tent at an authentic Bavarian Oktoberfest, but the Orchestra will also play polkas by Strauss and soaring arias about enjoying life, such as “Brindisi” from Verdi’s La Traviata. He will then lead the concertgoers in a few rounds of German drinking songs, “Ein Prosit” and the ever-sprightly “Klarinettenmuckl” among them. Prepare to yodel.

After you’re all schooled up on the songs, you’ll head back out to the tent for more festivities. Reif says he plans to organize a small polka band from some of the members of the Symphony and continue the music long into the night.

The pop-up biergarten starts at 6pm on Tuesday, October 3, and continues after the concert, which begins at 7pm.  You might want to go ahead and take that following Wednesday off.

Visit to purchase concert tickets or a VIP package.

By Rich Smith

The Oktoberfest Celebration is at 7pm on Tuesday, October 3. Pre-concert festivities for VIP ticket holders begin at 6pm, Davies Symphony Hall, (415) 864-6000,