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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.
San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas, 2019 © Brandon Patoc larger

Mar 21, 2019

MTT25: A Celebratory Season

The 2019-20 season marks the 25th and final season of Michael Tilson Thomas’s distinguished tenure as San Francisco Symphony Music Director. The wide-ranging programs and initiatives of next season celebrate the spirit of this extraordinary partnership, which began with MTT’s first visit to the Orchestra in 1974. Reflecting the spirit of MTT, the Orchestra, and the community they serve, the 2019-20 season is pioneering in nature, open minded in perspective, and inclusive in approach. Here are some of the highlights:


Connections and Collaborations

The 2019–20 season is studded with performances that exhibit connections and collaborations between like-minded creators, including unique artist residencies by three remarkable women—soprano Julia Bullock, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. A highlight of Bullock’s residency is History’s Persistent Voice, a program inspired by an exhibition of artwork and words penned by black American artists from the southeastern United States and featuring original works written by seven American female composers, including four SFS-commissioned world premieres. Bullock also appears with in a program with SFS Music Director Designate Esa-Pekka Salonen. Sasha Cooke’s performances include the world premiere of Michael Tilson Thomas’ Rilke Songs, paired with Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and a solo recital examining her ten-year partnership with the SFS. Cooke’s residency will also incorporate a new educational project involving hands-on visits to San Francisco classrooms. The elegant artistry of Anne-Sophie Mutter shines in recital, chamber music, and Orchestral Series programs she has planned in celebration of the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven. Other celebrated musical voices performing with MTT and the SFS during his final season as Music Director include pianists Emanuel Ax, Yuja Wang, and Daniil Trifonov; violinist Gil Shaham; and cellist Gautier Capuçon.

“It takes a very special environment of people who have worked together and deeply trust one another to make music magical, and that is what has happened these last 25 years. This season is very much about celebrating the relationships we have built together.” —Michael Tilson Thomas 


The American Sound

Michael Tilson Thomas and the SFS survey the rich history and vibrant future of American music through a wide variety of commissions and West Coast, US, and world premieres by composers including John Adams, Mason Bates, Adam Schoenberg, and Julia Wolfe; first SFS performances of works by Wynton Marsalis, Jessie Montgomery, and Steven Stucky; an exploration of MTT’s work as a composer through performances and recordings; immersive SoundBox programs curated by Julia Bullock, Missy Mazzoli, and MTT; and performances and SFS Media releases of compositions by titans of American music such as Charles Ives and Aaron Copland.

The Masterworks

Anchoring the season are many of the masterworks that have been instrumental in establishing the San Francisco Symphony’s international artistic reputation under MTT’s leadership. The season showcases MTT’s visionary Mahler interpretations in several programs, culminating in performances of the transcendent Symphony No. 8, Symphony of a Thousand. MTT and the SFS join the global celebration of the 250th birthday of Beethoven with appearances by artists including pianists Yefim Bronfman and Igor Levit; violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter; debuting conductors Dima Slobodeniouk and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla; and Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt. MTT and the SFS continue their tradition of vivid semi-staged performances with a production of Wagner’s maritime drama Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) with debuting bass-baritone Greer Grimsley in the title role.