HISTORY & ARCHIVES
Welcome to the San Francisco Symphony Archives! We collect, preserve, and provide access to current and historical records of the San Francisco Symphony, serving our staff, musicians, and the public. Our collections document the heritage of the Symphony, its evolving nature, and its continued presence in the cultural life of the Bay Area.
We provide reference services by phone and email. Our collections can also be accessed on site, by appointment. Please contact us with any questions!
OUR COLLECTIONS INCLUDE: Programs and performance history • Press clippings • Scrapbooks • Posters • Guest artist and event files • Photographs & Videos • Ephemera • Administrative Records
MISSION & HISTORY
A Symphony Rises from the AshesIn the wake of the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, San Francisco’s civic leaders set about creating a permanent orchestra in the music-loving city. In December 1911, the San Francisco Symphony gave its first concerts, rekindling the city’s cultural life. It delighted audiences with a kaleidoscopic mix of classics and new music.
A Growing ReputationThe Orchestra grew in stature and acclaim under a succession of distinguished music directors: Henry Hadley, Alfred Hertz, Basil Cameron, Issay Dobrowen, the legendary Pierre Monteux, Enrique Jordá, Josef Krips, Seiji Ozawa, Edo de Waart, Herbert Blomstedt (who continues to serve as Conductor Laureate), and Michael Tilson Thomas, who recently became the Symphony’s first Music Director Laureate following his remarkable twenty-five-year tenure. In the 2020–21 season, the San Francisco Symphony welcomes conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen as its twelfth Music Director and embarks on a new vision for the present and future of the orchestral landscape. In their inaugural season together, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the San Francisco Symphony introduce a groundbreaking artistic leadership model anchored by eight Collaborative Partners from a variety of cultural disciplines: Nicholas Britell, Julia Bullock, Claire Chase, Bryce Dessner, Pekka Kuusisto, Nico Muhly, Carol Reiley, and Esperanza Spalding. This group of visionary artists, thinkers, and doers joins with Salonen and the San Francisco Symphony to embark on a future of experimentation by collaborating on new ideas, breaking conventional rules, and creating unique and powerful experiences.
Awards & Recordings AplentyThe San Francisco Symphony has won some of the world’s most prestigious recording awards, including Japan’s Record Academy Award, France’s Grand Prix du Disque, Britain’s Gramophone Award, and a bundle of Grammy® awards. With Michael Tilson Thomas, the Symphony has won twelve Grammy®s, including a 1996 award for their debut live RCA Red Seal recording of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, three for the 1999 recording of Stravinsky ballet scores, seven for the acclaimed Mahler symphony cycle recorded over a decade, and a 2013 Grammy® for John Adams’ Harmonielehre and Short Ride in a Fast Machine. The Mahler and Adams recordings were released on the Symphony’s own label, SFS Media, which launched in 2001.
Conductors & ComposersSome of the most important conductors have been guests on the San Francisco Symphony podium, among them Bruno Walter, Leopold Stokowski, Leonard Bernstein, and Sir Georg Solti. The composers who have led the orchestra comprise a who’s who list of modern and contemporary music: Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Paul Hindemith, Aaron Copland, and John Adams. For its adventurous programming, the Symphony has been honored nineteen times by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. And in 1979, the appointment of John Adams as New Music Adviser became a model for composer-in-residence programs adopted by major orchestras across America.
A Leader in EducationThe San Francisco Symphony provides the most extensive education and community programs offered by any American orchestra. It brings music into every classroom, K-12, in the San Francisco Unified School District, free of charge. The Symphony’s Adventures in Music (AIM) is the longest-running education program of its kind in the country. Begun in 1988, AIM brings music to every child in grades one through five in San Francisco’s public schools and reaches more than 75,000 children, students, educators, and families annually. More than 35,000 students throughout Northern California hear the SF Symphony each year through the Concerts for Kids program, which began in 1919. The Symphony’s Music and Mentors program brings professional musicians into middle and high schools throughout the city to coach students once a week. It also provides technical assistance, supplies and concert tickets. In 2002, the SFS launched sfskids.org, a comprehensive and interactive online music education resource for children, schools, and families. In 2020, the Symphony introduced the digital Music Connects program, which offers a variety of content, activities, and lessons that support music education at home.
The acclaimed San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra (SFSYO) gives pre-professional training to the Bay Area’s most gifted young musicians at no cost. Over the past thirty-nine years, the SFSYO has toured the world and made impressive recordings, earning a reputation as one of the finest youth ensembles in the world. Members of the SFSYO benefit from weekly coachings by San Francisco Symphony musicians.
The Soul of the CityIn October 1989, in a gesture harkening back to the Symphony’s beginnings, Herbert Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Chorus helped San Francisco begin to heal five days after the destructive Loma Prieta earthquake, playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to an audience of more than 20,000 in Golden Gate Park. In September 2011, to celebrate its 100th anniversary, the Symphony, led by Michael Tilson Thomas and joined by pianist Lang Lang, played a free, sun-drenched concert in the city’s Civic Center Plaza that drew 10,000 people. In November 2017, in response to the devastating Northern California wildfires, Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony presented a benefit concert in Davies Symphony Hall, with proceeds benefitting North Bay fire relief funds.
Music for EveryoneIn 2006, Michael Tilson Thomas and the SF Symphony launched Keeping Score, a multi-year, multimedia program designed to make classical music accessible to people of all ages and musical backgrounds. It included a national PBS television series seen by more than six million Americans, an interactive website, a national radio series hosted by Tilson Thomas, documentary and live performance DVDs, and a classroom program for K-12 schools that integrated classical music into core subjects. Keeping Score is available on DVD and Blu-ray, can be accessed online at keepingscore.org, and was made available for unlimited free streaming on the Symphony’s YouTube channel in 2020. The Symphony’s use of new technology to reach audiences dates back to 1926, when it became the first orchestra in the United States to play on regular radio broadcasts. Today, the San Francisco Symphony is heard on nearly 300 radio stations across the country, enriching American musical life.
Articles from the SF Symphony Archives
A series of twelve podcasts that explore nearly a century’s worth of the San Francisco Symphony's recordings, including some that have not been available to the public for generations.