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Get Concert Insights On the Go

The Symphony’s free Program Note Podcast Series highlights a great work being performed each week by the orchestra. Hosted by KDFC’s Rik Malone, the podcasts feature music from Symphony concerts and recordings, and commentary based on our award-winning program notes by James Keller and Michael Steinberg. You can hear them on the way to the concert, on your smart phone or computer. Listen here, and subscribe to get future episodes automatically.

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 Stravinsky’s Firebird

Serge Diaghilev was turned down by four composers before turning to Igor Stravinsky to write the music for a new production by the Ballet Russe. Luckily, Stravinsky, eager to try his hand at a ballet, had already been working on the music for a month, and their artistic relationship went on to produce Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. 

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Stravinsky’s Firebird

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

Mahler Symphony No. 6 

In summer 1903, Mahler was at his happiest time of life. Married to the beautiful Alma and father to two healthy daughters, it doesn’t seem like the time when one would compose a symphony often called the Tragic. However, in an eerily prescient stroke, this is exactly what Mahler does. In the years that followed, Mahler suffered the death of a child, the loss of his position in Vienna, and learned of his debilitating heart disease—three blows of fate predicted by the blows of the drum that fell the Hero at the close of Symphony No. 6.

Play

Mahler Symphony No. 6

All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
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Nielsen Symphony No. 5

Drawing on themes of contrast and opposition and likely influenced by the aftermath of World War I, Nielsen’s Symphony No. 5 uses a nontraditional two movement structure. The first movement is a battle between the orchestra and a renegade snare drummer, silenced by the full forces of the orchestra in the final bars. Movement two takes dramatic and unexpected turns before resolving in triumphant affirmation.

Play

Nielsen Symphony No. 5

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

Ravel - Mother Goose 

In a piece he first wrote for children to play on the piano, Maurice Ravel found magical new sounds for the orchestra.

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Ravel - Mother Goose

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

SAINT-SAËNS - Symphony No. 3, Organ

A child prodigy, Saint-Saëns was not only a gifted composer but an accomplished pianist who could perform all of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas from memory by the age of ten. Composed for the Philharmonic Society of London, his Symphony No. 3, Organ, is dedicated to his friend Franz Liszt.

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SAINT-SAËNS Symphony No. 3, Organ

All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
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Beethoven - Symphony No. 2

Beethoven spoke of setting out upon a fresh path with his Second Symphony, and even included veiled musical jokes, which shocked the sensibilities of many critics. Produced between the widely popular First and the revolutionary Eroica¸ Symphony No. 2 forged new territory with development of theme and architecture, and would eventually take its place among Beethoven’s great works.

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Beethoven - Symphony No. 2

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

Brahms - Symphony No. 3

After composing Serenade No. 1, Johannes Brahms waited fifteen years before he wrote another purely orchestral work for large ensemble. Infamous for his harsh self-criticism and haunted by the feeling that he was living in Beethoven’s shadow, Brahms finally broke his symphonic silence at the age of forty-two with the Haydn Variations, a musical experiment with the arrangement of sonic shapes. By the time he composed his Symphony No. 3, ten years later, he had fully realized his true voice as a symphonic master.

Play

Brahms  - Symphony No. 3

All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
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Beethoven - Symphony No. 7

The premiere of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 was perhaps his greatest rock-star moment. Buoyed by the excited troops in whose honor the concert was being performed, Beethoven “tore his arms with a great vehemence asunder ... at the entrance of a forte he jumped in the air” (according to orchestra violinist and composer Louis Spohr). The work’s explosive energy and Beethoven’s expansion of symphonic structures to emphasize certain key areas make Symphony No. 7 an important stepping stone on his path towards Romanticism.

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Beethoven - Symphony No. 7

All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
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Berg - Three Pieces for Orchestra

In his Three Pieces for Orchestra, Alban Berg finally "graduated" from his studies with Arnold Schoenberg, and took his first giant step towards fulfilling his musical destiny.

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Berg - Three Pieces for Orchestra

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

In 1906, Maurice Ravel made some sketches for a tribute to Johann Strauss, the Waltz King. By the time he got back to it, World War I had ravaged Europe, and Ravel's tribute had turned into something much darker

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Ravel - La Valse

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

Handel - Messiah

However you like your Messiah - big or intimate, modern or period, authentic or interpreted - when you listen you become part of an almost 300-year tradition of what may be classical music's most beloved masterpiece.

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Handel - Messiah

All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
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Bruckner - Symphony No. 4

Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 "The Romantic" was a departure from his usual symphonic testaments of faith. It's a journey into the Age of Chivalry, of knights, quests, and - above all - the hunt.

Play

Bruckner - Symphony No. 4

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

Strauss - Metamorphosen

"Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen for 23 Solo Strings was his musical response to a life, and a world, gone to pieces."

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Strauss - Metamorphosen

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

Charles Ives - Symphony No. 3 & 4

With 19th-century Americana spirit, MTT and the SF Symphony, pianist Peter Dugan, and the SFS Chorus’s musical candor and clarity add an evocative recording of Ives’s songful Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 to the SFS Media label’s Grammy award-winning discography.

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Charles Ives - Symphony No. 3 & 4

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

Bach - Orchestral Suite No. 4

Bach's Orchestral Suite #4 is a dazzling combination of rhythmic complexity and sonic brilliance; all the more amazing in that he wrote it (most likely) just for fun!

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Bach - Orchestral Suite No. 4

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

Shostakovich - Symphony No. 7 Leningrad

Shostakovich's 7th Symphony became a symbol of the wartime alliance between the US and the USSR. But the road to victory is never easy, and it wasn't long before both the musical and the political symbols of that alliance disappeared.

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Shostakovich - Symphony No. 7 Leningrad

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

Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition

Originally composed for solo piano (and later orchestrated by Ravel), Pictures at an Exhibition was written by Modest Mussorgsky after he visited a retrospective exhibit of the works of his friend Victor Hartmann. The collection of pieces represents a promenade from painting to painting, pausing in front of works called The Gnome, Ancient Castle, and Great Gate of Kiev. 

Play

Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition

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

Mozart -  Symphony No. 41, Jupiter

Mozart's final symphony was nicknamed the "Jupiter," and - like the planet and the Roman god that share its name - it still stands out as one of the greatest of its kind.

Play

Mozart -  Symphony No. 41, Jupiter

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

Stravinsky - Symphony in Three Movements

Living in Hollywood in the 1940s, Igor Stravinsky couldn't help but be influenced by the movies. His Symphony in Three Movements was almost entirely inspired by films—whether or not he cared to admit it.

Play

Stravinsky - Symphony in Three Movements

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

Schumann - Symphony No. 3

Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, Rhenish, completed in 1850 after his much celebrated appointment as Municipal Music Director in Düsseldorf, reflects his optimism in the face of new challenges. Filled with spirited, glorious themes, Rhenish marks the high point in the life of a composer who struggled with mental illness.

Play

Schumann - Symphony No. 3

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

Mahler - Symphony No. 6

In summer 1903, Mahler was at his happiest time of life. Married to the beautiful Alma and father to two healthy daughters, it doesn’t seem like the time when one would compose a symphony often called the Tragic. However, in an eerily prescient stroke, this is exactly what Mahler does. In the years that followed, Mahler suffered the death of a child, the loss of his position in Vienna, and learned of his debilitating heart disease—three blows of fate predicted by the blows of the drum that fell the Hero at the close of Symphony No. 6.

Play

Mahler - Symphony No. 6

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

Beethoven - Symphony No. 6

To escape the city of Vienna, Beethoven often spent his summers in the rural counties surrounding it—a love reflected in his Symphony No. 6, Pastoral. With movements titled Awakening of joyful sentiments upon arriving in the country and Scene by the brook, the work depicts life in the country.

Play

Beethoven - Symphony No. 6

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

During childhood summers spent at the beaches at Cannes, Debussy learned to love the unpredictable and ever-changing sea. The most traditionally ‘symphonic’ of Debussy’s orchestral works, La mer is comprised of three sketches: From Dawn to Noon on the Sea, Play of the Waves, and Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea. 


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Mahler - Symphony No. 9

Mahler’s last complete work, the Symphony No. 9, was composed following a whirlwind period of great loss and supreme achievement, including the composition of his “symphony without a number,” Das Lied von der Erde. Symphony No. 9 reaches the greatest apex of Mahler’s compositional catalogue, exhibiting his characteristic subtle transition, expansion, and continuous variation at their fullest. 

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Mahler - Symphony No. 7

Mahler's 7th is sometimes called "The Song of the Night," but it's really a journey from night into day, with some very interesting stops along the way.

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Mendelssohn - Symphony 

No. 3

Scotland - the country that gave us haggis, bagpipes, golf and Sean Connery among other world treasures - was also the inspiration for two of Mendelssohn's best-known works: his "Hebrides" Overture and "Scottish" Symphony. There are no actual Scottish tunes in the Symphony; in fact, Mendelssohn professed to dislike all Scottish music, especially the bagpipes. But it's hard to imagine the source of this tuneful work being anything other than the windswept heather of the Highlands.

Play

Mendelssohn - Symphony No. 3

All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
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Mendelssohn - Symphony  No. 4

On an extended journey through Italy in 1830 and 1831, Felix Mendelssohn began work on his Fourth Symphony. A wildly talented composer who wrote his famous Octet when he was only sixteen, Mendelssohn was prompted to finish the work when the London Philharmonic Society requested a symphony from him (and offered payment of a hundred guineas). Mendelssohn called it the jolliest music he had ever composed. Although he remained dissatisfied with the symphony and planned numerous revisions, the Italian Symphony still stands as one of his most easily recognizable works.

Play

Mendelssohn -Symphony No.4

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

Eighth Symphony

Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony made him a war hero, but his Eighth Symphony still got him in trouble with the Soviet government, perhaps because it was less a hymn to heroism than a prayer for peace

Play

Shostakovich - Eighth Symphony

All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
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Sibelius - Symphony No. 2

At the close of the nineteenth century, Finnish natives were enjoying a renaissance of their native culture, in opposition to their Russian occupiers. Jean Sibelius was swept up in this nationalistic fervor, and composed several patriotic tone poems, including Finlandia. Symphony No. 2, misinterpreted at its premiere as a commentary on the Finnish political conflict, was composed mostly in Italy, where Sibelius was renting a studio. Working with fragments and sketches intended for four separate tone poems, Sibelius then assembled the pieces into this full-fledged symphony. 

Play

Sibelius - Symphony No. 2

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

Stravinsky - Petrushka

Upon visiting Stravinsky in late 1910, expecting to find him immersed in composing the Rite of Spring, Serge Diaghilev, director of the Ballet Russe, was quite surprised to find him instead composing the ballet of an anthropomorphized puppet. The story recounts the rise and fall of mischievous Petrushka, a puppet brought to life by a magician as he courts the Ballerina and fights the Charlatan. The work was premiered one hundred years ago, with Nijinsky dancing the title role. Former SFS Music Director Pierre Monteux conducted the work’s world premiere.

Play

Stravinsky - Petrushka

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

Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 4

The Fourth Symphony was a product of the most turbulent time of Tchaikovsky's life - 1877, when he met two women (Nadezhda von Meck, a music-loving widow of a wealthy Russian railroad baron, and Antonina Miliukov, an unnoticed student in one of his large lecture classes at the Moscow Conservatory), who forced him to evaluate himself as he never had before.

Play

Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 4

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

Wagner - "Tristan und Isolde"

"Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" was about passion, inspired by passion, and made possible by passion. That passion changed the course of Western music history."

Play

Wagner - "Tristan und Isolde"

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

Mozart - Symphony No. 31

When Mozart went to Paris, he may not have found the job he was looking for, but he still found success, with his stylish Symphony No. 31.

Play

Mozart - Symphony No. 31

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

For many, the sound of Copland's "Appalachian Spring" is the sound of American classical music.

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Copland - Appalachian Spring

All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
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Ravel - L'Enfant et les Sortileges

In his fantasy opera "L'enfant et les sortileges," Maurice Ravel brings together his love of children, animals and fairy stories in a magical, musical mix.

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Ravel - L'Enfant et les Sortileges

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

Michael Tilson Thomas - Street Song

With his piece "Street Song" for brass ensemble, Michael Tilson Thomas - the composer - celebrates both his past and his future.

Podcast

Prokofiev - Symphony No. 5

Composed alongside fellow distinguished Russian composers at a House of Creative Work northeast of Moscow, Prokofiev’s renowned Fifth Symphony saw its premier in January 1945, as Soviet armies had begun their final push to victory over Germany. As Prokofiev raised his baton in the silent hall, the audience could hear the gunfire that celebrated the news, just arrived, that the army had crossed the Vistula and driven the German Wehrmacht back past the Oder river.


Henry Brant Ice Field

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony team up with iconoclastic organist Cameron Carpenter to release a one-of-a-kind recording of Henry Brant’s Pulitzer Prize-winning spatial composition, Ice Field. Put on your headphones for a unique Dolby Atmos immersive experience that allows us to hear Brant’s work as it was intended: as a vast acoustical soundscape for 100 players scattered throughout Davies Symphony Hall.  

Play

Henry Brant - Ice Field

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

Rimsky-Korsakov  - Scheherazade

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov traveled the world as a naval officer, but it was his musical journey into the world of the Arabian Nights that became one of his most colorful and enduring masterpieces.

Play

Rimsky-Korsakov - Scheherazade

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

Brahms - Piano Concerto No. 2

When Johannes Brahms wrote his first Piano Concerto, he was worried about the judgment of history. By the time he wrote his second Piano Concerto, he was making history.

Play

Brahms - Piano Concerto No. 2

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

Bach -  Orchestral Suite No. 3

Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3 contains some of his best-known music, including the beautiful "Air on the G String." But it also contains the origins of the modern symphony orchestra.

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Mahler - Symphony No. 5

In this episode, special guest host Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas talks about a work Mahler called a “foaming, roaring, raging sea of sound,” his Symphony No. 5.

Play

Mahler - Symphony No. 5

All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
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Prokofiev - Piano Concerto No. 3

Constructing a winning chess match is not that different from constructing a musical composition. Sergei Prokofiev used both strategies in his Piano Concerto No. 3.