MTT leads semi-staged performances of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mlada, 2002 Russian Festival




Mahler believed art could shape and reflect history. Even he might have been stunned by the confluence of programming and world events as the San Francisco Symphony’s 2001-02 season began. When Michael Tilson Thomas gave the downbeat to Mahler’s Sixth Symphony the evening after 9/11, launching the Mahler cycle that would define much of MTT and the Symphony’s next decade together, the music helped focus thoughts and feelings for those on stage and in the audience. But just as Mahler’s music journeys on, despite whatever the world throws at it, MTT and the Orchestra keep the momentum going in their seventh season together, boldly founding their own record label, SFS Media, and presenting adventurous festivals and semi-staged performances.  

Michael Tilson Thomas, to The New York Times, February 10, 2002

Inventing a Brand
SFS Media: 2001

As the Bay Area becomes a hub of digital innovation, the San Francisco Symphony expands its artistic footprint in the recording industry with the launch of SFS Media in 2001. The idea was revolutionary: Live performances, recorded, produced, and issued on the Symphony’s own record label. “We find live recordings a much more satisfying experience,” says Michael Tilson Thomas, “because we really are making music for people, there’s that sense of urgency of communicating with the audience.” This intention is never clearer than in the inaugural SFS Media recording, an emotional reading of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, recorded just days after 9/11, which launches the Symphony’s Mahler cycle and goes on to win a Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance.

Worldwide Mavericks: 2001 

MTT grows the Mavericks brand in a December 2001 mini-festival dedicated to innovative composers of Italian and Pan-American origin. A highlight is Henry Brant’s Ice Field, a collaboration with Other Minds that receives its world premiere with the San Francisco Symphony under MTT, with the octogenarian composer at the organ. Brant’s work, a future Pulitzer winner, puts the very limits of Davies Symphony Hall to the test—a kaleidoscopic, spatial marvel. MTT and the Orchestra would revisit the work on a mind-expanding Dolby Atmos recording on SFS Media nearly two decades later. 

Michael Tilson Thomas
SF Symphony President Nancy Bechtle with MTT
at the Nancy Bechtle Salute concert, 2001
MTT leads a Music for Families concert, June 6, 2002

Rimsky’s most unsurpassed and opulent score.” Mlada: 2002 

Building on the wildly successful 1999 Stravinsky Festival, MTT and the San Francisco Symphony offer a deep-dive outlining Russia’s storied musical tradition, from the great works of Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, and Prokofiev, to the lesser-known works of Tcherepnin, Balakirev, Liadov, and Glazunov. The festival’s crown jewel is a semi-staged production of Rimsky-Korsakov’s lavishly colorful choral opera Mlada. Setting the stage for a remarkable run of richly, innovative semi-staged productions, MTT notes, “Perhaps the most major protagonist in the work is the San Francisco Symphony itself.”

Georgia Rowe, Contra Costa Times, June 28, 2002

Alexander Barantschik (Concertmaster) 

Jeff Biancalana (Trumpet) 

Cathryn Down (Violin) 

Chen Zhao (Violin) 

Edwin Outwater 
(Resident Conductor, 2001-06; Wattis Foundation Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, 2001-05) 


American Tour

For the February 2002 National Tourthe SF Symphony was joined by mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, tenor Michael Schade, baritone Thomas Hampson, and pianist Christopher Oldfather. 

New York, NY, Carnegie Hall 

Ann Arbor, MI, Hill Auditorium 

Tune in to KDFC at 3pm daily for “MTT Time”—special concert broadcasts from each year of MTT’s historic tenure, featuring commentary from MTT himself.

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