Since 1925 the San Francisco Symphony has been preserving its performances via commercial recordings, radio broadcasts, and its extensive in-house archives. Join contributing writer and pre-concert lecturer Scott Foglesong for a series of twelve podcasts that explore nearly a century's worth of recordings, including some that have not been available to the public for generations.
From Alfred Hertz's Parsifal on 78 rpm Victor discs to the latest high-definition downloads and SACDs from Michael Tilson Thomas on SFS Media, the Symphony's history on record weaves a rich tapestry of great music in memorable performances.
Music selections courtesy of Bonneville International, Chevron, Harmonia Mundi France, Nonesuch, Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music.
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The Symphony's legacy on records is vast. This first episode provides an introductory overview of the whole. Along the way, we'll learn about some of the challenges of assembling a complete collection of the Symphony's surviving recordings, and explore the impact of evolving audio technology on the San Francisco Symphony.
More About Recordings Used In This Podcast (PDF)
The Symphony's recorded history begins in 1925, as the eminent German maestro Alfred Hertz (1872–1942) brought his orchestra into the recording studio for its first sessions. Hertz's 24 recordings with the San Francisco Symphony have been treasured collector's items for generations, until recently all but inaccessible. This episode brings the sound of the 1920s San Francisco Symphony back to life for modern listeners.
Pierre Monteux (1875–1964) led the Symphony from 1935 to 1952 and brought it back to the recording studio after a long hiatus. Both on RCA Victor and the popular Standard Hour Broadcasts, Maître Monteux left us copious recordings of a vibrant ensemble with an utterly unique sound and style. From 1941's shellac 78 rpm discs made over telephone lines to the crystal-clear LPs of the 1950s, Monteux and the Symphony made discographic history.
A two-year search for Pierre Monteux's successor resulted in the 1954 appointment of Enrique Jordá (1911–1996), an electrifying stage presence and passionate advocate of contemporary music. Jordá's discography with the SFS is modest, but his three RCA Victor albums, together with superb performances of two local composers on the CRI label, bear engaging witness to the San Francisco Symphony of the 1950s and its elegant Spanish-American maestro.
The renowned Austrian conductor Josef Krips (1902–1974) took over the reins of the Symphony in 1963, charged with rebuilding an orchestra that had grown slack. Although Krips refused to allow the Symphony to record commercially, he approved a series of live Friday-night broadcasts on radio station KKHI. From surviving taped transcriptions of those broadcasts we'll hear Josef Krips transform the Symphony, from his inaugural concert—played one week after the JFK assassination—to his 70th birthday concert in 1972, when he made a guest appearance during Seiji Ozawa's tenure.
The Symphony returned to the recording studio in 1971 with Seiji Ozawa (1935–), first on Deutsche Grammophon, then on Philips. The Symphony began keeping recorded archives of its performances during Ozawa's tenure, thus preserving the sound of the Symphony in its day-to-day performances. We'll be hearing examples from those archives, together with commercial recordings and radio broadcasts.
Edo de Waart (1941–) became the Symphony's music director in 1977 and saw the orchestra through two important transitions: the move to Davies Symphony Hall and the change from analog to digital recording technology. De Waart's tenure at the SFS is exhaustively documented via commercial recordings, broadcasts, and in-house archives. We'll hear the San Francisco Symphony undergo one of its most sweeping transformations, as it inaugurated Davies Symphony Hall with more than 20 new players.
Herbert Blomstedt (1927–) stepped up to the Symphony podium in 1985 and brought the orchestra to the Decca label, in which capacity the orchestra produced a distinguished series of recordings covering the repertory from Beethoven to Bartók and beyond. Grammy and other such international awards followed, reflecting the Symphony's new prominence on the world stage and its enviably high performance standards. Via broadcasts, in-house archives, and commercial recordings we relive the impressive music-making of a memorable era.
Under Michael Tilson Thomas (1944–) the San Francisco Symphony has risen to unprecedented heights of renown and artistic achievement. After a series of award-winning releases on RCA Red Seal, the Symphony created the in-house SFS Media label, under which it has been garnering numerous international awards and plaudits. We'll trace MTT's long association with the SFS, from his first guest appearance in 1974 to the Symphony's most recent releases.
Some of the Symphony's guest conductors have bequeathed recordings to posterity. Hear giants such as Leopold Stokowski and his two RCA Victor albums with the SFS, local 1940s favorite and future Broadway legend Meredith Willson (shown above left), or famed figures such as William Steinberg, Jean Martinon, Charles Munch, Sixten Ehrling, James Conlon, and others at the helm of the Symphony.
This episode brings us the playing of the San Francisco Symphony musicians down the years, from Henry Hadley's own choice for principal horn Walter Hornig, through long-serving stalwarts such as oboist Merrill Remington and flutist Paul Renzi, to concertmasters such as Louis Persinger, Michel Piastro, Naoum Blinder, and their present-day successor Alexander Barantschik. We'll hear the profound differences that can arise from changes of personnel in key positions, and how individual players changed their styles and techniques over the years.
The sheer scope of the Symphony's recorded legacy allows us to hear the same piece performed over the years. Differences are fascinating, but sometimes the similarities are just as remarkable. As the conclusion of the series, this episode takes the broadest approach yet, sweeping freely over the Symphony's history from 1925 onwards as it illustrates the change, growth, and evolution of this wonderful orchestra down the years.