Program Note Podcasts

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.

Ravel L'Enfant et les Sortileges

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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.

Street Song

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

Prokofiev Symphony No. 5

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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

brant ice
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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.  

Mozart Symphony No. 31

Mozart
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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.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade
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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.

Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2

Brahms
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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.

Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3

Podcast: Bach Orchestral Suite No. 3
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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.


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.

Brahms Symphony No. 2

Brahms Symphony No. 2
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Brahms's Symphony No.2 is generally thought of as his most lighthearted, but it's actually built on the contrasts between light and dark, between sunshine and clouds. Kind of like life.

Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1

Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1
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Franz Liszt may have been one of the nineteenth century’s most exasperating underachievers, to say nothing of committing the unforgivable sin of success on a staggering scale, but he was a genius. This concerto can remind us. Begun in 1835 at the ripe old age of 24, Liszt did not complete his first piano concerto until nearly twenty years later.  A final draft appeared in 1849, which was revised before the 1855 premiere (conducted by Hector Berlioz), and then revised yet again before its publication in 1856.  Béla Bartók called the concerto “the first perfect realization of cyclic sonata form, with common themes being treated on the variation principle.”

Sibelius' Four Legends from the Kalevala

Sibelius – Four Legends from the Kalevala
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In "Four Legends from the Kalevala," Jean Sibelius explored Finland's mythical past and found his own musical future.

Bruckner's Symphony No. 5

Podcast: Bruckner Symphony No. 5
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 Anton Bruckner grew up an unsophisticated teacher’s son.  By the time he reached Vienna and the composition of his Symphony No. 5, he had a sound combining Beethoven’s sense of mystery and suspense, Schubert’s harmony, and Wagner’s breadth in unfolding, plus a symphonic vision all his own.

Handel’s Messiah

Handel’s Messiah
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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

Beethoven's - Symphony No. 9

Beethoven- Symphony No. 9
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Often called the greatest piece of music ever written, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 was the last he would ever write.  The first symphony to feature a chorus and vocal soloists, Symphony No. 9 also includes the famous “Ode to Joy.”

Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”

 Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”
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The Eroica opened the floodgates for the symphonic outpouring of the nineteenth century–for Beethoven himself, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner, and the rest. The Eroica was the longest symphony ever written when it was unveiled, and listeners and critics commented widely on that fact, to the composer’s frustration. By 1807 nearly all reactions to the piece were favorable, or at least respectful, and critics were starting to make sense of its more radical elements.

Shostakovich Violin Concerto and Bartok’s The Miraculous Mandarin

Shostakovich
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"Banned" and "boycotted" - whether by the state or by the public, "official" disapproval has long had the power to change composers' careers and their lives.

Ravel's Alborada del gracioso

Mussorgsky-Ravel
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Ravel's Alborada del gracioso is a jester's song to his lady—a poignant love song surrounded by a miniature musical comedy.

R. Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier

Strauss
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Der  Rosenkavalier  was  Richard  Strauss'  "Mozart  opera,"  and  its  sparkle,  wit,  sentiment  and  infectious  musicespecially  the  waltzescemented  his  standing  at  the  top  of  the  operatic  world.

music- especially  the  waltzes  -  cemented  his  standing  at  the  top  of  the  operatic  world.Der Rosenkavalier

was Richard Strauss's "Mozart opera," and its sparkle, wit, sentiment and infectiou

s

music - especially the waltzes - cemented his standing at the top of the

operatic world.Der Rosenkavalier

was Richard Strauss's "Mozart opera," and its sparkle, wit, sentiment and infectiou

s

music - especially the waltzes - cemented his standing at the top of the

operatic world.

Stravinsky’s The Firebird

Stravinsky
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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

Scriabin: The Poem of Ecstasy Op. 54.

Scriabin
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Scriabin's "Poem of Ecstasy" was the perfect "cosmic trip" for the Summer of Love - even though it was written 60 years earlier.

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2

Tchaikovsky
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Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2 bridged the divide between East and West in Russian music; that may have been the reason it was the only one of his works that he was really satisfied with.

Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1

Brahms
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In 1854, Robert Schumann, friend and mentor to a young Johannes Brahms, attempted suicide by drowning in the Rhine River. Thrown into emotional turmoil by Schumann’s resulting institutionalization and his unrequited love for Robert’s wife Clara, young Brahms began sketching his first major orchestral work.  Brahms reflects his struggle with a tormented opening, a slow movement which he described as a “lovely portrait” of Clara, and acceptance of reality in the finale. Perhaps afraid to attempt a form so masterfully executed by Beethoven, the work soon evolved into a sonata for two pianos and then finally became his Piano Concerto No. 1, in D minor.

Elgar's Enigma Variations

Elgar
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Improvised at the piano after a strenuous day of teaching, Enigma Variations established Elgar as the pre-eminent British composer of his time. Shrouded in mystery is the “enigma” intended by Elgar, a secret he took with him to the grave. Variation IX, “Nimrod (Adagio),” has become a cherished piece in the popular classical lexicon.

Respighi's Pines of Rome

Respighi
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A fascination with the music of Italy’s distant past led Ottorino Respighi to compose what is known as his Romany Triptych of tone poems—Pines of Rome, Fountains of Rome, and Roman Festivals.  The Pines of Rome depicts the trees around Rome, which according to Respighi, “dominate the Roman landscape [and] become witnesses to the principal events in Roman life.”

Prokofiev's Symphony No. 3

Prokofiev
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Sergei Prokofiev's opera The Fiery Angel—a medieval tale of demonic possession and its erotic overtones—was never produced during his lifetime. But he felt it contained some of the best music he had written, so he brought it to life in the concert hall as his dark, dynamic, and dangerous Symphony No. 3. How he got it past the Soviet censors is a mystery; you may find yourself looking over your shoulder after hearing it!

Podcast: Holst's The Planets

Gustav Holst
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Gustav Holst's suite The Planets was inspired by his interest in astrology; the stars must have been aligned because it has been a hit ever since its first performance.

Strauss' An Alpine Symphony

Strauss
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After a series of successful tone poems based on literary sources, Richard Strauss found a fascinating new subject to write about: himself. His Alpine Symphony is based on eventful day trip he took as a boy; an epic musical journey to the summit and back again.

Podcast: Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé

Ravel
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Maurice Ravel called his score to the ballet Daphnis et Chloé a "great, choreographic symphony." The ballet lasted only a couple of performances, but the score has become—like the Greek gods—immortal.

Mahler's Symphony No. 5

Mahler
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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.

Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3

Prokofiev
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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.

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