Thus far there has been relatively little attention to historical context in conjunction with the celebration of the Centennial Season of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS). Outside of the concert hall setting there has been the appearance of two significant books, each of which contributes to this context in its own way. One is the “official history” of the SFS, Music for a City, Music for the World: 100 Years with the San Francisco Symphony, written by SFS Publications Editor Larry Rothe and published by Chronicle Books. This is a chronological account beginning with the ensemble’s formation and then tracing its activities through each of its eleven conductors. Then, for a view based more on San Francisco itself than on the SFS, one may turn to Leta Miller’s Music & Politics in San Francisco: From the 1906 Quake to the Second World War, which provides a broader account of the role of music in San Francisco life over the period the book covers. What has been missing, however, has been any attempt to account for the music itself through performance.
That will change next month when Musical Director Michael Tilson Thomas and the SFS will present a multi-disciplinary production that will both explore and celebrate the musical heritage of early San Francisco. This production is entitled Barbary Coast and Beyond: Music from the Gold Rush to the Panama-Pacific Exposition, and it will feature the performance of works within that time frame. The production will be staged by James Robinson and will involve several major soloists:
- Soprano Laura Claycomb will sing opera arias that were popular around the turn of the century, as well as a medley of songs inspired by the Golden State.
- Violinist Vadim Gluzman will perform the gypsy-style Allegro moderato from Henryk Wieniawski’s Opus 22 violin concerto in D minor, as well as Fritz Kreisler’s “Tambourin Chinois,” both of which are representative of what San Franciscans from that time would have expected to hear a violinist perform.
- Pianist Anton Nel will offer a taste of “home-grown” American music with a performance of Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s “Grand tarantella” for piano and orchestra.
- Organist Cameron Carpenter will apply his usual panache to a “period” rendering of “Hail! California!,” composed by Camille Saint-Saëns specifically for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
The first half of the program will capture the raucous, vibrant energy of San Francisco at the turn of the century. Robinson will make innovative use of video to establish the historical context. Among the historical figures to be covered from this period will be the Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth, Gottschalk, the violinist Ole Bull (as well as Wieniawski), and the opera diva Adelina Patti.
The second half will then cover the period between the 1906 earthquake and the 1915 exposition. The founding of the SFS will be celebrated with a performance of the third movement from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Opus 74 symphony in B minor, his sixth (“Pathétique”), the second composition to be presented at the very first concert on December 8, 1911. Performers from that period to be recognized will include both Kreisler and the opera diva Luisa Tetrazzini.
This program will receive three performances in Davies Symphony Hall. These will be given at 8 PM on Thursday, May 10, Friday, May 11, and Saturday, May 12. Ticket prices range from $35 to $145. Tickets may be purchased through the event page on the SFS Web site. They may also be purchased at the Davies Box Office on Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street or by calling 415-864-6000. The Inside Music pre-concert talk will be given by James Keller, beginning at 7 PM. This event is free to all ticket-holders; and the doors open at 6:45 PM. Keller will also give a free talk entitled “California Songs in the Vaudeville Era” at 1 PM on May 10 at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California Street; and he has curated an exhibition of sheet music entitled “Singing the Golden State” at The Society of California Pioneers, 300 Fourth Street. Finally, Rothe will be available to sign copies of his book, Music for a City, Music for the World: 100 Years with the San Francisco Symphony at the Symphony store following the performance on Saturday, May 12.