Mar 6, 2023
SAN FRANCISCO—This week, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the San Francisco Symphony embark on their first tour together—and the Symphony’s first international tour since 2016—with performances at the Philharmonie de Paris in France, Philharmonie Luxembourg, and Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Germany from March 9–17. In a new touring model, Salonen and the Orchestra bring the full breadth of the San Francisco Symphony’s innovative programming to immersive residencies in Paris (March 9–12) and Hamburg (March 14–17) as part of a multi-year symphonic and cultural exchange between the San Francisco Symphony and each of the cities.
Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Orchestra will perform two concert programs in both Paris and Hamburg on their residency tour. In Paris on March 10 and in Hamburg on March 15, Salonen and the Orchestra are joined by violinist Johan Dalene—one of the musicians featured in the San Francisco Symphony’s 2022–23 Shenson Spotlight Series, which highlights ascendant artists in their Davies Symphony Hall recital debuts—who makes his San Francisco Symphony debut performing Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. In Paris, the program also features Steven Stucky’s Radical Light and Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5. In Hamburg on March 15, the Orchestra will perform Stucky’s Radical Light, as well as Salonen’s own composition, Nyx, and the suite from Béla Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin.
Yuja Wang joins the Orchestra in Paris (March 11), Luxembourg (March 13), and Hamburg (March 16) to perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s vast Piano Concerto No. 3. The program in all three cities also features Gabriella Smith’s Tumblebird Contrails, a work inspired by the composer’s experience hiking Point Reyes National Seashore; and Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, which showcases the musicians of the SF Symphony with solo turns for almost every instrument.
Salonen and the Orchestra are also joined on tour by two of the Symphony’s eight Collaborative Partners: flutist Claire Chase and composer Nico Muhly. In Paris on March 12, Claire Chase performs Marcos Balter’s Pan, an evening-length piece for flute, live electronics, and an ensemble of community performers. The 70-minute piece tells the story of the mythological goat-god Pan, one of only two Greek deities said to have been put to death, in a series of staged episodes exploring the contradictions and betrayals in Pan’s relationships. For the Paris presentation—which features a version of the piece specifically for her collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony—Chase and members of the Orchestra perform alongside local amateur musicians. The program opens with Balter’s Alone, a musical drama based on a poem of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe. The 10-minute duet for flute and wine glasses was also written for Chase.
Nico Muhly joins Salonen, pianist Yuja Wang, and members of the Orchestra for two performances of his SoundBox program, Codes, in Paris and Hamburg on March 9 and 17, respectively. In curating the program, Muhly focused on what he describes as “contemporary music which contains vestigial codes: the music of the past.” Works by Johann Sebastian Bach and François Couperin are heard alongside arrangements of pieces by William Byrd and John Dowland, together with music of current-day composers including Muhly and Esa-Pekka Salonen, Caroline Shaw, and Billy Childs. Salonen conducts two works on the program: Muhly’s Two Motets by William Byrd and his own FOG for 13 instruments, which he wrote as a 90th birthday tribute to acclaimed architect Frank Gehry.
Paris has been a sister city to San Francisco since 1997. The relationship was renewed in 2022 alongside a new cultural accord, signed by San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed and Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, dedicated to a collaborative exchange between the San Francisco Symphony and the Philharmonie de Paris, with plans to co-commission new works, create new concert experiences, and commit to regular exchanges between the two orchestras, San Francisco Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Orchestre de Paris Music Director Klaus Mäkelä. As part of this partnership, Mäkelä made his San Francisco Symphony Orchestral Series debut April 28–30, 2022.
Esa-Pekka Salonen on the San Francisco Symphony’s new international touring model
“One might say that the concept of orchestral touring has been a little more challenging since the pandemic hit,” says Salonen, “but also because of the environmental aspects and traveling generally. But I think that if we treat these tours as residencies, rather than one-night stands, it will change the game. Because then a symphonic organization goes to a town where you can really show what the organization is about. You can show the full breadth of a symphony orchestra with education projects with, in our case, the Collaborative Partners, of course, playing concerts, symphony concerts, or new music concerts, and doing master classes. I prefer acting as a cultural ambassador rather than just playing a concert and going on to the next place, and I wish to have an impact on the city’s cultural life.
“In the case of Paris and the Philharmonie, it is going to work both ways: we take our organization to Paris and there are plans for the Orchestre de Paris to come to San Francisco. We are also commissioning and co-commissioning works. It’s a collaboration which goes way beyond just playing a concert and going on to the next place.
“The same collaboration is happening with Hamburg as well in the Elbphilharmonie, where I’m in residence this season. It really is about diplomacy. And as, sadly, traditional diplomacy has its limits. So that makes cultural diplomacy even more important. Because if there’s any diplomacy that works, we should be grateful. And this is a powerful way to get our message across.”
About the San Francisco Symphony
The San Francisco Symphony is among the most adventurous and innovative arts institutions in the United States, celebrated for its artistic excellence, creative performance concepts, active touring, award-winning recordings, and standard-setting education programs. In the 2020–21 season, the San Francisco Symphony welcomed conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen as its 12th Music Director, embarking on a new vision for the present and future of the orchestral landscape. In their inaugural season together, Salonen and the San Francisco Symphony introduced a groundbreaking artistic leadership model anchored by eight Collaborative Partners from a variety of cultural disciplines: Nicholas Britell, Julia Bullock, Claire Chase, Bryce Dessner, Pekka Kuusisto, Nico Muhly, Carol Reiley, and esperanza spalding. This group of visionary artists, thinkers, and doers, along with Salonen and the San Francisco Symphony, have set out to explore and develop new ideas inspired by the Partners’ unique areas of expertise, including innovative digital projects, expansive and imaginative performance concepts in a variety of concert formats, commissions of new music, and projects that foster collaboration across artistic and administrative areas. Shaped by the dynamic partnership and shared vision of Salonen, the Collaborative Partners, and the Orchestra and Chorus, the San Francisco Symphony’s 2022–23 season reflects a spirit of collaboration, experimentation, and renewed dialogue through live music.