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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Your S.F. Symphony Is Playing for Free to Mark Its 100th Birthday This Week

Posted By on Tue, Sep 6, 2011 at 1:46 PM

  • Chris Wahlberg

What do we get when an orchestra turns 100 years old? (Besides very well-tuned renditions of "Happy Birthday," that is.) In the case of the San Francisco Symphony, we get a free concert with pianist Lang Lang.

The centennial birthday bash, which will be held in the Civic Center Plaza this Thursday (September 8) at 11:30 a.m., includes all sorts of goodies, like free Ghirardelli chocolates, ice cream sundaes for the first hundred guests, and Off the Grid food trucks with picnic provisions. Yum.

But before we dig in to the treats and enjoy the orchestra's performance of Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, let's take a moment to reflect on the Symphony's first hundred years.

Veteran bassist Stephen Tramontozzi. This year will be his 31st season with SFS
  • Veteran bassist Stephen Tramontozzi. This year will be his 31st season with SFS

Founded in 1911 by conductor Henry Hadley, the San Francisco Symphony has grown to become a world class operation. British conductor Michael Francis, who was a guest conductor this summer, told SF Weekly, "The orchestra is really just fantastic, they are really world-class. They're lovely people to work with, and great musicians."

The orchestra wasn't always world-renowned. "When I first got in, the orchestra finally had a hall of its own, and had just started that year as a full time orchestra," says assistant principal bassist Stephen Tramontozzi, who joined the orchestra in 1980. "Up to that point, its stature in the world of orchestras was almost second-tier."

In the early 1980s, the Symphony parted ways with the San Francisco Opera, which led to a spate of hiring and an infusion of young and talented musicians. "There was a lot of vitality and a lot of excitement," recalls Tramontozzi. "The orchestra really bumped up in level and quality of the ensemble."

Tramontozzi also credits current conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, fondly known as MTT, with the continued growth and success of the orchestra. This year will be Thomas' 17th season with the orchestra.

Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas - KRISTEN LOKEN
  • Kristen Loken
  • Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas

"I remember him when he first came in 1995," says Tramontozzi. "He talked to the orchestra before the first rehearsal, and the most striking thing he said was, 'We're going to be making music in the moment. It's not going to be programmed. Sure, we're going to rehearse and work it all out, but we're not going to flip a switch and be on automatic for the performance. It's never going to be dull.' "

Sure enough, the Symphony has a reputation for its flexibility and range of repertoire. Tramontozzi adds that the musicians are also comfortable playing with any guest conductor. "Each guest conductor, of course, is a different musical personality, and the orchestra is really quick to buy into their concept," he says.

Over the years, the Symphony has had a long-standing tradition of education, being involved with the S.F. Conservatory of Music and also coaching the San Francisco Youth Orchestra since its founding in 1981. Tramontozzi says he feels encouraged to see that the audience isn't aging with the orchestra. "We see a lot of young generation people coming to the symphony," he says.

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Caroline Chen


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