With a near-constant presence at Davies Symphony Hall, the San Francisco Symphony often feels like our home team -- we walk to their performances, cheer for them, and sometimes take them for granted. Hence, it's important to remember that the orchestra has just returned from Europe, headlining some of the most renowned concert halls in the world.
But life on the road for the home team isn't all champagne, massages and standing ovations. Above, listen to an audio postcard from the European trip -- the symphony’s 17th such tour since 1928 -- and scroll down for more snapshots from overseas.
The Edinburgh International Festival marked the tour's kickoff, where the orchestra performed at Usher Hall. "That was a wonderful way to open up our tour -- as we joke -- to usher in our tour," says violinist Elina Lev.
“The first morning I woke up way too early and I couldn’t go to sleep to save my life," Lev continues, "and so at six o’clock in the morning I just walked around Edinburgh in that misty rain that’s so popular and wonderful here."
The next stop on the tour was London, where the Symphony performed at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Proms music festival. The musicians were surprised by some of the unique traditions of the festival, including attendees in the arena shouting "Heave!" while people in the gallery shout "Ho!" whenever a piano is rolled out.
"There’s a standing room section that’s right down in front that reminds me of a mosh pit," says principal percussionist Jacob Nissly.
London's Royal Albert Hall is one of the top performance halls in the world. “Trying to follow in the footsteps of the iconic pop acts like Adele or some of the other greatest symphony orchestras in the world, you can’t help but feel it’s a different energy it’s a different level," Nissly says. "You sorta have to pinch yourself when you come off stage that yes, you did in fact just do that.”
Next came the Rheingau Festival at the Kurhaus, situated in the middle of Wiesbaden, a beautiful spa town in Germany. The building also houses a casino that allows the “highest roulette stakes in Germany,” and where Dostoyevsky is rumored to have gotten the inspiration for The Gambler.
"Every hall is different," says violinist In Sun Jang. "[The] first time you walk on stage you feel like a tourist... 'Look at the ceiling! Look at the decorations!'"
"You have to be flexible and willing to roll with flight delays, and equipment arriving late, and dealing with not practicing for two days in a row," Nissly says. "It's really tricky to do when you're expected to perform at the top of your game on these tours."
Principal pianist Robin Sutherland has long held the orchestra's next stop, the Philharmonie in Berlin, in high regard, as the home of the Berlin Philharmonie. "It also has a cafe that no one else can access," Sutherland says.
"I think the stakes are very much higher," Sutherland says of performing in such established halls. "I was walking down the hall in one of the hotels and I heard two of the maids. Each of them had been to different performances of the same opera, and they were discussing with great knowledge the performances they had just witnessed. This is where these works were born -- these people know them inside and out."
The tour included the Symphony's first trip to Romania, where the orchestra appeared before sold-out audiences.
"When we walk around town, we try to absorb their culture and history," Jang says. "But then we have something to share: at night we perform and share our story. That is satisfying and special for me."
All photos courtesy San Francisco Symphony.