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SF Symphony’s Streaming Service Debuts with Multicultural Concerts, Videos

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Behind the scenes during filming of CURRENTS Indian Classical Music episode, curated by Zakir Hussain. (Kim Huynh)

Shortly after Esa-Pekka Salonen stepped into his role as San Francisco Symphony music director, the pandemic upended months of scheduled concerts meant to expand the orchestra’s cultural horizons. Salonen and the musicians quickly pivoted, and the symphony moved online with projects like its genre-defying podcast and mini-doc series, CURRENTS. (“No matter how we spin it, we are not an orchestra,” Salonen told The New York Times. “We are a media house.”)

In that spirit of making music accessible, the San Francisco Symphony announced today its new on-demand streaming platform, SFSymphony+. The service is subscription-based, although it offers some free content, and will feature new CURRENTS episodes that explore Indian classical, Native American, Zimbabwean, Persian and klezmer musical cultures.

SFSymphony+ also includes a slate of new SoundBox programs. SoundBox is the SF Symphony’s more intimate, less formal concert series, where contemporary composers present programs that incorporate multimedia and experimental collaborations. SFSymphony+ will have new, virtual SoundBox concerts once a month. The first program, on Feb. 4, will be curated by Salonen. Titled Nostalgia, the concert features three pieces created in the last 10 years: Freya Waley-Cohen’s Conjure, Missy Mazzoli’s Vespers for Violin and Caroline Shaw’s Entr’acte.

The following SoundBox, on March 11, is curated by Julia Bullock, a forward-thinking, young soprano whose program, Lineage, illuminates unexpected connections between Johann Sebastian Bach, Nina Simone and contemporary artists such as bassist Esperanza Spalding and pianist Aruán Ortiz. Bullock has been widely praised for her profound ability to mine different time periods and musical traditions for universal, emotional themes—a skill that will be on full display here.

SoundBox continues through Aug. 26; other curators include harpist Destiny Muhammad, composer Nico Muhly and flutist (and MacArthur fellow) Claire Chase. SFSymphony+ will also feature a virtual Chinese New Year celebration on Feb. 20 organized around the themes associated with the Year of the Ox: unity, prosperity and growth. The program will feature Asian folk music and contemporary works alike, including Chen Yi’s Romance of Hsiao and Ch’in from Romance and Dance, Zhou Long’s Chinese folk songs, Julian Yu’s Flower Riddle and Dry Boat Dance from Chinese Folk Song Suite, Yao-Xing Chen’s Gallop of Warhorses, Yuan-Kai Bao’s Little Cabbage from Chinese Sights and Sounds, and Wenying Wu’s arrangement of the traditional song Tajiks Festival. The Chinese New Year program is free.

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“The challenge with digital programming is to create something that has its own identity, an essential uniqueness that allows it to function as a self-contained piece of art,” Salonen wrote in a statement. “And to achieve that, it’s not enough just to capture a great performance by strong musicians, or even to have interesting programming. Instead, every member of the organization—on the performance level, on the production level, on the administrative level—needs to be working in harmony, drawing upon one another’s talents and strengths.”

“What we’ve created for SFSymphony+ could not have been realized in a traditional live setting,” he continued. “My hope, once live performances do resume, is that we can sustain the dialogue between digital and live performance to create something that audiences will find compelling and valuable—not only in the Bay Area, but across the world.”

A full schedule of programming and more information on SFSymphony+ can be found here.

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