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SF Symphony Returns to In-Person Concerts in May

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Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the San Francisco Symphony on Jan. 18.
Esa-Pekka Salonen leading the San Francisco Symphony on Jan. 18, 2019. (Brandon Patoc/San Francisco Symphony)

When Esa-Pekka Salonen took the helm of the San Francisco Symphony in 2020, he promised to bring a tech-savvy, forward-thinking vision to the 110-year-old orchestra. This willingness to adapt proved to be very useful when the pandemic forced the cancellation of Salonen’s ambitious debut season as music director. Quickly, he and the symphony switched gears, launching a new streaming service with the belief that online performances are an art form in their own right, and trying experiments like private, outdoor, socially distanced concerts for solitary fans through a raffle system.

Noble as these experiments have been, they certainly haven’t replaced the feeling of witnessing dozens of top-tier instrumentalists perform in person. But with millions of Californians now vaccinated and safety guidelines for live entertainment in place, the day has finally arrived. The San Francisco Symphony has announced its return to live events at Davies Symphony Hall on May 6, with concerts taking place every Thursday and Friday in May and June.

“A friend recently said to me, ‘We just need to start.’ I feel joy and relief at finally being able to do just that with the San Francisco Symphony,” Salonen said in a statement. “We go into these concerts having worked as a unit to bring music into your homes in unique and meaningful ways this year. We now welcome audiences into our home—something we didn’t realize we had taken for granted. Let’s get started, together.”

All tickets for the May 6 and 7 performances, and a portion of tickets for the concerts that follow, will be given out for free to Bay Area medical professionals. Each concert will be 75 minutes in length with no intermission. A number of other COVID-19 precautions will be in place, including contactless tickets, a smaller audience, universal mask requirements and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.

The program for the first pair of concerts, led by Salonen, includes Jean Sibelius’ Rakastava, George Walker’s Lyric for Strings, Carl Nielsen’s Little Suite for Strings, Caroline Shaw’s Entr’acte and Edvard Grieg’s From Holberg’s Time Suite. On May 13 and 14, pianist Jeremy Denk leads the orchestra in performances of William Grant Still’s Out of the Silence, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052, Wolfgang Amadè Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flat major, K.449, and Gerald Finzi’s Eclogue for Piano and Strings. On May 20 and 21, guest conductor James Gaffigan joins for the U.S. premiere of Freya Waley-Cohen’s Talisman, Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.


The rest of the schedule will be announced on May 24, and more details about concerts in July and August will arrive in June. Tickets go on sale on May 6 at 10am and may be purchased by phone from the box office. Details here.

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