World Premieres, Classical Masterpieces Abound in SF Symphony’s New Season

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The San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall. (Courtesy San Francisco Symphony)

Even in an era with endless entertainment options, there’s nothing quite like the rush of seeing 89 top-tier musicians coming together, channeling their passion — and thousands of hours of practice — into a moving vision. On Tuesday, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) announced its ambitious 2023-2024 season, featuring several world premieres, superstar guest performers, classical masterpieces, experimental SoundBox programming and more.

A highlight of the season is the California Festival: A Celebration of New Music, a new statewide initiative by SFS Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen, LA Philharmonic Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel and San Diego Symphony Music Director Rafael Payare. (Recently poached by the New York Philharmonic, Dudamel’s esteemed tenure at the LA Phil is set to end in 2026.)

Running Nov. 3–19, the California Festival features international works composed within the last five years. Salonen conducts the world premieres of City Lights: Aquatic Park by Terry Riley — the influential minimalist composer still innovating at 87 years old — and Drowned in Light by Jens Ibsen, a critically acclaimed young vocalist, composer and winner of the San Francisco Conservatory’s 2022 Emerging Black Composers Project. Salonen, a formidable composer himself, also conducts his own piece Kínēma, featuring SFS Principal Clarinet Carey Bell.

SFS’ Great Performers Series brings out Russian star pianist Daniil Trifonov on Nov. 19, 2023, and Chinese piano virtuoso Yuja Wang on May 15, 2024. And on April 2, 2024, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Kathryn Scott perform works by Gabriel Fauré, Antonín Dvořák and others. Alonzo King LINES Ballet joins the orchestra in June 2024 for performances of Maurice Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye and Arnold Schoenberg’s Erwartung.


SFS Music Director Laureate Michael Tilson Thomas returns to the stage to conduct several performances, starting with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in October 2023. In January 2024, Tilson Thomas revisits Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler, a defining composer of his decades-long career at SFS. (Fans will note that the same Mahler symphony is a centerpiece of the Oscar-nominated 2022 film Tár, which included an inexplicable dig at MTT.) Barrier-breaking guest conductor Gustavo Dudamel takes the podium to conduct Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 on Nov. 24, 2023.

The San Francisco Symphony’s season begins on Sept. 22, 2023. For a full concert schedule, visit the San Francisco Symphony.