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Studio Ghibli Composer Joe Hisaishi is Coming to San Francisco

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A Japanese man sits at a piano with an abstract pattern on the wall in the background
Joe Hisaishi, who has composed music for Studio Ghibli films for four decades, conducts the San Francisco Symphony in a program of his famous film scores on Sept. 5–8 at Davies Symphony Hall. (Omar Cruz)

Joe Hisaishi, the composer for timeless Studio Ghibli films such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service and others, is coming to Davies Symphony Hall in September for four performances with the San Francisco Symphony.

As a right-hand man to director Hayao Miyazaki since 1984’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Hisaishi has played a key role in shaping the tone of four decades’ worth of Studio Ghibli films, be it the buoyancy of Ponyo or the tension of Princess Mononoke.

Hisaishi’s appearances conducting the San Francisco Symphony, running Sept. 5–8, will feature both orchestra and chorus, as well as clips from classic Studio Ghibli films.

A still from ‘Spirited Away,’ Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 film which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. (Studio Ghibli)

Ticket tip: the last time Hisaishi was in the Bay Area, at Symphony San Jose in 2018, all five shows sold out. So be ready when tickets go on sale for single symphony events on July 20 — or opt for a film series subscription package, available today, which includes screenings with a live orchestral score of Amadeus, Titanic and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. (Other films with a live orchestral score in the symphony’s season include Psycho, Coco and Top Gun: Maverick.)

Hisaishi’s shows kick off the symphony’s 2024–25 season, announced today, which includes six commissions, five world premieres, 14 works by living composers and 14 artist debuts. It was also announced that this will be the final season for Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen before he steps down.


For film buffs, a Jan. 24–25 program conducted by Mark Elder includes Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra (you know it as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey), alongside works by Berlioz and Debussy, and Berkeley composer John Adams’ brisk, joyous Short Ride in a Fast Machine.

Double bassist Xavier Foley. (Matt Dine)

The season also includes unusual combinations of musicians, such as a June 4 duo recital with double bassist Xavier Foley and pianist Kelly Lin, or a piano duet performance with Yuja Wang and Vikingur Ólafsson playing the music of Luciano Berio, Dave Brubeck, Conlon Nancarrow, Arvo Pärt and others.

Esteemed conductor Marin Alsop leads an April 10–12 program of American composers, including debut performances of works by Gabriela Ortiz and Gabriela Montero alongside Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber.

Guest artists include Lang Lang (at the symphony’s Sept. 25 gala performance), Joshua Bell, Emanuel Ax, Yuja Wang, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Hilary Hahn, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Itzhak Perlman, among others.

Marin Alsop. (Nancy Horowitz)

Soundbox, the symphony’s more casual nightclub performance series, has been scaled down to just two programs, curated by percussionist and composer Andy Akiho and New Orleans-based composer Courtney Bryan.

Other programs include performances of Verdi’s Requiem, Brahms’ Symphony No. 4, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, Mahler’s Symphony No. 7, Fauré’s Requiem, Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Orff’s Carmina burana, Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 and other classics of the classical canon.

Joe Hisaishi conducts the San Francisco Symphony in a prorgram of Studio Ghibli film scores on Sept. 5–8 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. The San Francisco Symphony’s 2024–25 season runs through June 2025; for a full list of programs and events, see the season announcement.

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