The performance of classical music at this level of excellence demands a lifetime commitment. The pursuit of perfection in performance requires unbelievable emotional fortitude, physical stamina, and tremendous innate talent. Every single musician, each guest artist, and each conductor has his or her own reason for choosing music above all else. Meet the musicians who make the music.
Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director
Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) assumed his post as the San Francisco Symphony's (SFS) 11th Music Director in September 1995, consolidating a strong relationship with the Orchestra that began some two decades earlier. It was January of 1974 when he made his San Francisco Symphony conducting debut at the age of 29, leading the Orchestra in Mahler's Symphony No. 9. Tilson Thomas's thirteen seasons as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony have been praised by critics for innovative programming and for bringing the works of American composers to the fore, and have brought new audiences into Davies Symphony Hall.
During his inaugural 1995-96 season, Tilson Thomas included an American work on nearly every one of his SFS programs, and ended the season with An American Festival, a groundbreaking two-week celebration of American music. In June 2000, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony presented a landmark 12-concert American Mavericks Festival, a celebration of America's maverick musical heritage of the 20th century. Additional season-ending festivals in Davies Symphony Hall have included internationally acclaimed explorations of the music of Mahler, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Beethoven, Wagner, and Weill, including semi-staged productions of Rimsky-Korsakov's opera-ballet Mlada, Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, and Beethoven's Fidelio. In June 2005, MTT and the San Francisco Symphony again broke new musical ground with “Of Thee I Sing: Yiddish Theater, Broadway and the American Voice,” a two-week exploration of 20th century Jewish American music and its impact on the American theater. The festival included an evening celebrating MTT's grandparents, Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, pioneers of the American Yiddish theater.
Herbert Blomstedt, Conductor Laureate
Herbert Blomstedt, Conductor Laureate of the San Francisco Symphony, served as Music Director from 1985 until 1995. Born in Springfield, Mass. in 1927, Mr. Blomstedt moved with his family to Sweden in 1929 and later attended the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and the University of Uppsala. He studied contemporary music at Darmstadt and Baroque music at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, also continuing his conducting studies with Igor Markevitch, with Jean Morel at Juilliard, and with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood's Berkshire Music Center. Honors and accomplishments followed quickly: in 1953, the Koussevitzky Conducting Prize; in 1954, his conducting debut (with the Stockholm Philharmonic) and first appointment as a music director (with Sweden's Norrköping Symphony); and in 1955, first prize at the Salzburg conducting competition.
In his decade as Music Director of the SFS, Mr. Blomstedt led the Orchestra to worldwide recognition. Together, he and the SFS toured Europe, Asia, and the U.S. and presented concerts at the festivals of Salzburg, Edinburgh, and Lucerne. Their recordings on the London label captured awards, including France's Grand Prix du Disque, Britain's Gramophone Award, and two Grammys. Their recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 was named Best Recording of 1995 by the German Record Critics. Mr. Blomstedt continues to conduct the SFS regularly, and led the Orchestra most recently in two weeks of subscription concerts in October 2006.
Donato Cabrera, Resident Conductor
Donato Cabrera joined the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) conducting staff in September 2009. As the Resident Conductor he works closely with SFS Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and as Wattis Foundation Music Director leads the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra. During the 2011-2012 season he will conduct the San Francisco Symphony in the Día de los Muertos Community Concert and The Snowman, as well as the Concerts for Kids, Adventures in Music and Music for Families concerts, which annually draw more than 60,000 young people and their families from throughout the Bay Area to Davies Symphony Hall. The 2011-2012 season also marks his first year as Music Director of the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra.
In February 2010, Cabrera was recognized as a Luminary by the Friends of Mexico Honorary Committee, a group led by San Francisco's Consul General of Mexico Carlos Félix dedicated to celebrating Mexico's bicentennial in San Francisco. Cabrera was recognized for his contributions to promoting and developing the presence of the Mexican community in the Bay Area. Cabrera holds degrees from the University of Nevada and the University of Illinois and has also pursued graduate studies in conducting at Indiana University and the Manhattan School of Music.
Members of the Orchestra
When it comes to making music, talent is just the beginning. Add these essentials: The physical endurance of a marathon runner. The emotional stamina to handle applause one moment and critical darts the next. A certain amount of genius. And pure love of music. Everyone who walks onto the stages of Davies Symphony Hall shares these qualities. All have chosen to devote themselves to music. It is not an easy life. But for them, it is the only life, full of unbelievable challenges and overwhelming joys. The music makers are a special breed. Meet them here.
Ragnar Bohlin, Chorus Director
Ragnar Bohlin began his tenure as Chorus Director of the San Francisco Symphony in March 2007. In 2010 the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus garnered three Grammy Awards for their recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 8, including for Best Choral Performance under Bohlin's direction. Born in 1965, he served as choirmaster of Stockholm's Maria Magdalena Church and holds a master's degree in organ and conducting and a postgraduate degree in conducting from the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. Bohlin studied with the renowned choir director Eric Ericson and studied piano with Peter Feuchtwanger in London on a British Council scholarship. Through a Sweden-America Foundation scholarship he visited choruses throughout the United States. He studied singing with the great Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda and has also appeared as an oratory tenor.
Established in 1972 at the request of Seiji Ozawa, then the San Francisco Symphony's (SFS) Music Director, the 140-member Chorus, made up of 30 paid and 110 volunteer singers, gives a minimum of 26 performances each season and has sung under the world's major conductors, including SFS Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT), SFS Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt, Kurt Masur, Neville Marriner, Roger Norrington, Yuri Temirkanov, Wolfgang Sawallisch, and Robert Shaw. Louis Magor served as the Chorus's Director during its first decade. In 1982 Margaret Hillis, then the world-renowned Director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, assumed the ensemble's leadership, and the following year Vance George was named Director, serving through the 2005-06 season. Ragnar Bohlin assumed the position of Chorus Director in March 2007.