San Francisco Symphony To Celebrate Composer John Adam's Birthday With Three Weekend Celebration, 2/10-25

By: Jan. 06, 2017
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The San Francisco Symphony (SFS) honors John Adams's 70th birthday in a special three-weekend celebration of his music, February 10-25. First, John Adams curates the Symphony's SoundBox performances February 10-11 in eclectic programs featuring his own compositions and works by Andrew Norman, Jacob Cooper, and Ashley Fure, conducted by Christopher Rountree. The following week, Grant Gershon conducts Adams's The Gospel According to the Other Mary in its first SFS performances, February 16-18. The oratorio features mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor as Mary Magdalene, mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford as Martha, and tenor Jay Hunter Morris as Lazarus. On February 22-25, Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the first SFS performances of Scheherazade.2, a dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra performed by violinist Leila Josefowicz, for whom the work was written.

One of America's most admired and respected composers, John Adams has had a strong relationship with the San Francisco Symphony for more than 35 years: He was appointed new music adviser to the Symphony in 1978 and composer-in-residence between 1982 and 1985, a tenure which helped set the precedent for composer residencies at orchestras around the world. In 1980, SFS Music Director Edo de Waart and John Adams launched the New and Unusual Music Series, dedicated to contemporary and lesser-known works; Adams's Grand Pianola Music premiered at a New and Unusual Music Series concert in 1982.

The creative partnership between the San Francisco Symphony and John Adams has been extraordinarily productive: Since 1981 the SFS has performed 29 of his works, seven of which were SFS commissions. Among his landmark orchestral works which were written for and premiered by the San Francisco Symphony are Harmonium (1981), Grand Pianola Music (1982), Harmonielehre (1985), My Father Knew Charles Ives (2003) and Absolute Jest (2012). SFS Media's recording of Adams's Harmonielehre and Short Ride in a Fast Machine, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas won a 2012 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance. In 2015, SFS Media released a recording of Adams's Absolute Jest and Grand Pianola Music, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas and John Adams.

"I look forward with enormous pleasure to the coming events with the San Francisco Symphony," stated John Adams. "My history with the orchestra goes back nearly 40 years and includes memorable premieres of some of my best orchestral works, including Harmonielehre, Grand Pianola Music, and Absolute Jest."

"The San Francisco Symphony's special relationship with John Adams has been incredibly fruitful," stated Michael Tilson Thomas. "John's emergence as a composer has been an important part of our orchestra's history and emergence on the international scene. I've always enjoyed conducting his vital music, and look forward to celebrating John and his music this year."

"The San Francisco Symphony is literally 'family' to me," added Adams. "Many of the players and staff are personal friends and former students. I met my wife Debbie there in 1982; the orchestra under MTT has toured with our son Sam's music; and our daughter-in-law now plays in the violin section."

SoundBox, February 10-11
The San Francisco Symphony's experimental performance venue and late-night live music series SoundBox kicks off the three-week celebration of John Adams's 70th Birthday with two performances curated by the composer. The programs feature Adams compositions Hallelujah Junction for two pianos (1996), selections from John's Book of Alleged Dances for string quartet and pre-recorded audio (1994), and Ragamarole (1973), performed by SFS Principal Keyboards Robin Sutherland. A longtime champion of and significant mentor to a younger generation of American composers, Adams also highlights the works of other contemporary compositional voices in these performances. His SoundBox program features Andrew Norman's chamber work Try, which was conducted by Adams in its 2011 premiere; Jacob Cooper's Ripple the Sky for voice, string octet, and live sound augmentation (2016); and Ashley Fure's Shiver Lung for ensemble and electronics (2016). These SoundBox performances will be conducted by Christopher Rountree, and will feature lighting design by Seth Reiser and video design by Adam Larsen.

The Gospel According to the Other Mary, February 16-18
A 21st-century passion oratorio, John Adams's The Gospel According to the Other Mary includes a libretto compiled by Peter Sellars from Biblical sources and original texts by female poets and social activists Dorothy Day, Rosario Castellanos, June Jordan, Louise Erdrich, and Primo Levi. This telling of the familiar passion story is seen through the unique lens of Mary Magdalene-who in this case is combined with Mary of Bethany, and is the sister of Martha and Lazarus. The work depicts these Biblical characters as emotionally complex beings struggling within a turbulent society and gives voice to lesser-known characters in the New Testament narrative. Mezzo-sopranos Kelley O'Conner (Mary Magdalene) and Tamara Mumford (Martha)-who performed the work in its world premiere in 2012-reprise their roles in these performances; tenor Jay Hunter Morris makes his SFS debut as Lazarus.

"It will be a special pleasure during February to introduce two recent large-scale works to San Francisco audiences that are representative of my current creative activity," commented John Adams. "The Gospel According to the Other Mary is a full-evening musical and dramatic Passion that time-travels between the Biblical past and the jarring realities of contemporary social and political life. The raising of Lazarus, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection intermingle with themes of drug addiction, homelessness, social protest and, ultimately, hope. It is a work that is both violent and tender."

Conductor Grant Gershon replaces the previously announced Joana Carneiro in these SFS performances of The Gospel According to the Other Mary. Carneiro has announced that she is pregnant and is under doctor's advice not to conduct or travel. Thus she has withdrawn from her scheduled San Francisco Symphony performances. Grant Gershon is artistic director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale (LAMC) and resident conductor of Los Angeles Opera. He prepared the LAMC for The Gospel According to the Other Mary's world premiere performance at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which was also recorded for the Deutsche Grammophon label; he also conducted the work at the Ravinia Festival in 2013.

Scheherazade.2, February 22-25
Adams's Scheherazade.2 was written for violinist Leila Josefowicz, who gave its world premiere in 2015 and was nominated for a 2017 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist for her recording of the work with the St. Louis Symphony. The inspiration for the symphony is the ancient story of the "Arabian Nights," Scheherazade, and Adams's own reflections on how the famous tale has evolved over time. Adams states, "The casual brutality toward women that lies at the base of many of these tales prodded me to think about the many images of women oppressed or abused or violated that we see today in the news on a daily basis. I was struck by the idea of a 'dramatic symphony' in which the principal character role is taken by the solo violin-and she would be Scheherazade."

Adams continues, "Scheherazade.2, imagines a modern, empowered woman gifted not only with great beauty, but also with grit and an indomitable spirit. Both a symphony and a concerto, it is unique in that the soloist is not only a virtuoso instrumentalist but also embodies a real dramatic persona-Scheherazade. I composed the piece for Leila Josefowicz, herself a woman both beautiful and indomitable and whose performance of the music never fails to astonish her audiences."

ABOUT John Adams

Composer, conductor, and creative thinker - John Adams occupies a unique position in the world of music. His works stand out among contemporary classical compositions for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound, and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes. Works spanning more than three decades are among the most performed of all contemporary classical music, among them Harmonielehre, Shaker Loops, El Niño, the Chamber Symphony and The Dharma at Big Sur. His stage works, all in collaboration with director Peter Sellars, have transformed the genre of contemporary music theater.

Of Adams's best-known opera, the New Yorker magazine wrote "Not since Porgy and Bess has an American opera won such universal acclaim as Nixon in China." Nonesuch Records has recorded all of Adams's music over the past three decades. The latest release is Scheherazade.2, Adams's latest work, a dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra written for Leila Josefowicz. As conductor, Adams leads the world's major orchestras in repertoire that from Beethoven and Mozart to Stravinsky, Ives, Carter, Zappa, Glass and Ellington. Conducting engagements in recent and coming seasons include the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Wiener Symphoniker and BBC Symphony, as well as the orchestras in Houston, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Seattle, Baltimore and Madrid. In 2017 Adams celebrates his seventieth birthday with festivals of his music in Europe and the US, including special retrospectives at London's Barbican, at Cité de la Musique in Paris, and in Amsterdam, New York, Geneva, Stockholm, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Born and raised in New England, Adams learned the clarinet from his father and played in marching bands and community orchestras during his formative years. He began composing at age ten and his first orchestral pieces were performed while just a teenager. Adams has received honorary doctorates from Yale, Harvard, Northwestern, Cambridge and The Juilliard School. A provocative writer, he is author of the highly acclaimed autobiography 'Hallelujah Junction' and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review. Adams is Creative Chair of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. His new opera, Girls of the Golden West, an opera about the California Gold Rush, will premiere in November of 2017 in San Francisco.


Mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor is a California native who has emerged as one of the most compelling performers of her generation. She has received international acclaim for her numerous performances as Federico García Lorca in Osvaldo Golijov's Ainadamar, a role she created for the world premiere at Tanglewood, under the baton of Robert Spano. Her subsequent Deutsche Grammophon recording of Ainadamar with Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony won a Grammy in 2005. O'Connor's discography also includes Lieberson's Neruda Songs with Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra, and John Adams's The Gospel According to the Other Mary with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

John Adams wrote the title role of The Gospel According to the Other Mary for Kelley O'Connor and she has performed the work internationally, both in concert and in the Peter Sellars production, under the batons of Gustavo Dudamel and Grant Gershon. In addition to her appearances with the San Francisco Symphony, O'Connor will perform The Gospel According to the Other Mary with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker, and with David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony. O'Connor's other engagements during the 2016-17 season include a Boston Symphony Orchestra debut, as well as appearances with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic, and the New York Philharmonic. She will also present recitals at Collaborative Arts Institute in Chicago, in Cincinnati with pianist Louis Langrée, and at the Grand Teton Music Festival with pianist Donald Runnicles. O'Connor's last performance with the SFS was in July 2016, singing Mahler's Symphony No. 2, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting.

Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford is a graduate of the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, where she made her debut at age 23 as Laura in Luisa Miller, and has since appeared in more than 150 performances with the company. During the 2016-17 season, she returns to the Metropolitan Opera as Le Pélerin in a new production of L'Amour de Loin by Kaija Saariaho, which will also be shown in movie theaters around the world as part of the MET: LIVE IN HD series. In addition to reprising the role of Martha in John Adams's The Gospel According to the Other Mary at the San Francisco Symphony, she will also perform the role in a debut performance with the Berlin Philharmonic.

Mumford's other plans for this season include a tour with Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, performing Beethoven's 9th Symphony in Barcelona, Madrid, Hamburg and Vienna. She also makes her debuts with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and San Diego Symphony and returns to the New York Philharmonic in Wagner's Das Rheingold, conducted by Alan Gilbert. On DVD, Mumford can be seen in the MET: LIVE IN HD series broadcasts of Anna Bolena, Das Rheingold, Gotterdämmerung, The Magic Flute, Nixon in China, Manon Lescaut, and Il Trittico. Her portrayal of Ottavia in Robert Carsen's production of L'Incoronazione di Poppea at Glyndebourne is captured on the Decca label. Mumford most recently recorded Handel's Messiah with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Bryn Terfel, Sonya Yoncheva and Rolando Villazon. Other CD recordings include The Gospel According to the Other Mary with Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic (Deutsche Grammophon), Beethoven's Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony (Avie), the Grammy Award nominated recording of Milhaud's L'Orestie d'Eschyle (Naxos) and a collaboration with several singers and Yale University to record the complete songs of Charles Ives (Naxos). She has appeared with the SFS once before, in May 2013, as part of the Beethoven Festival.

American tenor Jay Hunter Morris begins the 2016-17 season in revival performances of one of his greatest roles: Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick at Dallas Opera where the highly successful opera by Jake Heggie originated. He makes his San Francisco Symphony debut performing the role of Lazarus in John Adams's The Gospel According to the Other Mary and repeats the part with St. Louis Symphony in New York's Carnegie Hall. Returning to The Metropolitan Opera in New York, Morris appears as Erik in Der fliegende Holländer and travels to China to appear as Tristan in Tristan und Isolde at NCPA in Beijing under the baton of Christoph Eschenbach; he also sings the role at Theatro Municipal de São Paulo, Brazil.

Morris has recently performed with the Los Angeles Opera, San Francisco Opera, State Opera of South Australia (for the Adelaide Festival), San Diego Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Santa Fe Opera, and the Glimmerglass Festival, where he was honored as the 2016 Artist-in-Residence. He appeared at The Metropolitan Opera as Siegfried in the complete new Ring Cycle by Robert Lepage in 2011, which was broadcast live to cinemas worldwide and is still on the current playlist in the US on PBS. The production was revived for further performances in 2012 and won the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in February 2013.

Leila Josefowicz's passionate advocacy of contemporary music for the violin is reflected in her diverse programs and enthusiasm to perform new works. She frequently collaborates with leading composers and works with orchestras and conductors around the world. In 2008 she was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, joining prominent scientists, writers and musicians who have made unique contributions to contemporary life. Several violin concertos have been written especially for Leila Josefowicz by composers including John Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Colin Matthews and Steven Mackey. Scheherazade.2 by Adams was given its world premiere by Josefowicz in March 2015 with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Alan Gilbert.

Luca Francesconi's concerto Duende - The Dark Notes, also written for Josefowicz, was given its world premiere by her in 2014 with Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Susanna Mälkki before being performed by Josefowicz, Mälkki and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms in July 2015. Josefowicz's recent highlights include performances with London Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony and Sydney Symphony Orchestras, the Orquesta Nacional de España, and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Josefowicz has released several recordings, notably for Deutsche Grammophon, Philips/Universal and Warner Classics and was featured on Touch Press's acclaimed iPad app, The Orchestra. Her latest recording, Esa-Pekka Salonen's Violin Concerto with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the composer, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2014. Leila Josefowicz made her SFS debut in July 2015.

Grant Gershon is currently in his 16th season as the Kiki & David Gindler Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale. During his tenure Gershon has led more than 200 Master Chorale performances at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

A fervent champion of new music, he has led world premiere performances of major works by John Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen, David Lang, Louis Andriessen, Christopher Rouse, Steve Reich, Morten Lauridsen, Ricky Ian Gordon, Gabriela Lena Frank, Shawn Kirchner, and Chinary Ung, among many others. Gershon is the Resident Conductor of LA Opera. He made his acclaimed debut with the company with La Traviata in 2008 and has subsequently conducted Il Postino, Madame Butterfly, Carmen, Florencia en el Amazonas, and Wonderful Town. In New York, Gershon has appeared at Carnegie Hall and at the historic Trinity Wall Street, as well as on the Great Performers series at Lincoln Center and the Making Music series at Zankel Hall. Other major appearances include performances at the Ravinia, Aspen, Edinburgh, Helsinki, Salzburg and Vienna Festivals, the South American premiere of the LA Opera's production of Il Postino in Chile, and with the Baltimore Symphony and the Coro e Orchestra Del Teatro Regio di Torino in Turin, Italy.

Conductor and composer Christopher Rountree is the founder, conductor and creative director of the pathbreaking L.A. chamber orchestra wild Up, a world-class orchestra that creates visceral, provocative experiences that are unmoored from classical traditions.

Rountree has recently made debuts with the Chicago Symphony, LA Opera, and Atlanta Opera, and this season returns to Music Academy of the West and the San Francisco Symphony's SoundBox series. He conducts the Interlochen World Youth Orchestra on the New York Philharmonic's 2016 Biennial, joins Jennifer Koh and Shai Wosner with wild Up at the Laguna Beach Music Festival, and conducts Diavolo's new show "L'Espace du Temps: Glass, Adams, and Salonen." As a composer, his recent premieres and commissions include a new piece for The Crossing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a re-orchestration of Esa-Pekka Salonen's Foreign Bodies, a choral work for Bjork's choir Graduale Nobili in Reykjavik, Iceland, and a piece for Jennifer Koh on the New York Philharmonic's Biennial.

Rountree founded an education intensive with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, continued an education partnership at the Colburn School, and taught "Creativity and Consciousness" at Bard College's Longy School. He joined the Production Company Chromatic, conducted Opera Omaha performing John Adams' "A Flowering Tree," debuted on the San Francisco Symphony's SoundBox series, and started a three-year stint as guest conductor of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. With his eclectic style and resume, Rountree has curated and created events for contemporary art institutions including the Getty Museum, MCA Denver, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and UCLA's Hammer Museum, where a long-running wild Up residency brought the group to national prominence.

Ragnar Bohlin began his tenure as Chorus Director of the San Francisco Symphony in 2007. Bohlin has 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. He studied choral conducting with choir director Eric Ericson, orchestral conducting with Jorma Panula, piano with Peter Feuchtwanger in London, singing with Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda, and through a Sweden-America Foundation scholarship he visited choruses throughout the US. With Stockholm's KFUM Chamber Choir, the Maria Magdalena Motet Choir, and the Maria Vocal Ensemble, Ragnar Bohlin has won numerous prizes in international competitions. He has received the Johannes Norrby Medal for expanding the frontiers of Swedish choral music. Currently teaching at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, he has also taught at the Royal Academy in Stockholm and been a visiting professor at Indiana University and Miami University.

He has received the Johannes Norrby Medal for expanding the frontiers of Swedish choral music. Currently teaching at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, he has also taught at the Royal Academy in Stockholm and been a visiting professor at Indiana University and Miami University.


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