SF Symphony

A Composer Opens to the World

This week the San Francisco Symphony presents a new staging of Kaija Saariaho’s opera Adriana Mater, directed by Peter Sellars and conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. As we prepare for these important performances, we also pause to reflect on the recent passing of Kaija Saariaho, a visionary composer who left an indelible mark on the musical world. It is an honor for us to present this work, which stands as one of her most profound and deeply affecting creations.

composer Kaija Saariaho

Saariaho never set out to be an opera composer, but the collaborative nature of theater presented an appeal not found anywhere else. “I yearned more and more strongly, from my isolated composer’s perch, to open my music up to the world and let my music be influenced and marked by the world,” she recalled. A key driver in this evolution was Sellars, who with Salonen brought Adriana Mater to the stage in its 2006 premiere. Saariaho ended up dedicating the work to Sellars, who she said has always “striven to pry open the doors of real life.”

With a libretto by Amin Maalouf, Adriana Mater is a nuanced exploration of the unbreakable bond between mother and son in a world at war. For Saariaho, this relationship was the impetus for the work. “I suggested to Amin that we construct a story connected to the question of motherhood,” she said. “I told him about how formative the experience had been for me when I was pregnant with my first child, the feeling of two hearts beating within my body. Amin, in turn, introduced a motif that was just as crucial to him personally: war and its prevalent violence.” The result was a work that Sellars said “speaks with the clarity, force, and humanity that our world is searching for.”

Please note: This production is set in wartime and includes depictions of sexual violence and assault weapons, which may be triggering for some viewers.

JUNE 8, 10–11

Limitless Perspectives

What do Beethoven’s Missa solemnis and Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP have in common? Both were formulative influences on pianist Igor Levit, who responded to the authenticity exhibited by these widely divergent artists. Levit has also been drawn to another iconoclast, composer Ferruccio Busoni, whose “magnificent, heroic, huge” Piano Concerto he plays as part of his San Francisco Symphony residency this month. Busoni, Levit said, is “basically saying that the job of the creator is to set the music free again. That means making your own choices, because how could you possibly believe that what you hold in your hands, the dots and the lines on paper, could ever be the last word? This idea of empowering individuality is something that strongly resonates with me.”

Levit’s concerts in San Francisco provide a unique opportunity to hear the pianist in a variety of arenas: as soloist in concertos of Beethoven and Busoni, in Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor in a chamber program with SF Symphony musicians, and in a solo Great Performers Series recital. “I love looking at a problem or theme from all kinds of perspectives,” Levit said. “It’s definitely the diversity of thinking and imagination that really strikes me.”

JUNE 18:

JUNE 22, 24–25:

Time for Summer with the Symphony!

Join the SF Symphony for a season of music that’s just as vibrant, colorful, and thrilling as a summer in San Francisco. Experience exciting concerts at Davies Symphony Hall or head to Stanford University’s Frost Amphitheater for some music al fresco at the tree-lined lawn of this beautiful outdoor venue.


From Our Friends at Bi-Rite

This month, we are teaming up with Bi-Rite for a limited giveaway to celebrate the summer season. On June 26, two winners will be chosen to receive a $250 Bi-Rite gift card!

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more about Bi-Rite


Booker T. Washington Community Service Center

For 103 years, the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center — the oldest Black-led and serving organization in the Bay Area — has empowered our neighbors in Fillmore/Western Addition by offering individuals and families the services and support they need to become self-sufficient. Built on a strong tradition of stabilizing and uplifting families, our organization is an anchor institution for a community ravaged by racial and economic disparities.



Davies Symphony Hall
201 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102

Box Office Hours
Mon–Fri: 10am–6pm, Sat: 12pm–6pm
Sun: 2 hours before concert

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