SF Symphony announces 2024-25 season, followed by Salonen’s departure  

San Francisco Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen will step down from the position at the end of the 2024-25 orchestral season, which will open Sept. 19 with Verdi’s Requiem and include five world premiere commissions and 13 other works new to the company.  

Salonen will depart at the end of his five-year contract but will maintain a partnership with the company through regular guest conducting appearances and collaborations, symphony officials announced today.  

“Over his time as music director Esa-Pekka has brought with him a palpable spirit of collaboration and adventure to the San Francisco Symphony that has inspired our musicians, staff, board and audiences to think more expansively about the possibilities of the orchestral experience,” says San Francisco Symphony CEO Matthew Spivey. 

Salonen took over as music director from Michael Tilson Thomas in the fall of 2020 in the midst of the COVID lockdown, a challenging period for anyone to assume such a key artistic leadership role.  

“As the San Francisco Symphony weathered the COVID-19 pandemic and re-emerged into live performances, Esa-Pekka took on this role with a sense of possibility, forging a creative path forward with innovative digital projects, distinct concert experiences, and countless fruitful partnerships with artists across a wide spectrum of disciplines,” Spivey says. 

The Verdi Requiem will be preceded by the film series “Joe Hisaishi Symphonic Concert: Music from the Studio Ghibli Films of Hayao Miyazaki” on Sept. 5-8, one of seven film concerts to be presented, including “Psycho” (Oct.31), “Coco” (Nov. 1), “Top Gun: Maverick” (Nov. 26), “Amadeus” (Nov. 29-30), “Titanic” (April 4-5, 2025) and “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (May 8-10, 2025). 

The company’s annual Opening Gala, on Sept. 25, 2024, features Salonen conducting and pianist Lang Lang performing Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2 and teaming with his wife, pianist Gina Alice, for Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals,” as well as selections from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.”   

Details about 44th annual All San Francisco Concert will be announced later this year. The concert honors local social service and neighborhood organizations and offers subsidized $12 tickets for employees of Bay Area nonprofits, social services and grassroots organizations.  

Salonen will conduct three world premiere commissions, including Nico Muhly’s Baroque-inspired Piano Concerto with Alexandre Tharaud in his Orchestral Series debut (Sept. 27-28). 

Alexandre Tharaud plays Nico Muhly’s commissioned Piano Concerto on Sept. 27-28. (Courtesy Jean-Baptiste Millot)

“The concerto is lightly haunted by the ghost of Rameau in the first movement in an explicitly harmonic way, and then the second and third movements take as their jumping-off point Rameau’s titles, indicating a focus on technical aspects of music-making (“Les Triolets”), everyday life (“Les Tricotets”), and more abstract, character pieces (“L’indiscrette”),” Muhly says.  

Salonen will conduct a new composition by Emerging Black Composers Project winner Xavier Muzik (Feb. 21-23, 2025). “With this work, I aim to explore personal anxieties by examining my relationship to the manufactured world around me,” Muzik says. 

In addition, Salonen will conduct a new work June 6-8, 2025, by Gabriella Smith, the Berkeley native climate action-conscious composer whose organ concerto “Breathing Forests” memorably filled Davies Symphony Hall with arboreal-themed sounds and projections in November 2023. 

“The music I’m writing is connected to my experiences working on ecosystem restorations as part of a global movement rewilding the world,” Smith says. 

Other world premiere commissions include Bay Area composer John Adams’ “After the Fall,” a piano concerto with the exceptional Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson and Don Robertson conducting the orchestra (Jan. 16, 18-19, 2025), and a cello concerto by the rising Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdóttir with conductor Dalia Stasevska (May 15-17, 2025).

“Víkingur has a special affinity for my music,” Adams says. “‘After the Fall’ was written with his extraordinary gifts in mind. He is one of the great Bach pianists of our time, so it’s no surprise that a ‘presence’ of Bach prevails in parts of this new concerto.” 

The premiere composition by Muzik will share top billing with other programs highlighting Stravinsky: on Feb. 13-16, 2025, pianist Yuja Wang joins Salonen in three Stravinsky works for piano and orchestra; “The Rite of Spring,” on Feb. 21-23, 2025 (nominated for a 2024 Grammy); and the groundbreaking ballet “Firebird” on May 23-25, 2025.

Thirteen works the orchestra will perform for the first time include Salonen’s Cello Concerto (Oct. 18-20); William Grant Still’s “Wood Notes” (Oct 25-26); Thomas Adès’ “Three-piece Suite from “Powder Her Face” (Nov. 7-9); Dai Fujikura’s “Entwine” (Nov. 15-17); Mozart’s “Schon lacht der holde Frühling” and “Venga la morte…Non temer, amato bene” (Nov. 21-23); Missy Mazzoli’s “Sinfonia (For Orbiting Spheres)” (Jan. 9-11, 2025); Berlioz’s “Le roi Lear” Overture (Jan. 24-25, 2025); Gabriela Montero’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (Apr. 10-12, 2025); Gabriela Ortiz’s “Antrópolis” (Apr. 10-12, 2025); Gabriel Kahane’s “Talent & Phoenix” (May 2-3, 2025): Kaija Saariaho’s “Asteroid 4179: Toutatis” (May 2-3, 2025); and Magnus Lindberg’s “Chorale” (May 23-25, 2025). 

In addition to Lang, Ólafsson, and Wang, returning artists include violinist Itzhak Perlman (in recital with pianists Emanuel Ax and Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Juilliard String Quartet, Nov. 10); pianist Hélène Grimaud (Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, Nov. 15-17); pianist Daniil Trifonov (Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Feb 21-23, 2025); violinist Joshua Bell (orchestral presentation with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Feb. 26, 2025); violinist Gil Shaham (Brahms’ Violin Concerto, March 27, 29-30, 2025); violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter (in recital April 6, 2025); pianist Evgeny Kissin (in recital, April 20, 2025); and violinist Hilary Hahn (Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, May 29-June 1, 2025). 

Among visiting ensembles, the Israel Philharmonic, with conductor Lahav Shani, appears March 23, 2025. 

Courtney Bryan curates a SoundBox event on Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2025. (Courtesy Taylor Hunter)

High-energy SoundBox events are slated for Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2025, curated by Courtney Bryan, and April 11-12, 2025, curated by Andy Akiho. Other popular annual concerts include the Día de los Muertos Celebration Nov. 2; the Deck the Hall children’s concert Dec. 8; the Lunar New Year Celebration Feb. 8, 2025; and Teen Night March 22, 2025.  

Salonen’s final programmed appearances as music director are June 12-14, 2025, in a program featuring Mahler’s life cycle-evocative Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke. 

“Esa-Pekka’s work with the orchestra has made a lasting impact on this organization and I’m excited for the season to come and invigorated for our partnership moving forward,” Spivey says. “Esa-Pekka is an unparalleled artist and visionary and I am deeply grateful for what his creative leadership has brought to the San Francisco Symphony. Even as we turn the page, I look forward to where the next chapter might take us.” 

San Francisco Symphony’s 2024-25 season runs Sept. 5 to June 15, 2025, at Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Subscription packages go on sale March 14 and single tickets on July 20; call (415) 864-6000 or visit sfsymphony.org. 

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