Symphony orchestras around the world are trying to attract new, young audiences, but success is rare. San Francisco Symphony’s SoundBox initiative is a notable exception – as the second season is culminating in two concerts this weekend, reviews are mostly raves, word-of-mouth has created solid hype, which makes it virtually impossible to get tickets, which are priced at $35 only.
A look at the program for these two concerts provides clues to the success, but the other half of the equation is the top-notch talent performing, from SFS Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas to James Darrah and his CHROMATIC group in charge of production, to some of the orchestra’s top players. The concerts this weekend will be conducted by Christopher Rountree.
From its beginning in 2014 through every concert in the somewhat claustrophobic Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall, SoundBox has won new converts, some from the ranks of the coveted “new audience,” but also a great many veteran subscribers enjoying “new and unusual” repertory seldom heard in Davies Symphony Hall itself.
The venue at 300 Franklin Street accommodates approximately 500 people, some seated and some standing. The venue offers an alternative to that of the traditional concert hall experience with ottomans, barstools, café tables, and cocktail tables. Performances alternate on several stages, on the fringe of the venue is a full bar serving cocktails and food specialties.
Doors open an hour before the 9 p.m. concert begins, the center of attention is an installation by Chris Kallmyer entitled “Though homeless, you make a shrine wherever you are,” described as “an attempt to understand Harry Partch.” The installation features live music performed by the artist and Andrew McIntosh (baroque violin), as well as the production of rose-petal jam, with sound and live video broadcast into the main venue.
The title of the closing concerts is “Obsession & Creation,” featuring two SFS commissions by Ted Hearne (“For the Love of Charles Mingus” for six amplified violins) and Nathaniel Stookey (“YTTE” for large ensemble, “Yield to Total Elation” is a vast imaginary city Stookey created; with a kinetic sound sculpture designed by Oliver DiCicco), and excerpts from Frank Zappa’s orchestral album “Yellow Shark.” In addition to the video projections that have become a hallmark of the SoundBox experience, these shows will include dance elements.
Brief program numbers include Purcell’s “Fantasia on One Note,” Stradella’s “Queste Lagrime e Sospire” (with soprano Marnie Breckenridge), Frederic Rzewski’s “Attica” (with vocalist Peabody Southwell and guitarist Chris Kallmyer).
SoundBox attendees are invited to share their experience using the hashtag #SFSoundBox on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Audience members can access more information on the works performed during each concert on the SoundBox App, available on iPhone and Android.