The free program of this concert alone should be enough to inspire.

Kelly Fraser
(Courtesy of San Francisco Symphony). Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas will lead the symphony tonight at 8 p.m.

The San Francisco Symphony is world-renowned in every sense: through its recordings, its immense popular presence in the classical music scene and perhaps more importantly, through the outreach efforts of its conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas.

Thomas has been highly lauded – and deservedly so. When he took the baton for the Symphony in 1995, the already exceptional organization gained not only a genius of a conductor but direction in presentation and marketing. Under Thomas’s guidance, the San Francisco Symphony has accomplished the impossible: a symphony for the everyman as well as for classical music aficionados. His programs are famously accessible and artistically daring in a way that few other ensembles have been able to duplicate. The group’s reputation as an avant-garde, American symphony for lovers of the classics has made it prosperous in recent years while other orchestras struggle to remain profitable.

Tonight’s program is particularly well-chosen for a college campus – it is in no way a concession but instead a keen understanding of the audience. It does not include, though, any of the American musical flair for which the orchestra is so renowned, sadly. Even so, the program for this concert is possibly the best offering this year from the University Musical Society – the St. Petersburg Philharmonic being the only contender – and will not only ward off the mid-concert snooze but will likely capture a young audience in a way most more obscure programs cannot.

The first piece will be Sibelius’s Symphony No. 7, followed by Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, or the “Eroica.” The Sibelius piece is different in form from a standard symphony – with just one movement rather than four – and is praised as highly creative and original. The Beethoven piece should act as an effective counterbalance, but no less revolutionary for its familiarity to modern listeners. The “Eroica” is regarded as a milestone in classical music, both for its style and its length, greater than other Classical-period symphonies.

There is little doubt that the San Francisco Symphony is a good orchestral grab for the winter calendar and for UMS. With a conductor like Michael Tilson Thomas, who has achieved celebrity status in his field, as well as particularly fine musicians, the symphony has more than earned its reputation. The only downfall of today’s performance is the difficulty in acquiring tickets.

Ticket woes aside, if there is one concert to see this season, for both casual concertgoers and classical lovers alike, this is it. Tell your friends that your parents are coming into town if you have to, or that you just found out you had a 10-page paper due Friday night, but take this one night of the St. Patty’s Day weekend and spend it at Hill Auditorium.

San Francisco Symphony
Tonight at 8 p.m.
At Hill Auditorium

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