The San Francisco Symphony sets the highest possible standard for excellence in musical performance at home and around the world; Enriches, serves, and shapes cultural life throughout the spectrum of Bay Area communities; Maintains financial stability and gains public recognition as a means of ensuring its ability to fulfill its mission.

In the wake of the 1906 earthquake, establishment of a permanent orchestra was high on the civic agenda, and in December 1911, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) gave its first concerts, revitalizing San Francisco’s cultural life. The Orchestra grew in stature and acclaim under a succession of distinguished music directors, beginning with Henry Hadley and including Pierre Monteux, Seiji Ozawa, Edo de Waart, Herbert Blomstedt, and, since 1995, Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT).

During Michael Tilson Thomas’s tenure, the SFS has continued and expanded its tradition of innovation. MTT has initiated a series of spring festivals, including the groundbreaking American Festival and American Mavericks, as well as others focusing on Beethoven, Mahler, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky.

For its recordings, the San Francisco Symphony has won some of the world’s most prestigious awards, including eleven Grammys, Japan’s Record Academy Award, France’s Grand Prix du Disque, and Britain’s Gramophone Award. For the San Francisco Symphony’s own SFS Media label, launched in 2001, MTT and the Orchestra are recording the Mahler symphonies and orchestral song cycles.

In March 1996, MTT led the Orchestra on the first of their ten national tours together, and they have continued an ambitious yearly touring schedule that has taken them to Europe, Asia and throughout the United States. In 1998, they celebrated the 100th anniversary of George Gershwin’s birth with a program of his music to open Carnegie Hall’s season, in a concert broadcast on PBS’s Great Performances. They visit Carnegie Hall each year, have established a residency at the Lucerne Festival, and in 2007 toured Europe twice, including concerts in Vienna, Prague, Berlin, and London.

Some of the most important conductors of our time and the recent past have been guests on the San Francisco Symphony podium, among them Bruno Walter, Leopold Stokowski, Leonard Bernstein, Kurt Masur, Sir Georg Solti, and Mstislav Rostropovich. The list of composers who have led the Orchestra includes Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Paul Hindemith, Aaron Copland, and John Adams. The SFS has been honored 12 times by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers for adventuresome programming of new music and commitment to American music.  In 1979, the appointment of John Adams (link to John Adams Commissioning partnership) as New Music Adviser became a model for a composer-in-residence program since adopted by major orchestras across the country.

In 2005, the San Francisco Symphony celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall.  Completed in September, 1980 and acoustically renovated in 1992, Davies Symphony Hall has a capacity of 2743 and is home to the Ruffatti Organ – the largest concert Hall organ in North America.

The San Francisco Symphony is one of the only American orchestras to operate its own youth orchestra and chorus. Established in 1980, the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra has become recognized as one of the finest ensembles of its kind and which in 1985 won the world’s highest honor for a young musicians’ ensemble, the City of Vienna Prize.

The San Francisco Symphony Chorus was established in 1973; the ensemble has been heard around the world, not only on Grammy award-winning SFS recordings but also on the soundtracks of the films Amadeus, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Godfather III.

The San Francisco Symphony knows that music lovers of tomorrow are molded today. To fill the gap left by cuts in school music programs, the Symphony provides the most extensive education and community programs offered by any American orchestra today. In 1988, the Symphony established the innovative Adventures in Music education program (AIM), which introduces music to every first- through fifth-grade child in the San Francisco Unified School District. In 2002, the SFS launched, a comprehensive and interactive online music education resource for children, schools, and families. Nearly 30,000 students throughout the Bay Area hear the San Francisco Symphony each year in its Concerts for Kids program, which began in 1919.

In fall 2006, Tilson Thomas and the SFS launched Keeping Score, a program designed to make classical music accessible to people of all ages and musical backgrounds. Keeping Score is anchored by a national PBS television series seen by over 4.5 million Americans, an interactive Web site, a national radio series hosted by MTT, documentary and live performance DVDs, and an education program for K-12 schools to further teaching through the arts by integrating classical music into core subjects.

The San Francisco Symphony’s dedication to enrich, serve, and shape the cultural life of its community is as important today as it was in 1911. In October 1989, in a gesture that harkened back to the Symphony’s beginnings, Herbert Blomstedt and the Orchestra and Chorus helped initiate civic healing five days after the Loma Prieta Earthquake, playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to an audience of more than 20,000 in Golden Gate Park.  In September 2002, violinist Joshua Bell and the Reverend Cecil Williams joined Michael Tilson Thomas and the Orchestra in playing a September 11 memorial concert at Yerba Buena Gardens in downtown San Francisco.

The Orchestra continues to present numerous free and community concerts throughout each season. The San Francisco Symphony’s outreach via the latest technology continues a tradition that began in 1926, when the Orchestra became the first symphonic ensemble in the US heard in regular radio broadcasts. Today, the Symphony is heard on nationally syndicated radio on almost 300 stations, confirming an artistic vitality whose impact extends throughout American musical life.