San Francisco Ballet Orchestra
The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra has been internationally recognized as one of the foremost ballet orchestras in the world.
Since its 1975 performance debut with the Ballet’s Nutcracker, under Music Director Denis de Coteau, the orchestra’s home has been the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. At that time, the ensemble was credited by the name the Performing Arts Orchestra of San Francisco. Later, in 1983, the name was officially changed to the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.
With a core group of 49 regular members, augmented up to 65 players for certain productions, the orchestra’s performance season includes an annual production of The Nutcracker and a winter/spring repertory season. The orchestra’s repertoire varies from such classics as Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Adam’s Giselle to the more abstract and contemporary of ballet and symphonic works. Over the years, the orchestra has also earned the distinction of having accompanied such prestigious ballet companies as American Ballet Theatre, the Paris Opéra Ballet, the National Ballet of Cuba, the Royal Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, and the Paul Taylor Dance Company.
Apart from the regular ballet season, the orchestra’s skill and artistry has been frequently featured in a number of well-received orchestral performances. The first such concert was a 1979 program highlighting works by Haydn, Ives, and Vivaldi at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre with Jean-Louis LeRoux conducting. Subsequent concerts have included a performance at the SF War Memorial Opera House on April 24, 2005 to celebrate the orchestra’s 30th anniversary. This program included Stravinsky’s Divertimento: The Fairy’s Kiss, R. Strauss’ Oboe Concerto featuring oboe soloist Liang Wang, and Schumann’s Symphony No. 2, and was led by Music Director, Andrew Mogrelia. The Master of Ceremonies for the anniversary event was KDFC Radio’s Hoyt Smith. Most recently, in 2013 and 2014, members of the orchestra have performed in a series of chamber music concerts presented by the Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland, CA.
Individual members of the orchestra also regularly perform with such notable SF Bay Area groups as the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Bay Brass, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Earplay, Ensemble San Francisco, Eos Ensemble, Gold Coast Chamber Players, The Farallon Quintet, New Century Chamber Orchestra, and the Stanford Woodwind Quintet.
Since its first recording in 1981 of Paul Chihara’s The Tempest, over the years, the orchestra has established an extensive discography that has been critically acclaimed. Of the more recent recordings, the score for choreographer Yuri Possokhov’s ballet RAkU (premiered in 2011) is credited to the renowned composer within the orchestra’s very own ranks, double bassist Shinji Eshima.
The orchestra has also appeared in numerous televised recordings for the PBS series Great Performances: Dance in America. This includes John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid, Lar Lubovitch’s Othello, Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s Nutcracker, and Emmy-winning Director/Choreographer Michael Smuin’s productions: The Tempest, Cinderella, Romeo & Juliet, and A Song for Dead Warriors.
Following the Tradition: Acting as Mentors for Aspiring Musicians
In addition to their role as performers, many of the ballet orchestra’s musicians maintain faculty positions at some of the most prestigious universities and conservatories in the San Francisco Bay Area. This list includes the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, San Francisco State University, Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University Of California at Davis, to name a few.
Grammy in the Schools
This mentorship role is also recognized by the musicians’ active involvement in the GRAMMY Foundation’s student program, Grammy in the Schools. This nationwide program consists of a series of workshops that enable high school students to get real-world experience alongside professional musicians. As the only symphonic orchestra to participate in this program, a particular highlight of this event has been a workshop called “Side-By-Side With The Ballet Orchestra”. As the title suggests, this workshop has provided a unique opportunity for orchestral students to perform with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, under the direction of Music Director and Principal Conductor Martin West.