Decoding Symphony Subcriptions

No wonder subscriptions for classical seasons are graying. Surveying the 2007/2008 subscription-calendar circular for the San Francisco Symphony ( makes doing your taxes look like child’s play. It also confirms that, at least from a marketing standpoint, regular symphony-going remains systemically as much about a social calendar as it does a cultural one, if not more so.

Of the included four-part instructions on “How to Read This Chart,”* it’s not until the fourth and final step that it’s suggested that the program of a particular concert (the music being performed) might play a role in the customer’s decision-making. (And the summaries of the pieces don’t help much, for that matter. Composer Chen Yi is “a Chinese woman who is on the cutting edge,” Mendelsshon‘s Violin Concerto in E minor is “one of the most popular ever written in the repertory” and Saint-Saëns‘ Symphony No. 3 is, simply, a “thriller.”)

Still, there’s a great season ahead, with many highlights concentrated in early 2008: Iannis XenakisA I’lle de Goree (with Bach and Schubert), January 17 – 19; Olivier Messiaen‘s L’Ascension paired with Gustav Mahler‘s Symphony No. 1 (which has an exceptionally ambient opening half minute or so), January 24 – 26; and György Ligeti‘s site-specific San Francisco Polyphony (with Bartók and Dvořák), February 7 – 9. There’s also a full program of Charles Ives‘ music, November 15 – 17. Among the living composers with work being performed this season are Mark-Anthony Turnage (June 5, 7) and Magnus Lindberg (June 19 – 21), neither of whom are strangers to electronic textures.

* "How to Read This Chart: 1. Choose the day of the week that works best for you to come to the symphony; 2. Find the group columns listing series on that day; 3. Glance down a column to find which dates are in a particular series; 4. Look across the row from each date for concert details."

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