Rehearsal for Brant’s “Ice Field”

Today was the first major rehearsal with Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT), organist Cameron Carpenter, and the Orchestra for Henry Brant’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Ice Field. Read more about the piece in our post from last week. It’s a doozy! 


With groups of musicians spread everywhere high and low, we can’t imagine a more elaborate setup. In fact, the work was commissioned specifically for Davies Symphony Hall by Other Minds.


SFS Percussionist James Lee Wyatt is perched atop the 2nd Tier with a xylophone and glockenspiel…



…right below Wyatt in the 1st Tier, conductor Edwin Outwater (also our Director of Summer Concerts) leads a “jazz band” of brass with Principal Percussionist Jacob Nissly on drum set.


Nissly admitted it was probably the oddest location he’d played in since joining the SFS. But you’ll be blown away by what he plays during the piece!


Across the 2nd Tier from the xylophone is a group of piccolo, flutes and clarinets…


…down below in two of the side boxes, percussionist Tom Hemphill rumbles a concert bass drum, with tam tam, steel drums and other goodies mixed in. We made sure these boxes weren’t sold for the concerts, as that might have been a rude awakening for a champagne-sipping patron!



Meanwhile on stage, Michael Tilson Thomas deftly leads the Orchestra with Cameron Carpenter at the organ to stage right.


During rehearsal, MTT’s voice is projected to various monitors around the Hall so the many groups of musicians can hear his detailed instructions. 


Ice Field is quite challenging to put together, with “conversations” of musical phrases trading around the vast confines of Davies Symphony Hall one after another, often at different tempos and overlapping in unpredictable ways.


Despite the spatial challenges of the piece, by the middle of the afternoon, MTT and the musicians were satisfied and moved on to rehearse Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 (yes, that’s why there’s a harpsichord in the middle of the stage), and Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony. They’ll get more time with Ice Field tomorrow morning before the 2 pm concert.


Wait, we forgot to mention - there’s even a group of oboes and bassoons in the Terrace!

Come experience the sonic surprises and delights of Henry Brant’s Ice Field tomorrow through Sunday at Davies Symphony Hall. We guarantee you’ve never heard anything like it (unless you were here for the world premiere in 2001!)

Thursday, September 18, 2014 at 2 pm
Friday, September 19, 2014 at 8 pm
Saturday, September 20, 2014 at 8 pm
Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 2 pm

Michael Tilson Thomas conductor
Edwin Outwater conductor
Cameron Carpenter organ
San Francisco Symphony

J.S. Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048
Brant Ice Field
Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Opus 64

Pre-Concert Talk: Elizabeth Seitz will give an “Inside Music” talk from the stage one hour prior to each concert. Free to all concert ticket holders; doors open 15 minutes before.

CD Signings: Cameron Carpenter will sign CDs in the Symphony Store immediately following the performance on Saturday, September 20.

Tickets: $15-$158.

Tickets are available at, by phone at 415-864-6000, and at the Davies Symphony Hall Box Office, on Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street in San Francisco.

Henry Brant’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Ice Field

Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) and the SF Symphony perform Henry Brant’s Ice Field September 18-21 with organist Cameron Carpenter; the second time since its 2001 world premiere in Davies Symphony Hall.

Charles Amirkhanian of Other Minds commissioned Brant to write Ice Field: Spatial Narratives for Large and Small Orchestral Groups for MTT and the SF Symphony. Brant was an avant garde spatial composer who positioned instruments in groups around the hall to create a multi-directional sound. Ice Field was written specifically for the space of Davies Symphony Hall.

And that’s not all that’s a bit experimental. The piece uses 94 musicians plus concert organ and 2 conductors (Edwin Outwater will be the second conductor for the upcoming performances). Oboes and bassoons play from the choir loft; brass with jazz drummer are in the balcony with their own conductor, at their own pace; outbursts from piccolos and clarinets are random; Trinidad steel drums punctuate from the floor level; and the organ improvises above all.

The 88 year old Brant played the organ on the December 12, 2001 premiere. He won a Pulitzer Prize for the work the following year, in 2002.

Said Brant: “I had come to feel that single-style music, no matter how experimental or full of variety, could no longer evoke the new stresses, layered insanities, and multi-directional assaults of contemporary life on the spirit.” In his spatial music he found a solution that he believed would “speak more expressively of the human predicament.”

Maverick organist Cameron Carpenter is the perfect choice for the Orchestra’s second performance. Frequent guest of the SFS, Carpenter is a virtuoso who relishes unusual music.

Brant was inspired by the music of Charles Ives. He orchestrated Ives’ Concord Sonata, and the result was recorded by MTT and the SFS in 2010. Joshua Kosman of the SF Chronicle called it, “an exciting and hugely important addition to the repertoire.”

Watch a video showing Brant working with the Ruffatti organ at Davies and talking with MTT before the first performance:

Read more about Cameron Carpenter in his interview with

Buy tickets:

Bay Area Reporter’s SFS Opening Gala review tells a lovely MTT story

Roberto Friedman of the Bay Area Reporter recounts a very sweet memory of Michael Tilson Thomas from a few years ago in his review of our Opening Gala last week:

Early in Out There’s [Friedman’s column] career, we participated in a journalists’ round-table interview with him, and afterward, we went up to him to express our appreciation. It was not unlike the episode of TheMary Tyler MooreShow in which Mary gets to meet her idol Walter Cronkite during his visit to her Minneapolis TV newsroom. She worries about what she’s going to say, she wears herself out about it, and when the moment finally arrives, she curtsies and says, “Welcome to our fair city!” Yes, Mary blew her big moment.

So what did we finally say when we were up-close and personal with MTT and were robustly shaking his hand? We said, “Thank you for everything you’re doing for the musical life of our city!” Immediately we felt like the biggest dunce. But MTT kept our hand clasped between his two big, soft hands, and sweetly replied, “We’re all doing it together!”

This was so gracious and generous a response – and true, to boot – that it immediately dispelled our self-consciousness, and we remember the moment fondly today. We feel that he showed the sign of a true artist and a true mensch – it didn’t have to all be about him.

That’s exactly the MTT we all know and love! Read the full article here, which also covers the SF Opera Gala.


5 things you should know about Michael Tilson Thomas

Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor and music director of the San Francisco Symphony, sits down at the piano at his home in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday Aug. 22, 2014. (JOHN GREEN/BAY AREA NEWS GROUP)

Thanks to Rich Scheinin of the San Jose Mercury News (Bay Area News Group) for his fantastic profile of Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) as he begins his 20th season with the Orchestra tomorrow. In addition to the article that appeared in print, there’s an extensive Q&A online

Here are 5 things you should know about MTT, taken from the Q&A:

1. He Likes the Beach Boys (and a lot of other pop music)

Tilson Thomas’s interests are wide: He can move from Wagner to Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys in the space of a sentence. (He’s a particular fan of “Good Vibrations” and “Surf’s Up.”)

2. He lives here in SF’s Cow Hollow neighborhood

Tilson Thomas took time out to discuss his life, his philosophy of performing, his plans for the upcoming landmark season. Most of our 90-minute conversation took place in an upstairs office in his Cow Hollow neighborhood home, which was completed in 1906, just before the San Francisco earthquake. The home contains a lot of history: artifacts relating to his family’s roots in New York’s Yiddish theater and Orson Welles’ productions, a room full of scores that have followed the conductor through the decades.

3. He is a dog owner, like many other SF residents

He wore a sport shirt, jeans and cool blue, owl-ish eyeglasses and, as he spoke, gave affectionate pats to his miniature poodles, Banda and Maydela, who wandered in and out of the room.

4. Famous composer Igor Stravinsky was one of his mentors

And that was the same with Stravinsky, as well. There is sometimes a notion that Stravinsky wanted his music to be played in a very flat, intellectual sort of way, which was not so. He wanted his music to be played in a very clear, inflected way, a very — as they would say in the dance world — “turned out” sort of way, very gestural. And he, too, was very clear about what he wanted and actually, I thought, very good at expressing that.

5. He thinks classical music is for everyone

[Classical music] is an experience of live music. And live music making, where you feel the passion and desire of the players to present the music to you, is a very gripping and possibly transforming experience. Most of the music that’s played at those concerts was written with the intention of reaching all people — because classical music has had, longer than any other kind of music, the ability to survive, to continue on through time.

Read the rest of the Q&A here, and find out when you can come hear MTT and the SF Symphony play this month at Davies Symphony Hall. 

Wonderful summer memories from the lovely Courtney Act, chronicling her week here with us last July as part of Music from the Movies with Cheyenne Jackson, Faith Prince, Edwin Outwater, and the Orchestra. Thanks, Courtney! Hope to see you back in SF soon.