There will be some fresh new faces in Davies Hall over the coming fortnight, as the San Francisco Symphony, absent main man Michael Tilson Thomas for the duration, brings in guest conductors who have never subbed here for him before and who, at least in the first instance, will be bringing some guest artists who are also making their debuts.
First up to the podium Thursday at 8 p.m. is the Russian-born principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Vladimir Jurowski. The tall, dark and broodingly handsome fellow of 40 arrives with the accolades from his debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra last week still ringing in his ears. The son of a dancer mother and conductor Mikhail Jurowski, Vladimir is a cosmopolitan sort who finished his musical studies in Germany and has had extensive experience conducting opera at the Glyndebourne Festival. He also is the principal artist of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the artistic director of the Russian State Academic Symphony Orchestra.
The centerpiece of Jurowski's concert program, which repeats Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., is a work that is making its U.S. premiere here -- a recently rediscovered reorchestration by composer Levon Atovmyan of the music the great Sergei Prokoviev wrote for Parts I and II of Sergei Eisenstein's 1944-'45 epic film "Ivan the Terrible." Jurowski was the first conductor to bring the work to light, doing so in January as part of his London Philharmonic's "Prokofiev: Man of the People" festival, where it was proclaimed "blazingly conducted" and "astounding" by the Guardian of London. Appearing with him will be baritone Andrey Breus, reprising his role from the world premiere, and mezzo-soprano Elena Zaremba, both making their S.F. Symphony debuts, and the always reliable S.F. Symphony Chorus is polishing up its Russian for the concert. Also on the all-Russian program is the sweepingly Romantic Piano Concerto No. 2 by Rachmaninoff, with Khatia Buniatishvili at the keyboard, and Scriabin's "Reverie."
The following week, it's 51-year-old Jaap van Zweden's turn to take the San Francisco orchestra for its first spin with him around the symphonic repertoire. A native of Amsterdam who trained first as violinist and was appointed the concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at the astonishing age of 18 (the youngest ever), van Zweden turned to conducting at 35 and has been rapidly reshaping opinions of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra since he signed on as music director there four years ago. Named the 2012 Conductor of the Year by the classical music industry bible Musical America, van Zweden has also just begun a new assignment as music director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic.
His program, with an open rehearsal and three concerts running Oct. 24-28 in Davies Hall, is packed with familiar but solid favorites. Young French pianist David Fray joins him onstage to perform Mozart's Piano concerto No. 22 in E-flat major, a work the two recorded for Virgin Classics. Brahms' majestic Symphony No. 4 in E minor is the heavyweight piece on the program, which will open with the Prelude to Act 1 of Wagner's opera "Lohengrin."
Details: Tickets to all the S.F. Symphony concerts are $15 to $150, available at 415-864-6000 or www.sfsymphony.org. Tickets to the 10 a.m. rehearsal with van Zweden on Oct. 24 are $22, with open seating.
embraceable wagner: Speaking of "Lohengrin" -- generally considered the Wagner opera for people who say they hate Wagner operas -- that is the next warhorse up to the starting gate for San Francisco Opera, which opens its production at 7 p.m. Saturday in War Memorial. Clocking in at nearly 4½ hours, it is your standard-issue "damsel in distress meets her knight in shining armor" by way of plot development. But it is Wagner at his most dreamily melodic (although an "evil woman" mezzo-soprano supplies plenty of sturm und drang), with the writing for the tenor lead being especially appealing. We're happy to note that American tenor Brandon Jovanovich, who made such a strong impression as Siegmund in "Die Walkure" in S.F. Opera's recent Wagner "Ring" cycle, will be stepping into his debut role as the mysterious knight of the Holy Grail. Jovanovich's previous roles in San Francisco have been as Pinkerton in "Madama Butterfly" and Luigi in "El Tabarro"; he has also sung for Festival Opera of Walnut Creek as Don Jose in "Carmen" and in Carlisle Floyd's "Susannah." Jovanovich sings opposite Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund in her S.F. Opera debut as Elsa von Brabant.
Seven performances of "Lohengrin" run from Saturday through Nov. 9. Tickets, at $22 to $340, are at 415-864-3330 or www.sfopera.com.
Contact Sue Gilmore at email@example.com.