Since its founding in 1953, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra has been an active voice in the Bay Area music community, presenting a series of annual concerts that highlight some of the region’s top professional musicians. The SFCO is dedicated to making classical music accessible to audiences of all ages and backgrounds across the Bay Area by providing fully professional, admission-free concerts and educational programming. The organization is also committed to inspiring and enlightening the next generation of music lovers through several outreach programs.
Critical and audience response to the 100+ concerts that the Orchestra has performed since 2002 under the leadership of music director Benjamin Simon has been overwhelmingly positive. Stylistic breadth and versatility of programming is one of the SFCO’s defining features, and reviews consistently cite the Orchestra’s ability to master a broad array of music along with its artistic excellence. SF Classical Voice noted “the SFCO’s ability to transverse three centuries of music with consistent liveliness, grace, and skill.” In 2004, Simon oversaw the unveiling of the most ambitious new music initiative of any professional chamber-sized orchestra in California – the New Works program has commissioned a total of 23 new works to date and an additional three regional premieres. This initiative has enhanced the SFCO’s reputation as an important producer of work that serves to advance 21st century compositional craft within the context of music that reflects the diverse cultural traditions of the past. Commissions and premieres have included works by such highly regarded composers as Koussevitzky-awardee Yu-Hui Chang, Guggenheim Fellow Paul Dresher, Latin Grammy Award- winner and Guggenheim Fellow Dr. Gabriela Lena Frank and three-time Grammy-nominee Wayne Wallace.
The SFCO instituted an admission-free policy in 2005 for its self-produced programming in order to formalize a tradition of free concerts dating back to the Orchestra’s founding. The policy is closely aligned with the organization’s mission to achieve both excellence and accessibility in all of its programming. Now a mainstay of its commitment to expanding audiences for classical music, it distinguishes the SFCO as the only professional orchestra in California to offer a complete season of admission-free concerts, and one of only a few in the nation. The annual season of 35-40 self-produced performances consists of programming in San Francisco, the East Bay, and the Peninsula, through its core concert series: Main Stage Concerts, presenting classical masterpieces, unusual gems, and new commissions; Family Concerts, dynamic interactive performances featuring dance, choral, circus arts, and other guest ensembles; and Very First Concerts, 20-minute performances for toddlers and children, complete with tumbling mats. Classical at the Freight is a ticketed, co-presented series of eight concerts at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, with guest artists in a café setting. The SFCO is an SF Weekly Best of San Francisco Award-recipient.