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. Since 2013, members of the orchestra have performed in a series of annual chamber music concerts presented by the Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland, CA. In March 2016, a special 40th anniversary concert was held at Herbst Theatre, under the direction of Music Director and Principal Conductor, Martin West.
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, critically acclaimed discography. 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. In December 2015, Ask Your Mama earned three GRAMMY® nominations in the classical music category and took home 2 awards: one for for Best Engineered Classical Album and the other for Best Classical Producer at the 58th GRAMMYs.
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.
The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra is a member of The American Federation of Musicians Local 6.
Milestones in the Orchestra’s History
1975 – Denis de Coteau is appointed Music Director and Principal Conductor.
1975 – The orchestra has its performance debut with the San Francisco Ballet in The Nutcracker. Credited as The Performing Arts Orchestra of San Francisco.
1978 – The SF Ballet tours to New York, where critic Byron Belt hails the orchestra as “one of the best in the business.”
1979 – The orchestra presents its first orchestral concert in a program that included works by Haydn, Ives, and Vivaldi at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. Conducted by Jean-Louis LeRoux.
1983 – The name of the orchestra is officially changed to the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.
1984 – The 1984 Olympics Opening Ceremonies features a performance by the SF Ballet with the SF Ballet Orchestra at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.
1995 – The Orchestra accompanies 12 ballet companies from around the world for UNited We Dance: An International Festival, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter.
2005 – San Francisco Ballet Orchestra celebrates its 30th anniversary with a special concert at the War Memorial Opera House, under the direction of Music Director and Principal Conductor, Andrew Mogrelia. (April 24, 2005) – Original flyer.
2005 – In fall 2005, Martin West joins San Francisco Ballet as Music Director and Principal Conductor
2012 – Members of the orchestra accompany the SF Ballet on its first tour to Sun Valley, Idaho for the Sun Valley Summer of the Arts Festival in July 2012.
2014 – Roy Malan retires after serving 40 years as concertmaster with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.
2015 – Ask Your Mama earns three GRAMMY® nominations
2015 – 2016 – San Francisco Ballet Orchestra celebrates its 40th anniversary
2016 – Ask Your Mama wins 2 GRAMMYs (February 15, 2016)
2016 – Special 40th anniversary concert is held at Herbst Theatre, under the direction of Music Director and Principal Conductor, Martin West. (March 25, 2016)
Music Directors and Principal Conductors:
Denis de Coteau – 1975 to 1998
Emil de Cou – 1998 to 2001
Jean-Louis LeRoux – 2001 to 2003
Andrew Mogrelia – 2003 to 2005
Martin West – 2005 to Present