In San Francisco, a hip new orchestral lounge

The multilevel venue SoundBox hosts a monthly Friday and Saturday night series that’s drawing the elusive Generation Y and Millennial patrons with experimental and traditional music.

Katerina Sulova/CTK/AP
Michael Tilson Thomas

In two decades with the San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas has become as much a part of his adopted city as cable cars, tech start-ups, and world championship baseball. 

Mr. Tilson Thomas, or MTT – as he’s both fondly and professionally known – is celebrating his 20th anniversary as SFS music director with the same panache he has brought to the podium. The effervescent conductor has both embraced contemporary works and created unique performances. His most recent venture: a weekend loft party right in the orchestra hall.

MTT established his avant-garde hallmark by commissioning works from modern and up-and-coming artists, such as Samuel Carl Adams (who employs computerized sound processing), Cynthia Lee Wong (a young, energetic pianist), and British composer Robin Holloway. 

“[Michael is] someone who’s ultimately curious about life in general,” says Audra McDonald, the six-time Tony winner who headlined the SFS 2013 Opening Night Gala. “He wants to know everything he can about life, and that shows in his artistry.”

Enter SoundBox, a multilevel venue at the back of Davies Symphony Hall and the latest creative outlet for the SFS. Once a storage and rehearsal space, the cavernous SoundBox now hosts a monthly Friday and Saturday night series that’s drawing the elusive Generation Y and Millennial patrons with experimental and traditional music. Some orchestras have been growing audiences by hosting such things as Chinese New Year’s shows and film screenings with live scoring. But the SFS is the first to also transform the adventure in-house.

With artisanal drinks and small bites; surround sound and video projections; a variety of seating and standing options; and stages at the front, side, and center of the expansive rectangular room, SoundBox immediately became the hottest gathering place in town. The crowd at the February percussion-themed event was fashionable and energized – not unlike the maestro himself.

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