Arts & Theater

San Francisco Symphony performs ‘Soldier’s Tale’

Elvis Costello narrates “The Soldier’s Tale” with the San Francisco Symphony.
Elvis Costello narrates “The Soldier’s Tale” with the San Francisco Symphony. Courtesy of San Francisco Symphony

“The Soldier’s Tale” by composer Igor Stravinsky and writer C. F. Ramuz is a performance work with equal parts theater, music and dance.

It is scored for a chamber ensemble of seven instruments violin, double bass, clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone and percussion and told by three actors – the narrator, the Devil and a soldier – and over the years the work has been recorded by actors such as Ian McKellan and John Gielgud. The famously iconoclastic Frank Zappa both recorded parts of the music and narrated a performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

This weekend’s San Francisco Symphony performances have their own artistic wattage. Elvis Costello narrates the fable of a deserting soldier who trades his beloved fiddle to the devil for unlimited wealth. Of course what he has really traded to the devil is his soul. The devil will be performed by the legendary British actor Malcolm McDowell.

Michael Tilson Thomas, celebrating his 70th birthday this year and his 20th season with the San Fransisco Symphony, conducts Stravinsky’s 1918 score. Opening the program will be composer John Adams conducting a rare performance of his “Grand Pianola Music” with Orli Shaham and Marc-André Hamelin on pianos, accompanied by Synergy Vocals featuring Heather Cairncross, Michaela Haslam, and Joanna L’Estrange.

Performances at Davies Symphony Hall (Grove Street, between Van Ness and Franklin) in San Francisco are 6:30 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Tickets: $15-$158. For information go to or call (415) 864-6000.