History of SF Ballet Orchestra

SF Ballet Orchestra was first established in 1975 under the name of San Francisco Performing Arts Orchestra. After auditioning more than 200 musicians, a highly skilled and dedicated orchestra was formed with 38 artists. Tackling the wide variety of musical styles and range of composers that the Ballet performances demanded was a challenge this newly formed group of musicians was well equipped to meet. The new orchestra made its debut during the Ballet’s production of Nutcracker, and was met with enthusiastic applause. During ensuing repertory seasons, both Music Director Denis de Coteau and the orchestra received audience and critical acclaim. 

SF Ballet Orchestra performs at their 40th Anniversary Concert. (© Erik Tomasson)

In 1983, the name of the orchestra was changed to SF Ballet Orchestra. In the early years, the orchestra was made up of members from either the San Francisco Symphony or the Oakland Symphony who had their own commitments and found it difficult to keep up with the additional concert dates of the SF Ballet performances. Now, however, SF Ballet Orchestra enjoys the distinction of being one of the three major orchestras in the city, along with the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Opera—a rarity in this country!

With the appointment of Helgi Tomasson as artistic director of SF Ballet in 1985, the Company’s reputation evolved from that of a regional troupe to a world-class dance company. As the Company’s acclaim grew, so did SF Ballet Orchestra’s, and by the 1990s it was generally regarded as one of the finest ballet orchestras in the world. In 1995, the orchestra accompanied 12 international dance companies, as well as SF Ballet, during the ambitious weeklong UNited We Dance Festival.

In 1998, Denis de Coteau stepped down from his position as music director, and for the next seven years the orchestra was led by three music directors: Emil de Cou, Jean-Louis LeRoux, and Andrew Mogrelia. In 2005, Martin West was named music director and he continues to lead the orchestra today, from Nutcracker through the repertory season.