This Thursday through Saturday, the San Francisco Symphony will be playing the giant Fourth Symphony of Charles Ives, which requires extra forces – extra groups of musicians, choir, as well as a second conductor to help keep it all together. Michael Tilson Thomas will be joined by Christian Reif, whose duties will include giving cues to musicians in the balcony, as well as accompanying others into the basement.

There’s more information about the concerts at the San Francisco Symphony website.

The performances of the Fourth (and the recent performances of the Third) Symphony are going to be a future release for their SFS Media label. It’s a work that MTT recorded years ago, but he says he understands the piece better now, and in the intervening years a new critical edition of the score has been released. “Part of that has come through my increased familiarity and appreciation of all of the basic materials that are used in the piece,” he explains. “Hymn tunes, folk songs, popular ballads, dance tunes, fiddle pieces, brass band music, and so on.” Getting to know those tunes allows him, and each musician, to be true to the phrasing as the piece adds layers to make the complex whole. Christian Reif says he only began getting to know the work a few months ago, but says it’s a great symphony, in that it captures everything in the world. During the piece, he says, musicians on stage (and some elsewhere) need to know which baton to watch. “The main conductor, Michael, will conduct in four, and then I have to start half a beat later. So that the people who play with me, group two in that case, will play half a beat later to what the main orchestra does… In the second movement I pop up and down, and every single time it’s a bit different who is playing with me, and who is playing with Michael.” As if his plate weren’t full enough, this Sunday afternoon Reif will lead the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra in the first concert of their 35th season, with a program of music by Detlev Glanert, Rachmaninoff and Elgar.