San Francisco Symphony's Mahler Coming on Vinyl

"We did this for audiophiles, really," says the San Francisco Symphony's general manager, John Kieser. "Our distributors around the world have been telling us that it would be terrific if our Mahler series were available as a complete set on vinyl. This is a major endeavor, in that we're talking about 22 LPs."

The boxed set of Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the San Francisco Symphony in their cycle of the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, pressed on 180gm virgin vinyl in a limited edition of 1000 copies, is in its final phase of preproduction. Complete with, on a bonus 45rpm disc, a previously unreleased performance of Mahler's five Rückert Lieder sung by Susan Graham to MTT's piano accompaniment, the set is expected to be released in April 2011.

The success of the project hinges on the SFS selling enough copies to justify the production costs. Pre-orders for the $749 set, secured with a $75 deposit, must be received at by December 31, 2010. The first 250 sets sold will be signed by Tilson Thomas.

The vinyl edition of The Mahler Project, mastered by Kevin Gray of Cohearent Audio & Video, will include Symphonies 1–9, the Adagio from the unfinished Symphony 10, Kindertotenlieder, Das klagende Lied, Das Lied von der Erde, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, the orchestral settings of the Rückert Lieder, selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and the bonus disc of the piano arrangement of the Rückerts. Each LP will have its own jacket, and all will be enclosed in a heavyweight slipcase. The set will also include a hardbound book containing notes, bios, texts in three languages, and photographs of Mahler.

"Our Mahler series has always been about matching the excellence of what happens onstage with the production values of the product," Kieser declared. "We also want to make sure that the series is available in as many highest-quality formats as possible. We did a fair amount of research into who would be the person to convert our DSD masters to analog, and Kevin Gray constantly came up. We have received critical recognition for our recorded sound, and this LP set will serve as a capstone to the whole Mahler project."

The bonus disc of Tilson Thomas accompanying Graham brings to mind an old LP set that included two versions of Leonard Bernstein and Christa Ludwig performing selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, one with Bernstein conducting the orchestra, the other with Bernstein on piano. Kieser reports that the recording session for the piano version, excerpts from which will be seen and heard on PBS as part of the SFS's Keeping Score series of TV broadcasts, was "one of those sessions where you could really feel something in the air. The two artists had really good chemistry."

The San Francisco Symphony has so far sold over 130,000 copies of its DSD-native, SACD/CD Mahler recordings. Downloads amount to an additional 20,000 sales, with figures for's fairly recent offering of select 24-bit/96kHz downloads not yet compiled. The recordings, which have won Grammy and other awards, have helped cement the international reputation of Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony as some of the world's leading exponents of Mahler's works.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I have no doubt that this was done well and that vinyl lovers will enjoy them but let's not beat around the bush. These wonderful recordings were made on DSD masters for SACD release and there is no possible way that transferring them to LPs can offer a more accurate representation than what is on the SACDs. Different, perhaps, but so is the price. Bigger pictures, too.


quadlover's picture

If not SACDs, why not release as 24/96 or 24/192 downloads? Any way they release this monumental project to the masses will help to recoup the cost of the project, not to mention getting this collection to all who want it.

At $30/disc for SACD the cost would be $690

At $20/disc for HDTracks download (flac) cost is $460

At those levels their cost of production would be spread out over a conservative estimate of an additional 2000 sales (1000 for SACD and 1000 downloads) We all know audiophiles who only use SACD or flac downloads or maybe cannot/will not spend $749 for the set.

This type of outside the box thinking is what the music industry, especially audiophile and the classical music industry, is going to need to do to survive through the next generation.

JasonVSerinus's picture

Surprise. The SFS Mahler series is slowly becoming available for download in hi-res format at HDTracks. Probably 24/96. And the series was initially released in hybrid SACD format.


Catch22's picture

Clifton really should be made aware of this offering. He'd probably buy two sets.

I love Mahler and all, but when the guy says he was making these for the "Audiophiles," he was looking at an ad for cables and interconnects.

tcampbell33's picture

With all respect to Mr. Rubinson, he fails to acknowledge that many audiophiles have invested heavily in their analog front ends and have no interest in investing commensurately in SACD capability, given the extreme paucity of titles. (And please don't tout the "hundreds" of SACDs that are available. It's a drop in the bucket compared to the millions and millions of LPs that have been issued over the last 60 years.)

statfi's picture

As a confirmed analogphile and a season-ticket holder at the SFSymphony *and* a fan of Mahler's music, the announcement of these LPs (in SFS literature) quite piqued my interest. But the demon on my shoulder said "they gotta be digitally mastered". So, the demon was right. My strong prejudice says, from any rational point of view focusing on sound quality, this is ridiculous: the worst of all worlds, digital death (as in lack of life) and analog noise, that I have learned to live with, but certainly don't enjoy. As implicitly alluded to above, I have also learned to live with audience noise in order to have sound with *real life*, but I don't like it one bit (the noise). 'Absolutely zero nostalgic value. However, 'so much for prejudice. Have there been any reviews by audiophiles.