San Francisco

13 Questions With San Francisco Symphony's Christian Reif [Sponsored]

Born in Germany, Christian Reif has been Resident Conductor and Wattis Foundation Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra (SFSYO) since the 2016-2017 season. Before SFS, he was Conducting Fellow with the New World Symphony in Miami.

On Sunday, he'll lead the SFS Youth Orchestra with members of the International Contemporary Ensemble in a program that includes works by R. Strauss, Michael Burritt, and a world-premiere piece by Anahita Abbasi.

The performance, which starts at 2pm at Davies Symphony Hall, will showcase more than 100 talented instrumentalists from around the Bay Area.


SFS Resident Conductor Christian Reif.

To learn more about Reif, who resides in Noe Valley, we interviewed him via email.

How long have you lived in San Francisco?

For a little over a year.

After moving here from Miami, what was the largest adjustment you had to make?

Buying some warmer clothes (I love San Francisco weather though!), and paying more rent. 

Do you have a favorite restaurant or café?

There are so many! But Rich Table and RT Rotisserie, Beretta, Blue Bottle Coffee and Absinthe are some of my favorites.

Which instruments do you play?

Piano is my main instrument, and I used to play clarinet and saxophone.

When did you start training as a musician?

I started taking piano lessons from my mom at the age of six, but I started with recorder and other musical training before.

What drew you to the San Francisco Symphony's Youth Orchestra?

I love working with young musicians and since the YO is one of the best such ensembles, it’s a thrilling opportunity for me!

Can you describe some of the challenges conducting young musicians?

They’re all wonderful instrumentalists, but everyone has a different level of orchestra experience, so it’s my job to get them listening to each other and playing in a beautiful, meaningful way. 

What are your personal goals for SFS’ Youth Orchestra?

I would like to create an atmosphere that fosters their creativity, musicianship and ability to sing with their instruments, move with their colleagues in an organic way listen closely and come to their own as human beings and musicians. And in the end, I also just want them to have fun!

Christian Reif and the SFS Youth Orchestra. | Video: YouTube

What’s your approach for encouraging newcomers to attend a performance at SFS?

Generally, whenever I tell people I work at the Symphony and encourage them to come to a performance, they get really excited! It’s a fantastic Symphony, so it’s usually a very easy pitch. 

If someone told you they didn't like classical music, how would you respond?

If someone says he/she categorically dislikes classical music, I try to break them out of that, and compare classical music to food. You might not like every cuisine, or every food items, but the key is to discern what you do like, and start with that.

Find an entry point, and venture out from that. If you like movie music, try Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov for example, or if you like impressionistic paintings, try Debussy or Ravel.

Apart from classical, which other genres do you enjoy?

I love jazz, the great singer/songwriters like Nina Simone, and progressive metal.

What’s the last non-classical concert you attended?

Progrock band Dream Theater’s 25th anniversary tour of their album Images and Words a few weeks ago.

When people visit you in San Francisco, what sights do you show them?

I love walking through the city, showing people around, biking over the Golden Gate Bridge, going up the Marin Headlands, obviously showing them the Symphony, going to SFMOMA or other museums, and making sure they’re eating well!

Christian Reif will conduct the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra with the International Contemporary Ensemble on Sunday, March 4th at 2pm at Davies Symphony Hall.



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