Northside SF
On My Mind...
John Goldman of the San Francisco Symphony

John Goldman
photo: courtesy San Francisco Symphony
In this city’s early, rawboned days, not all residents played the banjo and patronized girlie shows. In 1851 the first opera was performed here – Bellini’s La Sonnambula – and in 1881 the Philharmonic Society presented works by Mozart and Handel. Theaters and opera houses sprang up, seemingly overnight. The San Francisco Symphony was born in 1911 and presented its first concerts. This month it celebrates its 100th anniversary. To mark the occasion Northside San Francisco caught up with John Goldman, president of the world-renowned San Francisco Symphony.

We’re aware of your long involvement with the San Francisco Symphony, but for a broader perspective, how do you describe the life and career of John D. Goldman today?
I’m having a great life. I’m a 62-year-old San Francisco native and like to consider myself a community volunteer. I’m a former insurance brokerage executive and California state government official. I served as Legislative Analyst for the State of California from 1975 to 1978 and as Assistant Secretary of Transportation for the state from 1978 to 1981. And I now serve on a multitude of community organizations and family foundations.

And you’re also a member of a historic and highly distinguished family: your parents were the public-spirited Richard and Rhoda Goldman; your grandfather was Walter Haas Sr., former chairman and president of Levi-Strauss & Co.; and your great-great-great uncle was Levi Strauss himself. Do you wear Levi’s? 
Those who know me are aware that Levi’s are part of my favorite dress code. I’m a casual guy except when I’m going to the symphony.   

From tuxedos to Levi’s. Now that we got that one out of the way, let’s talk about the San Francisco Symphony. You’ve been its president for almost 10 years. That’s devotion. Tell us about it. 
I love music, period. The length of my tenure as president of the symphony has yet to be determined. My involvement with it has been an amazing journey. What’s made it so special is that our symphony sets a recognized standard of excellence. There’s a sense of passion and energy at every level and among every constituency. Under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas we are among the world’s leading orchestras. And I feel that the best is yet to come.

What’s the high point of your tenure and what’s peeking over the horizon? 
I can’t isolate one high point. But there are several items that would definitely be at or near the top. We completed our campaign for our second century raising $145 million – even during this ongoing recession when all arts organizations are experiencing operational and financial challenges. We created our own media production company and recorded the entire Mahler cycle and were awarded seven Grammies to date. Our multimedia educational outreach project we call Keeping Score has had enormous success in touching anyone, anywhere, on their terms about the essence of classical music. As to what’s peeking over the horizon, yes, there are plans – collaborative efforts – but they’re not ready for prime time. Stay tuned.

You’re a busy guy. What do you do in your spare time?
Tag along with the orchestra when it’s on the road in Europe, Asia or the U.S. Also, I’m a member of the Menlo Masters swim team. I play a little golf and work out four or five days a week. I love baseball and I’m totally into The Franchise. I chill out with my wife, Marcia, and our Yorkie, Lola, and I listen to my iPod.

What do you listen to?
I listen to everything: Tchaikovsky, Gershwin, Ives, Mahler, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, jazz, current pop, and lots of rock ’n’ roll.

What’s this about rock ’n’ roll?
I’m a child of the sixties. Being a San Franciscan, how could I not love rock ’n’ roll?

Who are your favorite rock ’n’ roll artists?
Kenny Loggins, Billy Joel and The Beatles, come to mind. But my favorite San Francisco bands were the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company.

From the Grateful Dead to Mahler – that’s a long musical road well traveled.
Does it get any better than that? I’m a lucky guy.

Bookmark and Share Print Page PDF
Arts & Entertainment Article Archives