Michael Tilson Thomas

Music Director

Michael Tilson Thomas assumed his post as the San Francisco Symphony’s Music Director in September 1995, consolidating a relationship with the Orchestra that began with his debut here in 1974. A Los Angeles native, he studied piano with John Crown and composition and conducting with Ingolf Dahl at the University of Southern California, becoming Music Director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra at nineteen and working with Stravinsky, Boulez, Stockhausen, and Copland on premieres of their compositions at the famed Monday Evening Concerts. He was pianist and conductor for master classes given by Piatigorsky and Heifetz and, as a student of Friedelind Wagner, an assistant conductor at Bayreuth. In 1969, at twenty-four, Mr. Tilson Thomas won the Koussevitzky Prize and was appointed Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony. Ten days later he came to international recognition, replacing Music Director William Steinberg in mid-concert at Lincoln Center. He went on to become the BSO’s Associate Conductor, then Principal Guest Conductor, and he has also served as Chief Conductor and Director of the Ojai Festival, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, a Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Principal Conductor of the Great Woods Music Festival. He has toured the world with the London Symphony Orchestra, of which he became Principal Conductor in 1988 and now serves as Principal Guest Conductor. Until 2000 he was co-Artistic Director of the Pacific Music Festival, which he and Leonard Bernstein inaugurated in Sapporo, Japan, in 1990, and he founded and is Artistic Director of the New World Symphony, a training orchestra for the most gifted graduates of America’s conservatories and home to a critically acclaimed, technologically advanced arts academy and concert hall designed by Frank Gehry, opened in January 2011. Michael Tilson Thomas’s recordings have won numerous international awards, including twelve Grammys for SFS recordings, seven of these for the Mahler cycle on SFS Media. The breadth of his recorded repertory reflects wide-ranging interests arising from his work as conductor, composer, and pianist. On television, he has been featured with the San Francisco Symphony in PBS’s Great Performances, in a series with the London Symphony Orchestra for the BBC, PBS documentaries with the New World Symphony, and the series Concerto! In June 2004, he and the SFS launched Keeping Score on PBS-TV. A committed educator, he led the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts on CBS-TV from 1971 to 1977. His compositions include From the Diary of Anne Frank; Shówa/Shoáh, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima; Poems of Emily Dickinson; Urban Legend; Island Music; and Notturno. As Artistic Director of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, he led that ensemble’s debut concert in April 2009 at Carnegie Hall and conducted it again in 2011. Mr. Tilson Thomas’s honors include Columbia University’s Ditson Award for services to American music, the American Music Center’s Letter of Distinction, and the President’s Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He is a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres of France, was selected as Gramophone 2005 Artist of the Year, and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was named one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Report and in 2010 was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama.

(September 2014)