Billboard announces MTT’s inaugural season as Music Director


In 1995, the San Francisco Symphony welcomes its 11th music director, Michael Tilson Thomas. His much-anticipated arrival is considered the most significant appointment of the decade among American orchestras. MTT’s mission: offer interesting music in thought-provoking performances, with each program including works that reflect each other—some diverting, some challenging, some reaffirming. And he delivers.


Listen to curated recordings from
our archives, available for streaming
on our website for the first time.

Today’s selection: Scenes from Prokofiev’s 
Romeo and Juliet, compiled by MTT, recorded
live in September 1995.


MTT sets the tone with an Opening Night Gala concert that features the commissioned world premiere of American maverick Lou Harrison’s A Parade for MTT, and the music of John Cage, John Adams, and Charles Ives. Every subscription program thereafter includes an American work, a commitment that culminates in the season-ending American Festival. This groundbreaking festival captures worldwide attention for its one-two punch of inventive programming and spirited performances, which spans 250 years of American composers and features artists including members of the iconic Bay Area rock group The Grateful Dead.

MTT and the San Francisco Symphony at the 1995 Opening Gala
Michael Tilson Thomas, 1995
San Francisco Chronicle, 1995

The 1996 American Festival

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony paid homage to U.S. composers past and present, from Charles Ives to John Adams. It also featured members of the iconic Bay Area rock group The Grateful Dead performing music of John Cage with the SFS Youth Orchestra. 

  1. Lou Harrison and Michael Tilson Thomas, who holds a gifted red shirt matching Lou Harrison’s, during the American Festival.
  2. Preparing a performance of John Cage’s Renga with Apartment House 1776, a highlight of the 1996 American Festival. Michael Tilson Thomas confers with members of the former Grateful Dead (from left, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, and Bob Weir)
  3. Performance of John Cage’s Renga with Apartment House 1776 conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas at the American Festival.
  4. MTT with composers Phil Lesh, Lou Harrison, and John Adams.

On the Town

MTT leads performances of Bernstein’s On the Town, kicking off a nearly annual tradition of revolutionary semi-staged productions with the SF Symphony
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In his first weeks as music director, MTT and the San Francisco Symphony record music from Prokofiev’s score for the ballet Romeo and Juliet during live concerts at Davies Symphony Hall. The recording is an intentional shift from studio recordings, capitalizing on the unique spontaneity of live performances, and positioning the SF Symphony as leaders in the industry. The album captures the 1996 Grammy for Best Classical Recording, an astonishing first-season achievement that further fuels the tangible excitement surrounding MTT and the Orchestra’s extraordinary partnership.

MTT leads the first rehearsal as Music Director

Musician Appointments

Cathy Payne
David Herbert
Barbara Bogatin
(won tenure in 1995 from 1994 trial year)

Conducting Staff

Alasadair Neale continues as Associate Conductor and Wattis Foundation Music Director of the SFSYO (1989-2001)

Vance George continues as Chorus Director (1983–2006)

KDFC streaming: 

Tune in to KDFC for special daily broadcasts from each year of MTT’s historic tenure. 

March 1996 National Tour
MTT’s first tour of the United States with the San Francisco Symphony

Tour cities included:
Lincoln, NE
Hall INformation

St. Louis, MO
Chicago, IL
Ann Arbor, MI
Toledo, OH
Washington, DC
Clearwater, FL
West Palm Beach, FL
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Miami, FL

Nancy Bechtle in the San Francisco Chronicle, 2017
SFS President Nancy H. Bechtle, SFS Music Director Designate Michael Tilson Thomas, and SFS Executive Director Peter Pastreich

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Harrison: Parade for MTT
(World premiere, SFS commission; September 1995 Opening Night Gala)
First time Lou Harrison is performed by the SFS.

Adams: Lollapalooza
(US premiere; June 1996 American Festival)

Cowell: Atlantis
(World premiere, SFS commission; June 1996 American Festival)

Kraft: Brazen
(World premiere, SFS commission; September 1996 JY)

Steve Mackey: Lost & Found 
(World premiere, SFS commission; September 1996 Opening Night Gala)

Penderecki: Violin Concerto No. 2
(US premiere; November 1996 Euro/Carnegie tour, Anne-Sophie Mutter)

Volkert: Solus
(World premiere, SFS commission; October 1996)

Daugherty: Concrete Jungle 
(World premiere, SFS commission; June 1996 American Festival)  

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