Billboard announcing MTT’s inaugural season as Music Director


On the Future’s Frontier


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.


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 Night Gala
Michael Tilson Thomas, 1995
Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, September 9, 1995
  1. The American Festival

  2. A. MTT and Lou Harrison, seen gifting MTT with a matching red shirt (a signature Lou Harrison look), during the 1996 American Festival
  3. B. MTT confers with members of the former Grateful Dead: Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, and Bob Weir
  4. C. MTT and the SF Symphony rehearse John Cage’s Renga and Apartment House 1776, in preparation for the American Festival
  5. D. MTT with Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, and composers 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 San Francisco SymphonyThe show is packed with superstars, including librettists and original Broadway cast members Betty Comden and Adolph Green. 


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 greets the Orchestra at his first rehearsal as Music Director, 1995.

Barbara Bogatin (cello)
Catherine Payne (flute)
David Herbert (timpani/percussion)

Alasadair Neale continues as Associate Conductor and Wattis Foundation Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra (1989-2001)

Vance George continues as Chorus Director (1983–2006)

Tune in to KDFC at 3pm daily for 
MTT Timespecial concert broadcasts 
from each year of MTT’s historic tenure
featuring commentary from MTT himself

National Tour

In March 1996, MTT and the SF Symphony embark on their first tour together of the United States.

Lincoln, NE
Lied Center for the Performing Arts

Saint Louis, MO
Powell Symphony Hall

Chicago, IL
Orchestra Hall

Ann Arbor, MI
Hill Auditorium

Toledo, OH
Peristyle Auditorium

Washington DC
Kennedy Center

Clearwater, FL
Ruth Eckerd Hall, Richard B. Baumgardner Center for the Performing Arts

West Palm Beach, FL
Kravis Center for the Performing Arts

Fort Lauderdale, FL
Broward Center for the Performing Arts

Miami, FL
Dade County Auditorium

This culminating tour performance featured a joint performance of Tchaikovsky’s Marche slave by the SF Symphony and the Miami-based New World Symphony, America’s premier orchestral academy, co-founded by MTT.

Nancy H. Bechtle (SF Symphony President and CEO, 1987-2001) in the San Francisco Chronicle, 2017
SF Symphony President and CEO Nancy H. Bechtle, Music Director Designate Michael Tilson Thomas, and Executive Director Peter Pastreich

Cover page of the original manuscript for
Lou Harrison’s A Parade for MTT, a work written specially for
MTT and the SF Symphony, and which received
its world premiere at the 1995 Opening Night Gala


Harrison: A Parade for MTT
(World premiere, SF Symphony commission)

John Adams: Lollapalooza
(US premiere)

Cowell: Atlantis
(World premiere, SF Symphony commission)

Michael Daugherty: Concrete Jungle 
(World premiere, SF Symphony commission)  

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