MTT receives the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama, 2010




By the 2009-10 season, MTT’s fifteenth as Music Director, it can be easy to forget that the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas were not created with one another in mind. MTT reflects, “It has been my great pleasure to work with the wonderful musicians of the San Francisco Symphony for many years, during which we’ve developed a personally nuanced approach to music, both the familiar and the new.” The season is marked by the conclusion of the Mahler symphonic cycle with performances of the massive Eighth Symphony, as well as MTT’s receipt of the nation’s highest award for artistic achievement.

Mahler Magnitude: Symphony of a Thousand

Having established itself as a Mahler orchestra par excellence under MTT, the San Francisco Symphony is ready to take on the composer’s most ambitious work, the gargantuan Symphony No. 8 (Symphony of a Thousand). For this final album of symphonies to be released as part of the SFS’s Mahler recording project, MTT assembles a crackerjack lineup: sopranos Erin Wall, Elza van den Heever, and Laura Claycomb; mezzo-sopranos Katarina Karnéus and Yvonne Naef; tenor Anthony Dean Griffey; baritone Quinn Kelsey; bass-baritone James Morris; and the voices of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, the San Francisco Girls Chorus, and the Pacific Boychoir. The resulting album sets a new standard for recorded Mahler performances and is rewarded handsomely, picking up three 2009 Grammy Awards in the categories of Best Classical Album, Best Choral Performance, and Best Engineered Classical Album. 

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States

Highest Honor: National Medal of Arts

The National Medal of Arts class of 2009 reads like a who’s who of American arts and culture: Bob Dylan, Clint Eastwood, Milton Glaser, Maya Lin, Rita Moreno, Jessye Norman, Joseph P. Riley Jr., Frank Stella, John Williams, and Michael Tilson Thomas. At a February 2010 ceremony in the East Room of the White House, MTT receives the nation’s highest award for artistic achievement from President Barack Obama. Obama commends MTT’s “dedication to elevating American orchestral playing as a renowned conductor,” and “commitment to engaging new artists and audiences in the exciting world of contemporary music.”

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
MTT backstage with Mikhail Baryshnikov
at Carnegie Hall
MTT backstage with Jennifer Siebel Newsom,
Gavin Newsom, and k.d. lang, 2010 Black & White Ball
MTT conducts the SF Symphony
Youth Orchestra in rehearsal

Nicole Cash (horn)
David Chernyavsky (violin)
In Sun Jang (violin)
David Kim (viola)
Polina Sedukh (violin)
Jonathan Vinocour (Principal Viola)

Donato Cabrera
(Resident Conductor and Wattis Foundation Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra)

Scelsi: Hymnos (US premiere)
Victor Kissine: Post-Scriptum (World premiere, San Francisco Symphony)


2009–10 Tour

The March 2010 National Tour included appearances by violinist Christian Tetzlaff, soprano Laura Claycomb, and mezzo-soprano Katarina Karnéus.

Urbana-Champaign, IL, Krannert Center
Ann Arbor, MI, Hill Auditorium, University of Michigan
Philadelphia, PA, Kimmel Center
Washington DC, Kennedy Center
New York, NY, Carnegie Hall

Tune in to KDFC at 3pm daily for “MTT Time”—special concert broadcasts from each year of MTT’s historic tenure, featuring commentary from MTT himself.

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