Michael Tilson Thomas is a musician, a term that implies far more than the practice of music alone. To be a musician is to embrace the whole, to practice the art at the highest level at all times and in all roles. But there’s an even more descriptive word: visionary, defined as “one having unusual foresight and imagination.” Michael Tilson Thomas’ quarter century at the San Francisco Symphony has brought the illimitable value of a music directorship into sharp focus. He’s shown us how it can be done. And now the leadership passes to a new director and a new era at a great orchestra that MTT’s extraordinary leadership has equipped to carry the art forward in style, grace, and vigor.
Sasha Cooke sings “Immer wieder” from MTT’s Meditations on Rilke, an SFS Media release from 2020
It’s Michael Tilson Thomas’ 25th and final season as San Francisco Symphony Music Director—and his 75th birthday—and his “continued youthful vitality” (to quote John Adams) shows no sign of slowing down. MTT is everywhere in this historic season: Opening San Francisco’s glittering Chase Center arena in a two-night stand with the Symphony and Metallica; receiving a Kennedy Center Honor and being named an Officer in the French Order of Arts and Letters; premiering works by John Adams and Julia Wolfe; conducting recordings of American music on SFS Media; unveiling his own new compositions; and leading Mahler’s Sixth Symphony in his final live performances as Music Director. It’s a time of celebration tinged with sadness in a season shortened by a global pandemic. But if watching MTT for 25 years has taught us anything, it’s that there are many more adventures still to come.
Meditations on Rilke
The San Francisco Symphony’s world premiere of Meditations on Rilke in January 2020 reveals yet another side of Michael Tilson Thomas’s compositional voice. In setting texts by one of his favorite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke, MTT inhabits an “approach to music as a kind of lifelong journal or confessional companion.” Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny debut these songs in memorable performances captured by SFS Media. (The resulting recording, released June 26, 2020, also features MTT’s From the Diary of Anne Frank.)
(Assistant Principal Second Violin)
Daniel Stewart (Wattis Foundation Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra)
Julia Wolfe: Fountain of Youth
(West Coast premiere, San Francisco Symphony co-commission)
Michael Tilson Thomas: Meditations on Rilke
John Adams: I Still Dance
(World premiere, San Francisco Symphony co-commission)
Gordon Getty: Shenaandoah