Conductor

Michael Tilson Thomas


Music Director, San Francisco Symphony

Artistic Director, New World Symphony

Principal Guest Conductor, London Symphony Orchestra


Michael Tilson Thomas is Music Director of both the San Francisco and New World Symphony Orchestras.  Former Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra he is in great demand as a guest conductor with the leading orchestras of the world including the New York and Vienna Philharmonics and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Winner of eleven Grammy Awards he is the recipient of the National Arts Medal, regarded as the United States’ highest honour for artistic excellence, which was presented to him by President Barack Obama, and a member of the Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France.

MTT to conduct West Side Story

27 Jun 2013

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus will be the first ensemble to perform Leonard Bernstein’s complete music for West Side Story live in concert in five...

MTT London Symphony Orchestra concerts in Madrid and London with Yo-Yo Ma

05 Jun 2013

Michael Tilson Thomas returns to the podium of the London Symphony Orchestra as the ensemble's Principal Guest Conductor for concerts in Madrid on 5 June and at London's Barbican Centre on 9, 11...

MTT conducts Vienna Philharmonic in Vienna, London, Yerevan and Kiev

05 Apr 2013

Beginning April 6, Michael Tilson Thomas leads the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at their home in the Austrian capital, on tour in London, and in their debuts in Yerevean, Armenia and Kiev,...

MTT and San Francisco Symphony win Grammy Award

13 Feb 2013

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have won the Grammy Award in the category of Best Orchestral Performance for their recording of John Adams's Harmonielehre and Short Ride in a...

MTT opens New World Symphony 25th anniversary season

08 Oct 2012

Michael Tilson Thomas returns to Miami to kick off the New World Symphony’s 25th Anniversary Season with an all-Russian opening program on October 6 and 7. The Symphony’s...

MTT Celebrates San Francisco Symphony's 2012-2013 Season

20 Sep 2012

This week, Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas kicks off his 18th season with the San Francisco Symphony in an all-French program that includes selections from Berlioz’s Romeo and...

MTT begins European tour with the London Symphony Orchestra and Emanuel Ax

30 Aug 2012

Beginning this Thursday, August 30, Michael Tilson Thomas, American pianist Emanuel Ax and the London Symphony Orchestra embark on a ten-city European tour that takes them to Germany, Austria...

MTT nominated for Emmy Award for The Thomashefskys

23 Jul 2012

Michael Tilson Thomas has been nominated for an Emmy® in the category of Outstanding Music Direction for The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater! Written, hosted,...

MTT's LSO concerts feature Mahler symphonies and soloists Yefim Bronfman & Gil Shaham

15 May 2012

At the end of this month, Michael Tilson Thomas returns to the Barbican Centre to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra. On May 27 MTT performs Mahler's Fourth Symphony with soprano soloist...

Watch MTT's TED talk online

15 May 2012

In March 2012 MTT gave a talk at TED2012: Full Spectrum. You can watch his lecture entitled "Music and emotion through time" online now by clicking...

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“With the arrival of the finale, Thomas and his troops reached for – and found – a whole new level of brilliance. The playing was rich and weighty without ever sounding turgid, and Thomas combined the slow tempo with a rhythmic grandeur that made the music sound both sensual and ethereal…….. Rarely had the strings sounded so plush or sumptuous; never had the whole orchestra pulled together with such expressive virtuosity. I never wanted it to end.”

Mahler Symphony No2. San Francisco Chronicle - Sep 2011

“The way Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony were able to raise the music to higher spheres, as it were, in the epilogue of the finale, thus giving it a whole new expressive dimension, demonstrated the highest level of interpretational and music-making artistry. A historic performance indeed, which can scarcely be surpassed in intensity, beauty, and precision.”

Mahler Symphonoy No9. Luxemburg Tageblatt - May 2011

“LENOX, Mass. — Michael Tilson Thomas was on the podium for the opening concert of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer season here at Tanglewood on Friday night, conducting an incisive, engrossing and triumphant performance of Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony. Despite the hot, humid weather, Mr. Thomas drew brilliant playing from the orchestra, magisterial singing from the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and inspired performances from the two vocal soloists: the luminous soprano Layla Claire and the extraordinary mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe.”

The New York Times - Jul 2010

“...with exhilarating concerts at Carnegie Hall on Thursday and Friday nights, Mr. Thomas and his players again showed what can happen when an invigorating music director cultivates an orchestra of musicians eager for a challenge.... Mr. Thomas’s performance had all the Mahlerian grandeur you could want. Yet I appreciated the freshness and rigor of the music-making, free of an interpretive agenda. So, clearly, did the audience. The ovation was ecstatic.”

The New York Times (Mahler Symphony No. 2, San Francisco Symphony) - Mar 2010

“Never before has this music seemed so delicate and concentrated, so redolent of the magical intimacy of chamber music. This approach has large-scale advantages as well – for example, it permits Tilson Thomas to conclude with a gradated crescendo in which the orchestral postlude emerges as even more powerful than the choral passage that precedes it.... this is one of the most consistently satisfying and stimulating Mahler Eighths, one that manages to make Solti’s account seem one-dimensionally energetic.”

BBC Music Magazine (CD Review – Mahler: Symphony No. 8, Symphony No. 10 - Adagio) - Dec 2009

“Zarathustra’s grand moments made their impact with a sonorous and majestic opening, and a notably tempestuous Of Joys and Passions. Yet in addition to the conductor’s seamless direction of what can be an episodic work, most striking was the elegance and tonal beauty of the orchestral sound, notably the glowing violins in Of the Great Longing and the burnished lower strings in the fugue…. Tilson Thomas often gets his due as an interpreter of Mahler, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky, but his Beethoven is on the same inspirational level. The conductor’s boldly outlined style is especially well-suited to the Eroica, shearing off the accumulated bombast and heaviness and resulting in a lithe, incisive reading. Even coming after the brilliance and sonic splendor of Strauss’s tone poem, MTT and the musicians managed to put across the power, emotional extremes and fist-shaking audacity of the Eroica magnificently.”

The Miami Herald (New World Symphony, Beethoven Erotica Symphony, Strauss Also sprach Zarathustra, Knight Concert Hall) - Oct 2008

“It was a high point of this concert season, and the most assured and exciting live Mahler the orchestra has offered in years. If even some of the grandeur, clarity and specificity of Wednesday's concert can be captured on disc, this promises to be a triumphant capstone to the entire cycle.... But the most definitive credit for this coup goes to Thomas, who presided over his forces with a combination of firm mastery and responsive sensitivity. More than in any recent performance, Thomas seemed to have taken the full 90-minute measure of this piece and plotted it out with unerring care.”

San Francisco Chronicle (Mahler Symphony No. 8, Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco Symphony) - Nov 2008

“A maestro revives an era, with his grandparents as his guide.... In telling the story of his own famous grandparents, the actor/managers Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, Thomas fits music, theatricality, narration, vintage images and personal reminiscence together in an altogether charming fashion. The result is at once historically textured, immediate and deeply personal. You won't only know a lot more about Yiddish theater by the end of ‘The Thomashefskys.’ You'll know, and feel, more about Thomas as a man and an artist as well. You could spend the night plucking up nothing but tidbits and one-liners and come away happily well-fed. Thomas, who first mounted his grand Thomashefsky salon in 2005 and has trimmed and reshaped it this time around, is a first-rate host and raconteur. His rhythm, delivery, and enthusiasm for his subject, and stock-house of Yiddish words and expressions are fully tapped. He sings a number, too, capering around the stage in a stiff-legged dance as he tears into ‘Who Do You Suppose Married My Sister?’ (1910). The answer: Thomashefsky, the star with the ‘bankroll big enough to choke a cow.’”

San Francisco Chronicle (Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco Symphony) - Jun 2008

“Michael Tilson Thomas is a spectacular structuralist who not only draws musical lines intelligently but also understands their tonal character.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Jul 2005

“A very full disc with two great recordings... And there is no better interpretation of the music. Thomas really is one of the great Tchaikovsky conductors of all time and everything here is perfect: tempos, balances, climaxes.”

Vroon, American Record Guide - May 2001

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Michael Tilson Thomas is Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Symphony and Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. Born in Los Angeles, he is the third generation of his family to follow an artistic career. His grandparents, Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, were founding members of the Yiddish Theater in America. His father, Ted Thomas, was a producer in the Mercury Theater Company in New York before moving to Los Angeles where he worked in films and television. His mother, Roberta Thomas, was the head of research for Columbia Pictures.

Mr. Tilson Thomas began his formal studies at the University of Southern California where he studied piano with John Crown and conducting and composition with Ingolf Dahl. At age nineteen he was named Music Director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra. He worked with Stravinsky, Boulez, Stockhausen and Copland on premieres of their compositions at Los Angeles' Monday Evening Concerts. During this same period he was the pianist and conductor for Gregor Piatigorsky and Jascha Heifetz.

In 1969, after winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood, he was appointed Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. That year he also made his New York debut with the Boston Symphony and gained international recognition after replacing Music Director William Steinberg in mid-concert. He was later appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra where he remained until 1974. He was Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1971 to 1979 and a Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1981 to 1985. His guest conducting includes appearances with the major orchestras of Europe and the United States.

His recorded repertoire of more than 120 discs includes works by composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Prokofiev and Stravinsky as well as his pioneering work with the music of Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, Steve Reich, John Cage, Ingolf Dahl, Morton Feldman, George Gershwin, John McLaughlin and Elvis Costello. He recently finished recording the complete orchestral works of Gustav Mahler with the San Francisco Symphony.

Mr. Tilson Thomas's television work includes a series with the London Symphony Orchestra for BBC Television, the television broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic Young People's Concerts from 1971 to 1977 and numerous productions on PBS Great Performances. Mr. Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony produced a multi-tiered media project, Keeping Score, which includes a television series, web sites, radio programs and programs in schools.

In February 1988 he inaugurated the New World Symphony, an orchestral academy for graduates of prestigious music programs. In addition to their regular season in Miami Beach, they have toured in Austria, France, Great Britain, South America, Japan, Israel, Holland, Italy and the United States. Prior to their January, 2007 appearance at Carnegie Hall, the New World Symphony was profiled in a feature story in The New York Times. New World Symphony graduates have gone on to major positions in orchestras worldwide. In 1991 Mr. Tilson Thomas and the orchestra were presented in a series of benefit concerts for UNICEF in the United States, featuring Audrey Hepburn as narrator of From the Diary of Anne Frank, composed by Mr. Tilson Thomas and commissioned by UNICEF. This piece has since been translated and performed in many languages worldwide.

In August 1995 he led the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra in the premiere of his composition Showa/Shoah, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Thomas Hampson premiered his settings of poetry by Walt Whitman, Renee Fleming premiered his settings of the poetry of Emily Dickinson and the San Francisco Symphony premiered his concerto for contrabassoon entitled Urban Legend. As a Carnegie Hall Perspectives Artist from 2003 to 2005, he had an evening devoted to his own compositions which included Island Music for four marimbas and percussion, Notturno for solo flute and strings and a new setting of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. Other compositions include Street Song for brass instruments and Agnegram, an overture for orchestra.

As Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra from 1988 to 1995, Mr. Tilson Thomas led the orchestra on regular tours in Europe, the United States and Japan as well as at the Salzburg Festival. In London he and the orchestra have mounted major festivals focusing on the music of Steve Reich, George Gershwin, Johannes Brahms, Toru Takemitsu, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and the School of St. Petersburg, Claude Debussy and Gustav Mahler. As Principal Guest Conductor of the LSO, he continues to lead the orchestra in concerts in London and on tour.

His fifteen-year tenure as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony has been broadly covered by the international press with feature stories in Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Times of London and The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung among many others. With the San Francisco Symphony he has presented eight summer festivals including ones devoted to the music of Mahler, Stravinsky, Wagner and American Mavericks. With the San Francisco Symphony he has made numerous tours of Europe, United States and the Far East.

Mr. Tilson Thomas is a Chevalier dans l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, was Musical America's Musician of the Year and Conductor of the Year, Gramophone Magazine's Artist of the Year and has been profiled on CBS's 60 Minutes and ABC's Nightline. He has won ten Grammy Awards for his recordings. In 2008 he received the Peabody Award for his radio series for SFS Media, The MTT Files. In 2010, President Obama awarded him with the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the United States Government.

January 2014