Michael Tilson Thomas

Born 1944

Michael Tilson Thomas

Composer • Conductor • Piano


American conductor and composer Michael Tilson Thomas is one of today’s true musical wonders. He is currently the music director of the prestigious San Francisco Symphony and conductor laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra. In addition, he is the founder and artistic director of the prominent training orchestra, the New World Symphony. Tilson Thomas has a huge discography; he is featured as a conductor on at least 120 albums, 11 of which have won Grammy Awards.

It seems that Michael Tilson Thomas was destined for greatness in music, as he is the third generation of his family to pursue an artistic career. His grandparents, Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, were founding members and stars of the Yiddish Theater in America, while his father, Ted Thomas was a producer at the Mercury Theater Company in New York, eventually turning to film and television in Los Angeles. Michael’s mother, Roberta Thomas, served as the head of research for the media giant, Columbia Pictures.

Michael was born in on 21 December 1944 in Los Angeles, California. In 1954, he enrolled at the University of Southern California Preparatory School, where he became a piano student of Dorothy Bishop. After finishing high school, he enrolled at USC as a music student with advanced standing. During his studies, he received piano lessons from John Crown, along with conducting and composition lessons from Ingolf Dahl.

By the age of 19, Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) was already ambitious to conduct and could be seen conducting the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra in Los Angeles. He continued to work with this orchestra until 1967. At this time, MTT also served as both pianist and conductor for “Monday Evening Concerts”, a series of concerts in which works by contemporary composers including Pierre Boulez, Aaron Copland, Ingolf Dahl, William Fraft, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Igor Stravinsky were premiered. In addition, he served as pianist and conductor with Greor Piatigorsky and Jascha Heifitz.

In 1966, MTT became a student of Friedelind Wagner and also the assistant conductor and musical assistant at the Bayreuth Festival.

By the time of his graduation (summa cum laude) in 1967, MTT already began his promising professional career. This same year, he was appointed chief conductor of the Ojai Festival and, under the supervision of Stravinsky, he made the first recording of Stravinsky’s four-hand piano version ofLe Sacre du Printemps . For this recording he collaborated with pianist Ralph Grierson and the Angel/EMI label.

MTT’s big break came shortly after winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood (1969) with his appointment as assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1969. In addition, he was also promoted to co-music director of the Ojai Festival.

A deciding moment in MTT’s career occurred with the Boston Symphony Orchestra during a New York concert in 1969. In the middle of the concert, he unexpectedly made his debut replacing music director William Steinberg mid-concert. Throughout the rest of the season he conducted 37 more concerts.

A deciding moment in MTT’s career occurred with the Boston Symphony Orchestra during a New York concert in 1969. In the middle of the concert, he unexpectedly made his debut replacing music director William Steinberg mid-concert. Throughout the rest of the season he conducted 37 more concerts.MTT eventually became the principal guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a post he held until 1974.  Meanwhile, he had also been appointed music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic in 1971, remaining until 1979.

During the first half of the 1980s, MTT served as principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In addition, he has served as guest conductor for many other major orchestras in both Europe and America.

MTT has conducted on more than 120 albums throughout his career. He has recorded the works of not only Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Prokofiev and Stravinsky, but he also championed the works of newer composers including Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, Steve Reich, John Cage Ingolf Dahl, Morton Feldman, George Gershwin John McLaughlin and Elvis Costello. He recently completed recordings of Gustav Mahler’s complete orchestral works with the San Francisco Symphony.

MTT has also been seen in action in many television broadcasts, including the BBC Television series with the London Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts in the 1970s. He was also featured on numerous occasion on the PBS Great Performances programme.

Together with the San Francisco Symphony, MTT produced the project “Keeping Score”, which includes a television series, websites, radio programmes and school programmes.

His dedication to training young musicians can also be observed in his work for the New World Symphony, a professional training orchestra for graduates, that he founded in February 1988. The orchestra is based in Miami Beach, Florida and has toured much of the world.

Together with the New World Symphony, MTT presented a series of concerts in 1991 for UNISEF, who sponsored MTT”s workFrom the Diary of Anne Frank. For the benefit concerts, Audrey Hepburn served as the narrator. The piece has since become a staple of the repertoire and has been translated into many different languages.

Another of MTT’s compositions, Schowa/Shoah, was premiered y the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra in August 1995, under his direction, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

A number of virtuoso soloists have also premiered MTT’s works, including Thomas Hampson, who premiered MTT’s settings of Walt Whitman’s poetry, and Renee Fleming, who premiered his settingsof Emily Dickinson’s poetry. MTT has also led his own San Francisco Orchesta in a premiere of his Concerto for contrabassoon and orchestra,Urban Legend.

Between 2003 and 2005, MTT was a Carnegie Hall Perspectives Artist, resulting in an entire evening devoted to his works. During the event, hisIsland Music for four marimbas and percussion was performed in addition to hisNotturno for solo flute and strings and a setting of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poems.

MTT works hard to bring the music of American composers into the spotlight during festivals. He has also devoted festivals to the music of Mahler, Stravinsky and Wagner. He is regularly applauded for his work with the San Francisco Symphony by demanding music critics for major newspapers and journals. contemporary composers.

MTT is a Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France and has been named bothMusical America’s Musician of the Year and Conductor of the Year. He has also been namedGramophone Magazine’s Artist of the Year. MTT has captured the public eye, not only in his performances, but in his interviews with CBS’s 60 Minutesand ABC’s Nightline.

In addition to his 11 Grammy Awards and numerous nominations, he received the Peabody Award in 2008 for “The MTT Files”, a radio series for SFS Media.

The highest honour for an artist to achieve in the United States is the National Medal of Arts, which former President Obama awarded MTT in 2010 on behalf of the U.S. government.