Michael Tilson Thomas

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Thomas filming Keeping Score in 2008 (Photo by Stefan Cohen)

Michael Tilson Thomas (born December 21, 1944) is an American conductor, pianist and composer. He is currently music director of the San Francisco Symphony, and artistic director of the New World Symphony Orchestra.

Biography[edit]

Tilson Thomas was born in Los Angeles, California, to Ted and Roberta Thomas, a Broadway stage manager and a middle school history teacher respectively. He is the grandson of noted Yiddish theater stars Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, who performed in the Yiddish Theater District in Manhattan. Tilson Thomas studied at the University of Southern California, studying piano with John Crown and composition and conducting under Ingolf Dahl. As a student of Friedelind Wagner, Tilson Thomas was a Musical Assistant and Assistant Conductor at the Bayreuth Festival.

Tilson Thomas is openly gay and lives in San Francisco with his partner of thirty years, Joshua Robison.[1][2][3]

Career[edit]

Tilson Thomas has conducted a wide variety of music and is a particular champion of modern American works. He is also renowned for his interpretation of the works of Gustav Mahler; he has recorded all nine Mahler symphonies and other major orchestral works with the San Francisco Symphony. These recordings have been released on the high-resolution audio format Super Audio CD on the San Francisco Symphony's own recording label. Tilson Thomas is also known as a premier interpreter of the works of Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, and Steve Reich.

A sampling of Tilson Thomas's own compositions include From the Diary of Anne Frank (1990),[4] Shówa/Shoáh (1995, memorializing the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima),[5] Poems of Emily Dickinson (2002)[6] and Urban Legend (2002).[7]

Tilson Thomas has also been devoted to music education. He leads a series of education programs titled Keeping Score which offers insight into the lives and works of great composers, and led a series of Young People's Concerts with the New York Philharmonic. Tilson Thomas also founded the New World Symphony in Miami in 1987. Most recently, Tilson Thomas has led two incarnations of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, which brings young musicians from around the world together for a week of music making and learning.

Boston, Buffalo, New York, Los Angeles[edit]

From 1968 to 1994, Tilson Thomas was the Music Director of the Ojai Music Festival seven different times. After winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood in 1969, Tilson Thomas was named Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. That same year, he made his conducting debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, replacing an unwell William Steinberg mid-concert and thereby coming into international recognition at the age of 24. He stayed with the Boston ensemble as an assistant conductor until 1974 and made several recordings with the orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon, which were later reissued on CD. He was music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra from 1971 to 1979. He made recordings for Columbia Records in Buffalo.[8] Between 1971 and 1977, he also conducted the series of Young People's Concerts with the New York Philharmonic. From 1981 to 1985 he was principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. During a performance of Mahler's Eighth Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl, a helicopter noisily flew over the venue, disrupting the concert. This is when Tilson Thomas famously stormed offstage in the middle of the performance. In 2007, almost 20 years after that performance, he revisited the Hollywood Bowl leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic in that same work, announcing jokingly, "Now where were we?". He revisited the Bowl again in 2013 performing Mahler's Second Symphony, when another noisy helicopter flew over the venue. Tilson Thomas stopped the orchestra, but then later continued, most likely to prevent another abrupt ending to the performance.

New World and London[edit]

In 1987 Tilson Thomas founded the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida, an orchestral academy for gifted young musicians whose stated mission is "to prepare highly-gifted graduates of distinguished music programs for leadership roles in orchestras and ensembles around the world."[9] He is currently the academy's artistic director. He played an instrumental role in the development of the Frank Gehry-designed New World Center in Miami Beach, which opened in 2011.[10] (The two had personal history, with Gehry sometimes having baby-sat for Tilson Thomas back when both were growing up in Los Angeles.[10])

From 1988 to 1995, Tilson Thomas was principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. Since 1995, he has held the title of principal guest conductor with the LSO, with whom he has recorded and toured extensively.

San Francisco and on[edit]

Tilson Thomas became the San Francisco Symphony's 11th Music Director in 1995. He originally made his debut with the orchestra in January 1974 conducting Mahler's Symphony No. 9.

During his first season with the San Francisco Symphony, Tilson Thomas included a work by an American composer on nearly every one of his programs. His 1995–96 season ended with "An American Festival," a two-week celebration of American music. In June 2000, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony presented a landmark 12-concert American Mavericks Festival, recognizing the innovative works of 20th century American composers. Additional season-ending festivals in Davies Symphony Hall have included explorations of the music of Wagner, Prokofiev, Mahler, Stravinsky, Beethoven and Weill, including semi-staged productions of Rimsky-Korsakov's opera-ballet Mlada, Beethoven's Fidelio, and Wagner's The Flying Dutchman.

In April 2005 he conducted the Carnegie Hall premiere of The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater, partly as a tribute to his own grandparents.[11] The piece has since been performed with numerous symphonies across the country, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, LA Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, New World Symphony and San Francisco Symphony. It has also been recorded for future broadcast on PBS.[12]

Tilson Thomas joined up with YouTube in 2009 to help create the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra whose members were selected from 30 countries based on more than 3,000 video auditions on YouTube. The Orchestra, as well as such soloists as Mason Bates, Measha Brueggergosman, Joshua Roman, Gil Shaham, Yuja Wang, Anna Larsen, Charlie Lui, and Derek Wang, participated in a classical music summit in New York City at the Juilliard School over three days. The event culminated in a live concert at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday, April 15. The concert was later made available on YouTube.[13] On March 20, 2011 Tilson Thomas also conducted the "YTSO2" (YouTube Symphony Orchestra 2) in Sydney Australia.[14]

Film and television[edit]

His first television appearances were in the CBS Young People's Concerts with the New York Philharmonic, airing from 1971–1977.[15] He has also made regular appearances on PBS, with broadcasts featuring Tilson Thomas airing from 1972 through 2008. Eight episodes of WNET's Great Performances series have featured Tilson Thomas. He has also been featured on Japan's NHK and the UK's BBC many times in the last three decades.[16]

In 2011 he hosted a concert stage show celebrating his grandparents and the music of American Yiddish theatre The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater, which aired in 2012 on the PBS series "Great Performances." [17]

Tilson Thomas hosts the Keeping Score television series, nine one-hour documentary-style episodes and eight live-concert programs, which began airing nationally on PBS stations in early November 2006. He and the San Francisco Symphony have examined the lives and music of Gustav Mahler, Dmitri Shostakovich, Charles Ives, Hector Berlioz, Aaron Copland, Igor Stravinsky, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Keeping Score discography
  • Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony – 2004
  • Beethoven's Eroica – 2006
  • Copland and the American Sound – 2006
  • Stravinsky's Rite of Spring – 2006
  • Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique – 2009
  • Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 – 2009
  • Ives' Holiday Symphony – 2009
  • Mahler: Origins and Legacy – 2011

Partial discography[edit]

Tilson Thomas has made more than 120 recordings, including works by Bach, Mahler, Beethoven, 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.

Year Orchestra Composer Work (and soloists, if any) Label
1991 London Symphony Orchestra Adam Music from "Giselle" Sony
1990 London Symphony Orchestra, Ambrosian Singers Beethoven Late Choral Music CBS Masterworks
1986 Orchestra of St. Luke's Beethoven Symphony No. 3
Contredanses for Orchestra, WoO 14
CBS Masterworks
2010 San Francisco Symphony Beethoven Symphony No. 5
Piano Concerto No. 4 (Ax)
SFS Media
1999 English Chamber Orchestra Beethoven Symphony No. 6, "Pastorale" Sony Classical
1993 London Symphony Orchestra, London Voices Bernstein On the Town (Daly, von Stade, Lear, Laine, McLaughlin, Hampson, Garrison, Ollmann, Ramey) Deutsche Grammophon
1991 London Symphony Orchestra Brahms Serenade No. 1
Tragic Overture
Academic Festival Overture
Sony Classical
1992 London Symphony Orchestra Brahms Serenade No. 2 / Haydn
Variations / Hungarian
Dances – selections
Sony Classical
2002 Cage, Reich, Stravinsky The Rite of Spring
Three Dances
Four Organs
Angel Records
1996 San Francisco Symphony Copland Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
Orchestra Variations
Short Symphony
Symphonic Ode (with Garrick Ohlsson)
RCA
1993 London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Debussy Le martyre de St. Sebastien (with McNair, Murray, Stutzman, Caron) Sony Classical
2007 Boston Symphony Orchestra Chamber Players Debussy Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano (Eskin, Tilson Thomas)
Sonata No. 2 for Flute, Viola and Harp (Dwyer, Fine, Hobson)
Violin Sonata (Silverstein, Tilson Thomas)
Deutsche Grammophon
1999 New World Symphony Feldman Coptic Light (Cohen, Feinberg) Argo
1990 Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra Gershwin Gershwin Live! (Vaughan, Tilson Thomas) Sony Classical
1984 Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue (Tilson Thomas)
Second Rhapsody for Orchestra with Piano
Preludes for Piano Promenade
Unpublished Piano Works
Sony Classical
1990 Boston Symphony Orchestra Ives/Ruggles Three Places in New England
Sun-treader
Deutsche Grammophon
1991 Chicago Symphony Orchestra Ives Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4 Sony Classical
2002 San Francisco Symphony Ives An American Journey BMG/RCA Read Seal
1990 Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Ives Holiday Symphony
Unanswered Question (Herseth)
Central Park in the Dark
Sony Classical
1992 London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Janáček Glagolitic Mass (Benackova, Palmer, Lakes, Kotscherga)
Sinfonietta
Sony Classical
1990 London Symphony Orchestra Mahavishnu Apocalypse (Mahavishnu Orchestra) Sony Classical
2004 San Francisco Symphony Mahler Symphony No. 1 SFS Media
2004 San Francisco Symphony Mahler Symphony No. 2 SFS Media
2004 San Francisco Symphony and Chorus,
Pacific Boychoir,
San Francisco Symphony Girls Chorus
Mahler Symphony No. 3
Kindertotenlieder (DeYoung)
SFS Media
2004 San Francisco Symphony Mahler Symphony No. 4 (Claycomb) SFS Media
2004 San Francisco Symphony Mahler Symphony No. 5 SFS Media
2004 San Francisco Symphony Mahler Symphony No. 6 SFS Media
2005 San Francisco Symphony Mahler Symphony No. 7 SFS Media
2009 San Francisco Symphony and Chorus,
Pacific Boychoir,
San Francisco Girls Chorus
Mahler Symphony No. 8 SFS Media
2005 San Francisco Symphony Mahler Symphony No. 9 SFS Media
2008 San Francisco Symphony Mahler Das Klagende Lied (Shaguch, DeYoung, Moser, Lieferkus)
Das Lied von der Erde (Skelton, Hampson)
BMG/RCA Red Seal
1990 London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus,
South End Boys
Mahler Symphony No. 3
Rückert Lieder (Baker)
Sony Classical
1999 London Symphony Orchestra Mahler Symphony No. 7 BMG/RCA Read Seal
2010 San Francisco Symphony Mahler Songs with Orchestra (Graham, Hampson) SFS Media
1998 New World Symphony New World Jazz New World Jazz BMG/RCA Red Seal
1997 London Symphony Orchestra Prokofiev Symphonies Nos. 1 & 5 Sony Classical
2004 San Francisco Symphony Prokofiev Romeo & Juliet BMG/RCA Red Seal
1991 Hungarian State Orchestra Puccini Tosca (Marton, Carreras, Pons, Tajo) Sony Classical
1989 London Symphony Orchestra Ravel Ma mère l'oye
Bolero
Pavane pour une infante défunte
Pièce en forme de Habañera
L'éventail de Jeanne
Fanfare
Sony Classical
1990 Colorado Quartet,
Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra
Reich The Desert Music Nonesuch
1994 London Symphony Orchestra Reich The Three movements Nonesuch
1980 Buffalo Philharmonic Ruggles Complete Music of Carl Ruggles Sony Classical
1986 London Symphony Orchestra Strauss, R. Ein Heldenleben
Til Eulenspiegels
Lustige Streiche
Sony Classical
1997 London Symphony Orchestra Stravinsky Stravinsky in America Sony Classical
1999 San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Symphony Chorus,
San Francisco Girls Chorus,
Ragazzi, the Peninsula Boys Chorus
Stravinsky Le sacre du printemps
L'oiseau de feu
Persephone
BMG/RCA Red Seal
1993 New World Symphony Tangazo Tangazo Argo
2000 Boston Symphony Orchestra Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 1 Deutsche Grammophon
1990 Philharmonia Orchestra Tchaikovsky Suite No. 2
Suite No. 4
Sony Classical
2005 Berliner Philharmoniker Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (Bell)
Méditation No. 1: Souvenir d'un lieucher
Swan Lake: Danse russe
Sony/BMG
1997 New World Symphony, BBC Singers Villa Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras Nos. 4 & 5 (Fleming)
Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9
Coros Nos. 5 & 10
BMG/RCA Red Seal
1990 London Symphony Orchestra Weill The Seven Deadly Sins (Migenes)
The Little Three Penny Music
Sony Classical

Awards[edit]

Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance

Grammy Award for Best Classical Album

Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance

Peabody Award

National Medal of Arts

  • 2009 National Medal of Arts.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Morley Safer (February 5, 2006). "The Passion of Michael Tilson Thomas". 60 Minutes. Retrieved March 1, 2008. 
  2. ^ James R. Oestreich (February 10, 2002). "Michael Tilson Thomas: Maverick in a City of Same". The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2008. 
  3. ^ "Thomas Gets Poetic Pondering the Big 6–0". SFGate.com. Retrieved March 1, 2008. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Michael Tilson Thomas: From the Diary of Anne Frank". G. Schirmer, Inc. Retrieved December 27, 2006. 
  5. ^ "Michael Tilson Thomas: Shówa/Shoáh". G. Schirmer, Inc. Retrieved December 27, 2006. 
  6. ^ "Michael Tilson Thomas: Poems of Emily Dickinson". G. Schirmer, Inc. Retrieved December 27, 2006. 
  7. ^ "Michael Tilson Thomas: Urban Legend". G. Schirmer, Inc. Retrieved December 27, 2006. 
  8. ^ "Michael Tilson Thomas: BPO Music Director, 1971–79". Music Department, University at Buffalo. Retrieved December 27, 2006. 
  9. ^ "New World Symphony Statement of Purpose". New World Symphony. Retrieved December 27, 2006. 
  10. ^ a b Nicolai Ouroussoff (January 23, 2011). "Architecture Review: Gehry Design Plays Fanfare for the Common Man". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ Jeff Lunden (April 15, 2004). "Project Recalls Yiddish Theater Legends". National Public Radio. Retrieved December 26, 2006. 
  12. ^ The Thomashefskys Official Website – Home. Thomashefsky.org. Retrieved on November 22, 2011.
  13. ^ YouTube Symphony Orchestra at the Wayback Machine (archived May 31, 2009)
  14. ^ What a twist: Tognetti and Barton simply the warm-up acts. The Sydney Morning Herald. smh.com.au. March 14, 2011
  15. ^ Michael Tilson Thomas (Conductor) – Short Biography. Bach-cantatas.com. Retrieved on November 22, 2011.
  16. ^ Michael Tilson Thomas. IMDB.com
  17. ^ Kenneth Jones (March 29, 2012). "Thomashefskys, Musical Portrait of Yiddish Stage, Airs on PBS March 29". Playbill. 
  18. ^ 67th Annual Peabody Awards, May 2008.

External links[edit]