MTT 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.
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. Thomas studied at the University of Southern California under Ingolf Dahl, among others. As a student of Friedelind Wagner, Thomas was a Musical Assistant and Assistant Conductor at the Bayreuth Festival.
In 1969 Thomas made his conducting debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, replacing an unwell William Steinberg in mid-concert. He stayed with the Boston ensemble as an assistant conductor until 1974 and made several recordings with the orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon (which have been reissued on CD). He was music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra from 1971 to 1979. He made recordings for Columbia Records in Buffalo. During much of the time from 1971 to 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. Thomas founded the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida in 1987, a premier 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.” Thomas remains involved, currently serving as the academy's artistic director. From 1988 to 1995, he was principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, and since 1995 has held the title of principal guest conductor with the LSO. In 1995, he became music director of the San Francisco Symphony.
Thomas has conducted a wide variety of music, and is a particular champion of modern American works, recording the complete symphonies of Charles Ives and the premiere recording of Steve Reich's The Desert Music (1984). Reich's composition The Four Sections (1987) was actually commissioned for the San Francisco Symphony and dedicated to Thomas. The piece premiered with Thomas in San Francisco and was later recorded for Nonesuch with the London Symphony Orchestra. He is also renowned for his interpretation of the works of Gustav Mahler, and since the death of Leonard Bernstein he is considered the world's premier interpreter of the works of Aaron Copland. Thomas has also recorded the cycle of Nine Symphonies of Gustav Mahler 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.
A sampling of Thomas's own compositions include From the Diary of Anne Frank (1990), Shówa/Shoáh (1995), memorializing the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima; Poems of Emily Dickinson (2002); and Urban Legend (2002).
Thomas's 1976 recording of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the Columbia Jazz Band featured not only the original 1924 jazz band arrangement (as opposed to the more popular symphony orchestra arrangement, written in 1942), but also the piano part "played" by the late composer, via a piano roll Gershwin himself made in 1925.
Thomas hosts the Keeping Score television series, three one-hour documentary-style episodes and two live-concert programs, which began airing nationally on PBS stations in early November 2006. The shows detail Beethoven's 3rd Symphony (Eroica), Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, and Aaron Copland/American Music. They have been compared to Leonard Bernstein’s Young People's Concerts, which aired in the 1960s.
In April 2005 he conducted the Carnegie Hall premiere of The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater.
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 soloists Mason Bates, Measha Brueggergosman, Joshua Roman, Gil Shaham, Yuja Wang, Anna Larsen, Charlie Lui, Derek Wang, participated in 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.
In 2009, President Obama presented Thomas with the National Medal of Arts.
Responding to an interviewer's question about favorite composers:
||You can't have Bach, Mozart and
Beethoven as your favorite composers:
They simply define what music is!
Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance
Grammy Award for Best Classical Album
Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance
National Medal of Arts
- 2009 National Medal of Arts