Michael Tilson Thomas
MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS is Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Symphony and Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra.
Born in Los Angeles, he studied piano, conducting and composition at the University of Southern California, and as a young musician also worked with leading performers, including Gregor Piatigorsky and Jascha Heifetz, and composers, including Stravinsky, Boulez, Stockhausen and Copland. In 1969, after winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood, he was appointed Assistant Conductor and pianist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and also conducted the BSO in his New York debut. Later serving as BSO Principal Guest Conductor till 1974, he held subsequent appointments as Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic (1971–79), Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1981–85) and Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (1988–95).
In 1988, he co-founded the New World Symphony, an orchestral academy in Miami dedicated to preparing gifted music graduates for leadership roles in classical music. As Artistic Director, he works with NWS Fellows to further their artistic and professional development. Of the more than 1,100 NWS alumni, 90% maintain careers in music, often with major orchestras. Since 2011, the NWS campus has been the technologically advanced, Frank Gehry-designed New World Center.
He was appointed Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony in 1995, and his tenure has been a period of significant growth and heightened international recognition for the orchestra. In addition to exploring the standard repertoire, he has led SFS in championing contemporary and American music and enriching the concert experience through semi-staged performances. In 2020, he concludes his 25-year directorship and becomes SFS Music Director Laureate, continuing to lead the orchestra regularly in concert, as well as in special projects.
His guest conducting engagements have included the major orchestras of Europe and the United States, and he is also a two-time Carnegie Hall Perspectives artist, curating and conducting series from 2003 to 2005 and from 2018 to 2019.
A winner of eleven Grammy Awards, he appears on more than 120 recordings, including a critically acclaimed Mahler cycle with SFS and pioneering recordings of American music, including by Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, and Steve Reich. His television work includes a BBC series with the LSO, the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts, PBS’s Great Performances, and Keeping Score with SFS, which also includes web and radio content.
Throughout his career, he has been an active composer, and his major works include From the Diary of Anne Frank, commissioned by UNICEF and premiered in 1991 with narrator Audrey Hepburn; Shówa/Shoáh, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing; and a setting of Carl Sandburg’s poem Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind, premiered in 2016 by NWS and receiving its New York premiere during the current Carnegie Hall Perspectives series.
He is a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 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 was awarded the National Medal of Arts and was recently inducted into the California Hall of Fame and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.