Music Director Laureate Michael Tilson Thomas returns to Davies Symphony Hall this week to lead the San Francisco Symphony in his final subscription concert with the Orchestra. This series of concerts, featuring Mahler’s Symphony No 5, marks MTT’s 50-year partnership with the Symphony, and celebrates his amazing legacy in the City by the Bay.
Michael Tilson Thomas debuted with the Symphony on January 2nd 1974, giving three concerts of Mahler’s Symphony No 9, rapidly becoming the Orchestra’s favorite guest conductor, and by September 1995, he became Music Director of the Symphony. MTT held this role for 25 years, in what is regarded as one of the most productive artistic partnerships in the world of the orchestra. He became Music Director Laureate on his retirement as Music Director. In his aim to introduce classical music to as wide a national and international audience as possible, he has inspired countless music lovers, converts and scores of young people.
Michael Tilson Thomas is also Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra, and Artistic Director Laureate of the New World Symphony. Previous appointments include those with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, and Los Angeles Philharmonic. Apart from leading some of the world’s major orchestras, he is an accomplished composer and has made a tremendous impact on the San Francisco Symphony and the entire classical music world as a conductor, composer, pianist, educator, mentor and visionary.
During his tenure as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, MTT launched the Symphony’s in-house recording label, SFS Media, in 2001, winning 12 Grammy Awards. Included in these were seven for the Mahler cycle which encompassed all of Mahler’s symphonies and works for voice, chorus, and orchestra, and for which MTT won the Gramophone Artist of the Year award in 2005. In 2004 he created the highly acclaimed multimedia education series Keeping Score, which aimed to make classical music more accessible to people of all ages and musical backgrounds.
Tilson Thomas pushed the boundaries of traditional orchestral performance through projects like his Festival of American Music and American Mavericks, expanded the symphonic repertoire and explored new concert formats. Included in the latter were memorable stagings of theatrical works such as Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, Beethoven’s Fidelio, Britten’s Peter Grimes, Bernstein’s West Side Story and On the Town, and his tribute to his grandparents, The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater. He led a Pride concert at a time when when the civil liberties of LGBTQ+ people were under threat, and he inaugurated the Chase Center in an unforgettable performance with the Symphony and heavy metal band Metallica.
On television, MTT has appeared numerous times, including series for the BBC, PBS and the New York Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concerts. He has been profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes, ABC’s Nightline, and PBS’s American Masters. Tilson Thomas is an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, a member of the American Academies of Arts & Sciences and Arts & Letters, is a National Medal of Arts recipient, a Peabody Award winner, and a Kennedy Center Honoree.
A retrospective of Michael Tilson Thomas’ 25-year tenure as San Francisco Symphony music director, can be found on sfsymphony.org/MTT25 which includes audio recordings, videos, photographs and personal memories, sourced from the orchestra’s archives.
Most recently, Michael Tilson Thomas was honored with his own commemorative street in San Francisco, MTT Way, outside Davies Symphony Hall where he has conducted countless memorable concerts over the years.
MTT’s love of the music of Gustav Mahler is well known, and it’s therefore highly appropriate that this final subscription concert for the San Francisco Symphony should feature Mahler’s Symphony No 5 – a work which reflects the composer at his most joyous and life-affirming, even though he was going through a difficult time, struggling with his health and enduring artistic issues with his orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic. He began writing the Symphony in 1901 and completed it the following year. It premiered in Cologne on October 18th, 1904, but Mahler set about revising it not long afterwards. He conducted it nine more times over the following seven years, revising it each time. The final revision was in 1911, during the last months of his life. The Symphony No 5 is perhaps best known for the achingly beautiful fourth movement, the adagietto, which is often performed as a stand-alone piece, and which was most notably used in the final scenes of Visconti’s film Death in Venice.
Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony in Mahler’s Symphony No 5 at Davies Symphony Hall on January 25th, 26th and 27th. More information and ticket reservations are available on the San Francisco Symphony website.
Information sourced from:
San Francisco Symphony program notes