Highly charismatic, exceptionally creative and hugely popular with orchestras and audiences alike, Michael Tilson Thomas is the subject of the latest PBS documentary in its American Masters series – Michael Tilson Thomas: Where Now Is.
Recently retired after a 25-year tenure as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, MTT – as he’s affectionately known throughout the world of music – now holds the title of Music Director Laureate of the Symphony, which means that he’ll still lead it in performances for four weeks in a year, and for special projects. He is also Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra, and Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Miami-based New World Symphony – the postgraduate orchestral academy which prepares young musicians of diverse backgrounds for leadership roles in classical music.
Other posts which MTT has held during his highly successful career include Assistant Conductor and pianist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, later becoming Principal Guest Conductor, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, a Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and he’s internationally renowned as a guest conductor with a number of major American and European orchestras.
Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony forged a remarkable relationship, taking the Symphony to impressive heights, and broadening the appreciation of music, in the Bay Area in particular, with concert stagings of operas and musicals – from Britten’s Peter Grimes to Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov to Bernstein’s West Side Story and On the Town. MTT has also been a staunch supporter of music education in the Bay Area, providing every public school child in San Francisco with the opportunity to learn about classical music through the Symphony’s Adventures in Music initiative.
Tilson Thomas is an eleven-time Grammy Award winner, and in 2001, the Symphony became the first American orchestra to create its own audio/video label, SFS Media. This label produces the Orchestra’s CDs and DVDs, as well as radio and TV documentaries. MTT has made numerous television programs – for PBS, WNET, the BBC, CBS, NHK and a host of other outlets – and, together with the San Francisco Symphony, created Keeping Score for SFS Media. This multi-tiered media project for television, web sites and radio, featured the lives and music of eight great composers.
A noted composer, MTT has written a number of works for a wide range of ensembles and soloists, One of these works, From the Diary of Anne Frank, was commissioned by UNICEF and given its world premiere at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music in 1990 with the late Audrey Hepburn as narrator, and the composer conducting the New World Symphony.
Earlier this year, Michael Tilson Thomas became an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has been profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes and ABC’s Nightline. He has also been awarded the National Medal of Arts, has been inducted into the California Hall of Fame and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was a 2019 recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors.
This PBS documentary looks at the life and career of one of the most important musical figures in America, featuring original interviews with MTT, and figures such as composer Steve Reich, Los Angeles Philharmonic CEO Chad Smith, pianist Ralph Grierson, Boston Symphony Orchestra CEO Mark Volpe, San Francisco Chronicle music critic Joshua Kosman, Humphrey Burton – former head of music and arts at the BBC – and Clive Gillinson, executive and artistic director of Carnegie Hall. There is commentary from architect Frank Gehry, with whom MTT collaborated in designing the New World Center, and from Joshua Robison, MTT’s husband and partner.
The American Masters documentary Michael Tilson Thomas: Where Now Is premieres in the United States on Friday, October 23rd, at 6.00 pm Pacific Time (check local times), and can be viewed on PBS, and the PBS Video app.
There’s another date for your diary, too, as PBS premieres Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony: S&M2, featuring MTT and the San Francisco Symphony with the heavy metal band, on Thursday, October 29 at 6.00 pm Pacific Time (check local times).
These broadcasts can be viewed only in the United States at this time.