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MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS is Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Symphony, and Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. Born in Los Angeles, he is the third generation of his family to follow an artistic career. His grandparents, Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, were founding members of the Yiddish Theater in America. His father, Ted Thomas, was a producer in the Mercury Theater Company in New York before moving to Los Angeles, where he worked in films and television. His mother, Roberta Thomas, was the head of research for Columbia Pictures.
Tilson Thomas began his formal studies at the University of Southern California, where he studied piano with John Crown and conducting and composition with Ingolf Dahl. At age 19 he was named Music Director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra. He worked with Stravinsky, Boulez, Stockhausen, and Copland on premieres of their compositions at Los Angeles’ Monday Evening Concerts. During this same period he was the pianist and conductor for Gregor Piatigorsky and Jascha Heifetz.
He was Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, a Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. His guest conducting includes appearances with the major orchestras of Europe and the United States.
His recorded repertoire of more than 120 discs includes works by composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, Steve Reich, John Cage, Ingolf Dahl, Morton Feldman, George Gershwin, John McLaughlin, and Elvis Costello. His recent recordings for SFS Media with the San Francisco Symphony include the orchestral works of Gustav Mahler and West Side Story.
Michael Tilson Thomas’ television work includes a series with the London Symphony Orchestra for BBC Television, the television broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts from 1971 to 1977, and numerous productions on PBS Great Performances. Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony produced a multi-tiered media project, Keeping Score.
In February 1988 he inaugurated the New World Symphony, an orchestral academy for graduates of prestigious music programs. In addition to their regular season in Miami Beach, they have toured internationally. In 2010 they moved into their new campus designed by Frank Gehry.
As Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra from 1988 to 1995, Tilson Thomas led the orchestra on regular tours in Europe, the United States, and Japan, as well as to the Salzburg Festival. As Principal Guest Conductor, he continues to lead the orchestra in concerts in London and on tour, including a U.S. tour in 2015 as part of his 70th birthday celebration.
His 20-year tenure as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony has been broadly covered by the international press. With the San Francisco Symphony he has presented many major festivals including ones devoted to the music of Mahler, Stravinsky, Wagner, and American Mavericks. With the San Francisco Symphony he has made numerous tours of Europe, the United States, and the Far East.
Michael Tilson Thomas is a Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, was Musical America’s Musician of the Year and Conductor of the Year, and Gramophone’s Artist of the Year, and he has been profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes and ABC’s Nightline. He has won eleven Grammys for his recordings. In 2008 he received the Peabody Award for his radio series for SFS Media, The MTT Files. In 2010, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.