From Development server
31 October 2017

Michael Tilson Thomas to Step Down as San Francisco Symphony Music Director at Conclusion of 2020 Season

News Michael Tilson Thomas San Francisco Symphony LG 1117

MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS announced today that he will step down as music director of the San Francisco Symphony at the conclusion of the 2020 season, capping a historic twenty-five-year tenure at the ensemble’s helm. 

“Looking back over these decades I am filled with gratitude for the extraordinary artistic partnership I have had with the members of the orchestra and for the warm and generous style of music making we have shared with all of our audiences,” said Tilson Thomas, who will turn seventy-five during the orchestra’s 2019-20 season. “Having been a music director of an orchestra for most of my adult life and as I approach my seventy-fifth birthday, I feel this is an appropriate moment to set aside some of my administrative responsibilities and begin a new period of creative possibilities. Fortunately my new and unique relationship as Music Director Laureate of the San Francisco Symphony will allow me to continue to work with my esteemed colleagues for years to come on projects close to my heart.”

Following the 2019-2020 season, Tilson Thomas, as the symphony’s music director laureate, will continue to lead the group for a minimum of four weeks each season in addition to collaborating with the ensemble on special projects. Over the next two years, the orchestra plans to fete its partnership with Tilson Thomas through signature recording projects, festivals, commissioning of new works, staged productions, a two-week tour of the US during the 2018-19 season and a three-week European tour during the 2019-2020 season. 

Tilson Thomas made his debut with the San Francisco Symphony in 1974 when, at the age of twenty-nine, he paced the orchestra in performances of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. In 1995, he was appointed the group’s eleventh music director. Since then, he has stood at the symphony’s helm as the ensemble has embarked on more than two-dozen national and international tours, undertaken numerous media and recording projects and established itself as one of the nation's most esteemed and successful orchestras. In 2001, the San Francisco Symphony became the first orchestra in the United States to establish its own recording label; Tilson Thomas and the Symphony inaugurated SFS Media with a Mahler cycle that comprised recordings of the composer’s symphonies and major song cycles, and the label  has since gone on to release more than forty recordings, including works by Beethoven, Ives and John Adams, as well as a complete recording of West Side Story.  

Tilson Thomas has also led the SF Symphony in numerous acclaimed semi-staged productions of operas, concert and musical theater works, including performances of The Flying Dutchman, Peter Grimes, Peer Gynt, West Side Story, On the Town, and Missa solemnis. 

In addition to establishing himself as an idiomatic interpreter of works by canonical composers such as Mahler, Beethoven and Schumann, Tilson Thomas has also become one of the most prominent American exponents of new and modern music during his time leading the SF Symphony.  On and off the podium, Tilson Thomas has championed the likes of Charles Ives, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Carl Ruggles, John Cage, Henry Cowell, Aaron Copland, Lou Harrison, Henry Brant, Morton Feldman, Edgard Varèse and Lukas Foss, and has had a hand in commissioning sizable symphonic works from living American composers including John Adams, Robin Holloway, Meredith Monk, Steve Reich and Charles Wuorinen. In 2000 and 2012, Tilson Thomas and the SF Symphony presented American Mavericks Festivals, which highlighted works by modern American composers in addition to producing educational partnerships, recordings, national concert tours and new media tools meant to deepen audience appreciation. 

In 2010, Tilson Thomas was bestowed the the National Medal of Arts—the highest award given to artists by the United States government—by President Barack Obama. He has also been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres of France. He is also the recipient of Columbia University’s Ditson Award for Services to American Music as well as the President’s Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. spacer 

More information can be found at San Francisco Symphony


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