Michael Tilson Thomas
BPO Music Director, 1971-79
Born in Los Angeles in 1944, Michael Tilson Thomas represents a continuing family line in the arts. 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 head of research for Columbia Pictures.
Mr. Tilson Thomas began his formal studies in music at the University of Southern California where he studied piano, conducting and composition. At the age of nineteen he was named music director of the Young Musicians' Foundation Debut Orchestra. In turn he worked with Stravinsky, Copland and Stockhausen on the premieres of their compositions at the Los Angeles' Monday evening concerts. During this time he acted as pianist and conductor for Heifetz and Piatigorsky, and, as a student of Friedelind Wagner, was Musical Assistant at the Bayreuth Festival.
In 1969, after winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood, he was appointed Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The same year MTT gained international recognition overnight after replacing BSO Music Director William Steinberg in mid-concert. He was later appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where he remained until 1974.
Michael Tilson Thomas was Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic (1971-79) and Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1981-85). At the same time he became well known for his lecture/demonstrations at the Carnegie Hall and for his commitment to the development of young musicians. He was artistic director of two summer orchestral training programs at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute and the Great Woods Summer Institute in Massachusetts and inaugurated the New World Symphony, America's first national training orchestra. For the orchestra's UNICEF tour in 1989 Thomas composed From the Diary of Anne Frank, narrated by Audrey Hepburn.
In 1988 Michael Tilson Thomas succeeded Claudio Abbado as Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. His concerts with the LSO at the Barbican Centre have been remarkable for their imaginative program planning. In 1989 Mr. Tilson Thomas started a series of "Discovery" concerts in which he not only conducts but gives spoken introductions to the music performed. A special highlight of the 1990/91 season was his "Childhood" concert series presenting music inspired by the experience of childhood. His wide ranging repertoire includes works from every major period in music, from early Baroque through jazz and the avant-garde, and includes his virtuoso piano performances as a soloist in masterworks like Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
MTT has also been the recipient of numerous honors and a variety of Grammy and international awards for his recordings. In 1994 Michael Tilson Thomas was awarded the Ditson Conductor's Award from Columbia University for his service to American Music, and in 1995 he was named "Conductor of the Year" by the Musical America International Directory of the Performing Arts. On the BMG/RCA labels Mr. Tilson Thomas won a 1996 Grammy for Best Orchestral Recording for Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet with the San Francisco Symphony. Likewise, his 1999 recordings of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, Firebird and Persephone won three additional Grammys. In sum, his recorded repertoire of more than two hundred titles includes Bach, Beethoven, Mahler and Prokofiev as well as his enthusiasm for the music of Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, Steve Reich, Morton Feldman, Ingolf Dahl, John Cage and George Gershwin.
During MTT's tenure with the Buffalo Philharmonic the Orchestra toured regularly, with frequent appearances in Carnegie Hall (including a gala special there with jazz great Sarah Vaughan) and performances in Boston's Symphony Hall and Washington's Kennedy Center. With the BPO Michael Tilson Thomas also made two exceptional recordings for Columbia records including the music of American composers Carl Ruggles and Charles Ives as well as a brilliant set of Gershwin show overtures - a recording which was doubly successful as part of the sound track of the Woody Allen film Manhattan.