On November 24, The Recording Academy announced 2021 Grammy Award nominations for Michael Tilson Thomas in two categories: Best Orchestral Performance and Best Classical Compendium.
The Best Orchestral Performance nomination comes for MTT and the San Francisco Symphony’s recording, Aaron Copland: Symphony No. 3. “Like a magician pulling away the curtain for a big reveal,” (San Francisco Chronicle) this live-concert recording captures “a powerful degree of ardor, clarity, and expressive integrity.” Listen to Aaron Copland: Symphony No. 3 or learn about the album here.
MTT’s nomination in the Best Classical Compendium category is for From the Diary of Anne Frank & Meditations on Rilke, also with the San Francisco Symphony. The album features two of MTT’s own compositions for voice and orchestra. Soprano Isabel Leonard performs as the narrator in From the Diary of Anne Frank, a role originally written for Audrey Hepburn. Inspired by and based on the words and compassionate spirit of Anne Frank, From the Diary of Anne Frank offers a solemn yet hopeful vision for the future.
Meditations on Rilke is brought to life by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny. The piece takes listeners on an emotional and evocative journey befitting the lyrical sweep of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poems.
Michael Tilson Thomas: Where Now Is, presented as part of PBS’ award-winning American Masters series, documents MTT’s life and career—from his childhood in California to his ascension to the world stage and leadership roles with the New World Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony. The documentary sheds light on formative experiences in MTT’s musical life—the central influence of his father, his first time hearing the music of James Brown, his early clashes with classical music orthodoxy—all of which shaped his personality, artistry, and goals along his path to becoming one of America’s most important musical figures.
The film features original interviews with MTT and classical music luminaries, including 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; the BBC’s former head of music and arts Humphrey Burton; and Clive Gillinson, executive and artistic director of Carnegie Hall, as well as commentary from world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, with whom MTT collaborated in designing the New World Center, and Joshua Robison, MTT’s husband and partner. The documentary incorporates concert footage from his youth through the present, performing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, New World Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony, among other orchestras. The film also includes scenes from MTT’s day-to-day life at the New World Symphony, the postgraduate orchestral academy in Miami Beach that he co-founded in 1987 to prepare young musicians of diverse backgrounds for leadership roles in classical music. Most major American orchestras count New World Symphony alumni among their ranks, and several former Fellows were interviewed for the documentary.
Michael Tilson Thomas: Where Now Is premieres on the American Masters series Friday, October 23 at 9 p.m ET on PBS (check local listings), pbs.org/americanmasters, and the PBS Video app. In addition to Michael Tilson Thomas: Where Now Is, PBS premieres Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony: S&M2, featuring MTT with the iconic heavy metal band, on Thursday, October 29 at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings).
On August 21, Michael Tilson Thomas will host a reimagined performance of Berlioz’ Harold in Italy, a work originally commissioned by Niccolo Paganini to showcase his formidable technique and Stradivarius viola. Performed by the New World Symphony and violist Tabea Zimmerman, this performance features an expanded viola part written by Grammy Award-winning composer Steven Mackey. This event marks the New World Symphony’s first ever worldwide video-streamed concert, and will premiere on IDAGIO, the Official Audio Streaming Partner of the NWS. After the performance, MTT will join Tabea Zimmerman and Steven Mackey for a live greenroom Q&A, where the trio will answer questions submitted by audience members. The concert premieres at 2pm ET on August 21, and will remain available for 48 hours. Tickets are available for 9.90 Euro and can be purchased here.
Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) and the San Francisco Symphony announce the SFS Media release of Tilson Thomas’ From the Diary of Anne Frank & Meditations on Rilke, available for pre-order now. Recorded live at Davies Symphony Hall in November 2018 and January 2020, respectively, this album represents the first SFS Media release of MTT’s original compositions, juxtaposing his earliest orchestral work with his most recent one. This album will be available for download in high quality, 24-bit/192kHz Studio Master, and for streaming via all major retailers worldwide on June 26 and in 5.1 surround-capable SACD on July 17. For more information, program notes, and performance video footage, and commentary from MTT, visit https://www.sfsymphony.org/tilsonthomas.
Based on the historic diary kept by Anne Frank during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, From the Diary of Anne Frank is MTT’s dramatic work for narrator and orchestra. Commissioned by UNICEF and originally written for Audrey Hepburn as a vehicle in her role as a UNICEF ambassador, the work received its premiere with Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony in 1990. The San Francisco Symphony first performed From the Diary of Anne Frank in November 2018, in concerts celebrating the 70th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with Isabel Leonard as narrator. This was a breakthrough work for MTT, earning widespread praise for its dramaticpersuasiveness and its mastery of orchestral possibilities. In The Bay Area Reporter’s review of the 2018 performance, Phil Campbell wrote, “MTT provides a soundtrack that clearly shows his musical influences, ranging from Copland to Bernstein, but still makes a personal statement. The evocative score glistens and surges with emotion and convincing insight. One would have to be made of wood not to respond.” Since its unveiling thirty years ago, From the Diary of Anne Frank has been translated and performed in many languages worldwide, including at the United Nations General Assembly Hall.
Completed more than three decades later, MTT’s song cycle Meditations on Rilke is a musical setting of lyric poems by German modernist Rainer Maria Rilke, whose writings grapple with sentiments at the core of the human condition, including solitude, mortality, and the redemptive value of art. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny joined MTT and the San Francisco Symphony for the world premiere of Meditations on Rilke at Davies Symphony Hall in January 2020. MTT comments, “These Meditations on Rilke are reflections of the many moods the poems suggest. The motives and harmonies of these pieces have been with me for years, decades. This approach to music as a kind of lifelong journal, or confessional companion, was what my father, and as I now have learned, my grandfather, and even my great-grandfather, experienced. Meditations on Rilke is based on motives that recur, recombine, and morph differently in each song.”
On Monday, June 22, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) was named an Officer in the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters), the second of three grades recognized in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, awarded to distinguished artists who have made significant contributions to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world. Previously a Chevalier (Knight) in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, this promotion to Officer recognizes MTT’s continued contributions to global culture and the vast impact he has had during his 25 years as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony.
MTT has frequently visited and guest conducted the major French orchestras and has regularly appeared at the premier French concert halls both on tour with the San Francisco Symphony and with the London Symphony Orchestra, among others. He was scheduled to lead the San Francisco Symphony on tour in Lyon and Paris in April 2020; those performances were unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19. MTT’s most recent appearance in France was conducting Orchestre de Paris, which he will return to conduct again in June 2021.
The Award Ceremony took place Monday afternoon—generously hosted by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco at the Legion of Honor’s outdoor Court of Honor—and included a medal pinning by Consul General Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens and congratulatory remarks by San Francisco Mayor London Breed, San Francisco Symphony President Sakurako Fisher, former SF Symphony President and CEO Nancy Bechtle, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Thomas Campbell, and President of the War Memorial Board of Trustees Thomas E. Horn. The ceremony also featured musical accompaniment by organist Jonathan Dimmock on the Legion of Honor’s magnificent Spreckels Organ, which could be heard outside in the Court of Honor through the opened-up frieze above the main entrance. Founder of San Francisco’s Legion of Honor, Alma Bretteville de Spreckels was inspired by the French Légion d’honneur, asking the French government for permission to copy the structure in San Francisco for the 1915 World Fair. Although the work was delayed by the First World War, ground was broken on San Francisco’s Legion of Honor in 1921.
On June 4, the San Francisco Symphony embarked on a twenty-five day long tribute to Michael Tilson Thomas’ twenty-five year tenure as music director of the orchestra.
From June 4–28, the Symphony will release original and archival content daily, highlighting achievements, milestones, artistic projects, and relationships illustrative of MTT and the SF Symphony’s’s dynamic partnership. Each day will be representative of a specific season in MTT’s tenure, beginning on June 4 with the inaugural 1995–96 season.
The celebration culminates on June 28 at 5pm PDT/8pm EDT with MTT25: An Online Tribute Event for Michael Tilson Thomas. Hosted by famed vocalists Audra McDonald and Susan Graham, the online event features contributions and tributes by musicians of the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus, an array of distinguished guest artists, and many surprises.
Visit the MTT Online Tribute webpage view archival content, post on the MTT Tribute Wall, or sign up for the virtual event on June 28.
In response to the cancellation of its spring concert season, the New World Symphony has mined its archives to create a robust online slate of performances and conversations. One highlight of these offerings is the NSW Archive+ series, which offers past NWS recordings paired with brand new commentary and behind-the-scenes insights from Artistic Director Michael Tilson Thomas, NWS fellows, alumni, guest artists, and visiting faculty. Another highlight is the New World Symphony’s unique online archive, MUSAIC, which allows users to explore and engage with NWS performances, masterclasses, tutorials, and town halls. New World Symphony has also partnered with Medici TV and IDAGIO to curate a series of online performances.
To access all of this content and more, visit www.nws.edu.
The San Francisco Symphony has released all episodes of its landmark television series Keeping Score for free streaming on the orchestra’s YouTube channel. Previously available for purchase on DVD or BluRay, the Symphony released batches of episodes every Wednesday between March 19 and April 11 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Launched in 2004, Keeping Score was designed to make classical music accessible to people of all ages and from all musical backgrounds. “Creating Keeping Score remains one of the most exciting journeys the San Francisco Symphony and I have taken together,” said MTT. Comprised of nine one-hour documentaries, Keeping Score details the lives of eight major composers from around the world, and explores the motivations and influences behind their most canonic works. Each episode is accompanied by a one-hour concert program performed by the San Francisco Symphony. Of the decision to release them all now, SFS CEO Mark C. Hanson explained that, “There is no better time to make this remarkable series available to all without barriers.”