On Friday, May 7, the New World Symphony announced its groundbreaking 2021–22 season. The season builds on New World Symphony’s mission to prepare young musicians for leadership roles in orchestras and ensembles around the world, and its vision of an inclusive and dynamic future for classical music. NWS is a laboratory for generating new ideas about how music is taught, presented, and experienced. Its commitment to inclusion and access defines the 2021–22 season.
“The new season will be a joyous reunion of our New World Symphony Fellows, our audience, and our community. Together we look forward to continuing exploration of our rich tradition,” said Tilson Thomas, who is Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Symphony.
Among the season highlights, Tilson Thomas leads the NWS in concerts including a pre-season concert highlighted by his Poems of Emily Dickinson sung by frequent collaborator Measha Brueggergosman (October 2); a season-opening concert featuring baritone Dashon Burton (October 9/10); two evenings featuring violinist Christian Tetzlaff (February 11/12); and a season finale concert with violinist Gil Shaham (May 6/7). MTT also directs Clarinet Visions, this season’s instrument focused festival. Tilson Thomas will also kick-off the New World Symphony’s residency at the Adrianne Arsht Center with a concert featuring James Lee III’s Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula, an NWS commission.
For its first performances for an audience since the pandemic began, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will perform an all-American program called “Fanfare” that includes MTT’s work Street Song for Symphony Brass. The performances will take place May 27–30 at Chicago’s Symphony Center with Michael Mulcahy on the podium. Also on the program are works by Copland, Schuller, Barber, and Bernstein.
Originally composed in 1988, Street Song is a work in three contiguous parts — and interweaving of three songs. The first song opens with a jagged downward scale suspending in the air a sweetly dissonant harmony that very slowly resolves. This moment of resolution is followed by responses of various kinds. The harmonies move between the world of the Middle Ages and the present, between East and West, and always, of course, from the perspective of 20th-century America. Overall the movement is about starting and stopping, the moments of suspension always leading somewhere else. The second song is introduced by a yodellike horn solo. It is followed by a simple trumpet duet. It is folk-like in character and also cadences with suspended moments of slowly resolving dissonance. The third song is really more of a dance. It begins when a trombone slides a step higher, bringing the work into the key of F-sharp and into a jazzier swing. The harmonies here are the stacked-up moments of suspension from the first two parts of the piece. There is a resolution, but it is in the world of a musician who after many after-hours gigs greets the dawn.
On May 8, Michael Tilson Thomas returns to the podium for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began to conduct the New World Symphony in a program titled “MTT’s Americana.” The concert presents works by American composers William Grant Still, Conlon Nancarrow, Aaron Copland, Carl Ruggles, and Charles Ives. The performance features NWS alumnus Billy Hunter on trumpet in Copland’s Quiet City.The concert will be livestreamed on the NWS website at 7:30pm ET. Tickets are $25, and can be purchased here.
The San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of MTT’s own compositions From the Diary of Anne Frank & Meditations on Rilke won a 2021 Grammy® Award in the category of Best Classical Compendium. 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. It features Isabel Leonard, Sasha Cooke, and Ryan McKinny as soloists.
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.
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.
The partnership of Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony has been recognized with numerous recording honors. Their very first recording together, a live recording of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, won a 1997 Grammy®Award for Best Orchestral Performance. Their RCA Red Seal all-Stravinsky recording of Le Sacre du printemps (The Riteof Spring), The Firebird, and Perséphone won three Grammy®Awards in 2000 in the categories of Best Classical Album, Best Orchestral Performance and Best Engineered Classical Album. Under SFS Media, Tilson Thomas and the Orchestra’s acclaimed Mahler cycle recording project has won seven Grammy®Awards, including a 2003 Grammy®Award for Mahler: Symphony No. 6 in the category of Best Orchestral Performance; a 2004 Grammy®Award for Mahler: Symphony No. 3; Kindertotenlieder in the category of Best Classical Album; two 2006 Grammy®Awards for Mahler: Symphony No. 7 in the categories of Best Orchestral Performance and Best Classical Album; and two Grammy®Awards for Mahler: Symphony No. 8 & Adagio from Symphony No. 10 in the categories of Best Choral Performance and Best Engineered Album, Classical. Its 2013 recording of John Adams: Harmonielehre & Short Ride in a Fast Machine won a 2013 Grammy®Award for Best Orchestral Performance.
MTT and the San Francisco Symphony illuminate the gorgeously evocative world of Alban Berg in the newest release from the Grammy Award–winning SFS Media label.
Hear the heartbreaking pathos of Berg’s Violin Concerto brought to life by brilliant violinist Gil Shaham; the soaring, multicolored Seven Early Songs performed by acclaimed soprano Susanna Phillips; and the spellbinding Three Pieces for Orchestra, in which the composer solidified his reputation as a master of spacious expression.
This album is available February 26, 2021, as a studio master-quality SACD, as a digital download, and via streaming. Learn more and listen here.
On February 20, Michael Tilson Thomas hosts the New World Symphony’s “Brave New World: 33rd Anniversary Gala.” Presented virtually, the event is a celebration of resilience, honoring the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and its CEO Alberto Ibargüen.
The online event will feature the world premiere of a film produced by MTT, detailing the Symphony’s early days, celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the New World Center, and looking to NWS’s future. The event will stream live at 7pm on the New World Symphony’s website, Facebook, and YouTube channel.
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).