Ives’ ‘Holidays’ at the L.A. Phil, but not those holidays

Dec 9, 2018

LA Times
By Mark Swed

“Other than a very occasional ‘Messiah’ or John Adams’ ‘El Niño,’ the Los Angeles Philharmonic doesn’t do holidays. That was obstinately true Friday at a Walt Disney Concert Hall bedecked with a Christmas tree and menorah for a seemingly recalcitrant Michael Tilson Thomas. He ended his program Friday morning with Charles Ives’ ‘Holidays’ Symphony. Ives’ holidays happen to be Washington’s birthday, Decoration Day, Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.

“Yet, in a glorious performance, Tilson Thomas incomparably embodied the good cheer and wonder of the season by going beyond specific holidays. Ives’ four separate pieces, written in the first decade of the 20th century, evoked the holidays as the composer remembered them in his New England childhood and in a manner, sentimental yet startlingly pioneering, that remains stylistically flummoxing even a century later.

“In his introductory remarks, Tilson Thomas reminded that investigations of the unconscious can begin anywhere, as Carl Jung noted. With Ives, they can also go anywhere in any way.

“Each holiday starts out musing on an old hymn and/or popular tunes of the day. Harmonies are unsettled. Music, solemn and fun — marching bands, children’s game, fireworks, funeral marches and sheer hokum — mingle and explode into exuberant musical chaos.

“With the Los Angeles Master Chorale on hand for Thanksgiving’s spiritual apotheosis at the end, Tilson Thomas put the singers to further good use having them sing some of the songs and hymns that Ives sneaked, some familiar (‘Good Night Ladies’), some forgotten. Christmas was turned on its head for Decoration (now Memorial) Day with ‘Adestes Fideles’ in its alternate form of ‘How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord’ joined by ‘Taps.’

“When it came to Thanksgiving, Ives’ intention was, Tilson Thomas said, ‘one great universal song of mankind,’ all these musics rising to one magnanimous zenith. And so it authentically did after nearly an hour of principled sentimentality, riotous playfulness, stylistic irreverence and majestic religiosity verging on downright (or should that be upright?) mysticism. In its versatile element, the L.A. Phil and magnificent Master Chorale embodied Ives’ ideal with an irrefutable rightness.

“Tilson Thomas began the concert roasting two Tchaikovsky chestnuts, the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Overture-Fantasy and ‘Rococo’ Variations. He got from the orchestra a sound as rich as the most lavish holiday feast. Cellist Gautier Capuçon brought his stunningly beautiful tone to ‘Rococo’ Variations, adding what sounded like new glory to every phrase…”

Michael Tilson Thomas brings his ‘Playthings’ to the L.A. Phil, and they’re not what you think

Dec 2, 2018

LA Times
By Mark Swed

“…A belting baritone sax, a psychedelic electric guitar, the recorded sound of a cash register, flamboyant percussion, Brueggergosman’s singing — sultry, joyous or gloomy — all provide just the right reactions to Sandburg, word for word, sentiment for sentiment, prophecy for prophecy.”


New World Symphony soars with Ax’s Beethoven, MTT’s Sibelius

Nov 6, 2018

South Florida Classical Review
By Lawrence Budmen

“…Ax, Tilson Thomas and the New World fellows provided a textbook example of perfect collaboration. Soloist, conductor and players seemed to breath the music together.”

MTT Takes a Deep Dive Into Stravinsky’s Musical Legacy

Sep 18, 2018

San Francisco Classical Voice
By Lou Fancher

“‘The chance to see someone, to watch somebody at work when they’re not conscious of somebody watching them, you see things,’ says San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas. ‘I was often up at Stravinsky’s house for rehearsals. I don’t know how it affects how I feel about and conduct the music, but I know it’s important.'”

Thomas and SF Symphony draw all the pieces together for a splendid Mahler Third

Jun 29, 2018

The San Francisco Chronicle
By Joshua Kosman

“The joy of this performance was hearing Thomas and the orchestra snap each piece smartly into place, while committing themselves fully to each phase of the unveiling…”

MTT, New World close season with a sumptuous, searing Mahler Ninth

May 6, 2018

South Florida Classical Review
By David Fleshler

“Playing in all sections was virtually flawless, in a symphony that’s full of exposed passages for horns, flutes, trumpets and other instruments. Mahler’s distinctive orchestration, with its muted trumpets and horns, violins going high up the lowest string, and other techniques by a master symphonist, came off with all its characteristic force and color.”

MTT takes Mahler to a new level in San Francisco Symphony tour

Mar 28, 2018

LA Times
By Mark Swed

“One of the hallmarks of Tilson Thomas’ nearly quarter century with this orchestra is the way he has fostered his players’ individuality. At its best, as in this performance of Mahler’s Fifth, that is what makes otherwise resonant strings, robust brass, elegant winds and feisty percussion sound like what the Bay Area is supposed to sound like — bohemian, tolerant, unconventional, multicultural and artistically embracing…”

Michael Tilson Thomas: Why Is Music So Good At Conveying Emotion?

Mar 9, 2018

NPR / TED Radio Hour

“When it comes to classical music, there’s an awful lot to pass on. Classical music is an unbroken, living tradition that goes back over 1000 years, and every one of those years has had something unique and powerful to say to us about what it’s like to be alive.”

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