Michael Tilson Thomas is music director of the San Francisco Symphony, co-founder and artistic director of the New World Symphony, and conductor laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra. He is an 11-time Grammy Award winner and has conducted the major orchestras of Europe and the United States. For his lifetime artistic achievements, he received the 2019 Kennedy Center Honors.
Born in Los Angeles, he studied piano, conducting, and composition at the University of Southern California, and as a young musician worked with such artists as Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland. In his mid-20s, he became assistant conductor — and later principal guest conductor — of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which he conducted in his New York debut. He subsequently served as music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.
In 1988 Mr. Tilson Thomas co-founded the New World Symphony, an orchestral academy in Miami Beach that prepares gifted music graduates for leadership roles in classical music. He has since guided the artistic and professional development of more than 1,100 young musicians, many of whom have gone onto careers with major orchestras and institutions.
He became music director of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in 1995, and his tenure has been a period of significant growth and heightened international recognition for the orchestra. He has led SFS in championing contemporary and American composers alongside classical masters, while also innovating new ways of engaging today’s audiences with classical music. In 2020 he concludes his 25-year directorship and becomes music director laureate.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s discography includes more than 120 recordings, and his television work includes series for the BBC and PBS as well as broadcasts of New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts.
Throughout his career, he has been an active composer, with major works including From the Diary of Anne Frank, commissioned by UNICEF and premiered in 1991 with narrator Audrey Hepburn, and, recently, Meditations on Rilke, premiered in 2020 with SFS.
A Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France and a member of the American Academies of Arts and Sciences and Arts and Letters, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts and has been inducted into the California Hall of Fame.
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