Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) is the music director laureate of the San Francisco Symphony, conductor laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra, and co-founder and artistic director laureate of the New World Symphony. He is a 12-time Grammy Award winner and has conducted the major orchestras of Europe and the United States.
Born in Los Angeles, he studied conducting and composition with Ingolf Dahl at the University of Southern California and, as a young musician, worked with artists including Stravinsky and Copland. In his mid-20s, he became assistant conductor — and later principal guest conductor —of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He subsequently served as the Buffalo Philharmonic’s music director, Los Angeles Philharmonic’s principal guest conductor, and London Symphony Orchestra’s principal conductor.
In 1987, MTT co-founded the New World Symphony, a postgraduate orchestral academy in Miami Beach dedicated to preparing young musicians of diverse backgrounds for leadership roles in classical music. He has worked with more than 1,200 NWS Fellows, many of whom have gone on to major careers.
He became the San Francisco Symphony’s music director in 1995, ushering in a period of significant growth and heightened international recognition for the orchestra, and championing contemporary and American composers alongside classical masters. As music director laureate, he conducts the orchestra each season.
MTT’s discography includes more than 120 recordings, and his numerous televised performances include series for the BBC and PBS and the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts. He has been profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes, ABC’s Nightline, and PBS’s American Masters.
Throughout his career MTT has been an active composer, with major works including From the Diary of Anne Frank, premiered with narrator Audrey Hepburn, and Meditations on Rilke. Both appear on SFS Media’s Grammy Award–winning recording of his music. In 2022 Avie Records released an album of solo piano works by John Wilson featuring the world premiere recording of Tilson Thomas’s Upon Further Reflection. In 2023 Yuja Wang released MTT’s You Come Here Often? on Deutsch Grammophon.
Tilson Thomas is an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, member of the American Academies of Arts and Sciences and Arts and Letters, National Medal of Arts recipient, and 2019 Kennedy Center Honoree. In 2022, upon receiving an honorary doctorate from The Juilliard School, he gave the Commencement address.
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