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Michael Tilson Thomas
(December 21, 1944 - living) U.S.A.

Michael Tilson Thomas

Composer, conductor, pianist


Also known as MTT, Michael was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of Broadway stage manager Ted Thomas, and the grandson of noted Yiddish theater stars Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky. His mother, Roberta Thomas, was a middle school history teacher.

Michael began his formal studies at the University of Southern California, where he studied piano and conducting and composition. At age 19 he was named Music Director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra. He worked with Stravinsky, Boulez, Stockhausen, and Copland on premieres of their works at Los Angeles's famed Monday Evening Concerts. During this period he was also pianist and conductor for Gregor Piatigorsky and Jascha Heifetz.

In 1969, at age 24, after winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood, Michael was appointed Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Ten days later he made his New York debut with the Boston Symphony, gaining international recognition when he replaced Music Director William Steinberg mid-concert at Lincoln Center. He was later appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the BSO, where he remained until 1974. He has also served as Chief Conductor and Director of the Ojai Festival, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, and a Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

He led the television broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic's famed Young People's Concerts from 1971 to 1977, and in February of 1987 he founded the New World Symphony, a national training orchestra for the most gifted graduates of America's conservatories, and continues to serve as its Artistic Director.

He has toured the world with the London Symphony Orchestra, of which he became Principal Conductor in 1988 and now serves as Principal Guest Conductor. Until 2000 he was co-Artistic Director of the Pacific Music Festival, which he and Leonard Bernstein inaugurated in Sapporo, Japan, in 1990, and he continues as Artistic Director of the New World Symphony, an orchestral academy based in Miami, which he founded in 1987. His guest conducting engagements include frequent appearances with the major orchestras of Europe and the United States.

Michael Tilson ThomasHis From the Diary of Anne Frank, for narrator and orchestra, was commissioned by UNICEF and given its world premiere at Philadelphia's Academy of Music in 1990 by the late Audrey Hepburn and the New World Symphony, conducted by the composer. Since then the work has been played by the London Symphony Orchestra, televised throughout Japan in a new Japanese translation, played by the Israel Philharmonic in a Hebrew version, performed in Holland in the original Dutch, in South Africa, in Spain by the Orquestra Simfonica de Barcelona, at the Ravinia and Aspen Music Festivals and throughout the United States.

Michael was commissioned by the city of Hiroshima to compose a piece for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the bombing of that city. Shwa/Shoh, a work for orchestra, is the result. It was premiered on 6 August 1995 by the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra, and will become part of the composer's First Symphony. Agnegram is the composer's short (4') 90th birthday orchestral tribute to longtime San Francisco Symphony patron Agnes Albert. Described as buoyant and exuberant with shades of Stravinsky, Walton, Bernstein, and Spike Jones, Agnegram was premiered by the San Francisco Symphony on 14 May 1998.

Other compositions include Three Poems by Walt Whitman for baritone and orchestra; Five Songs, for voice and piano; We Two Boys Together Clinging, recorded by baritone Thomas Hampson and pianist Craig Rutenberg for EMI; Street Song, written for the Empire Brass Quintet and also available in a version for symphonic brass. A song cycle on Emily Dickinson's poems for Rene Fleming, was premiered by the San Francisco Symphony in February 2002. Urban Legend, for contrabassoon and orchestra, received its premiere by the San Francisco Symphony in October 2002.

He is the first gay conductor to achieve such prominence without masking or hiding his sexuality. MTT does not discuss his homosexuality or his personal life with the public, but his dedication to creating and presenting music that explores the gay experience confirms his importance as a gay conductor. Tilson Thomas is openly gay and lives with his partner of 30 years, Joshua Robison.


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