Michael Tilson-Thomas

Music Director, San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Symphony
San Francisco, CA, United States

About Michael


Michael Tilson Thomas is a conductor, pianist and educator. He is Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, Artistic Director of the New World Symphony and Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. He studied piano with John Crown and conducting and composition with Ingolf Dahl. As a young conductor, he worked with Stravinsky, Boulez, Stockhausen and Copland on premieres of their compositions at Los Angeles’ Monday Evening Concerts. During this same period he was the pianist and conductor for Gregor Piatigorsky and Jascha Heifetz. He has since held positions at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic and Los Angeles Philharmonic. He was Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. He maintains an active guest conducting schedule with major orchestras worldwide.

His recorded repertoire of more than 120 discs includes works by composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Ives, Ruggles, Reich, Cage, Dahl, Feldman, Gershwin, John McLaughlin and Elvis Costello. He recently completed recording the complete orchestral works of Gustav Mahler with the San Francisco Symphony.

Mr. Tilson Thomas’ television work includes a series with the London Symphony Orchestra for BBC Television, the television broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts from 1971 to 1977 and numerous productions on PBS Great Performances. Mr. Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony recently completed a multi-tiered media project, Keeping Score, which includes television, web sites, radio programs and programs in the schools.

In 1987 he founded the New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy. More than 900 graduates of the program are now in orchestras and ensembles worldwide. In January 2011, a new campus for the academy designed by Frank Gehry opened in Miami Beach to much international acclaim. In 2009 he was Artistic Director of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, the first orchestra entirely auditioned online. It debuted in Carnegie Hall in April of 2009. The second YouTube Symphony Orchestra convened at the Sydney Opera House in March of 2011. Over 40 countries were represented.

In 1991 Mr. Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony were presented in a series of benefit concerts for UNICEF featuring Audrey Hepburn as narrator of From the Diary of Anne Frank, composed by Mr. Tilson Thomas. In August 1995 he led the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra in the premiere of his composition Showa/Shoah, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Thomas Hampson premiered his settings of poetry by Walt Whitman and Renée Fleming premiered his settings of the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

His tribute to his grandparents The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theatre premiered in Carnegie Hall and also been presented by the San Francisco Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and the New World Symphony. It made its return to New York with the New York Philharmonic in April 2011 and was filmed later that month in Miami’s New World Center to be broadcast during PBS Great Performances 2011-12 season.

Among his honors Mr. Tilson Thomas is a Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, was Musical America’s Musician of the Year and Conductor of the Year and has been profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes and ABC’s Nightline. He has won ten Grammy Awards for his recordings. In 2008 he received the Peabody Award for his radio series for SFS Media, The MTT Files. In 2010 President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Arts.


English, French, German

TED Conference


Areas of Expertise

classical music