Michael Tilson Thomas: Grammy Award-Winning Director On 100 Years Of SF Symphony
Who: Ten-time Grammy Award-winning conductor, pianist and composer Michael Tilson Thomas.
Current Gig: The music director of the San Francisco Symphony since 1995, Thomas is known as a champion of modern American works. Thomas gained international attention in 2009 when he helped create the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, the world's first online collaborative orchestra, assembled by open audition submissions on YouTube. He received a National Medal of Arts from Barack Obama in the same year, alongside Bob Dylan, Clint Eastwood and Rita Moreno. Tilson Thomas also hosts Keeping Score, a documentary-style series exploring the lives and music of historically famous composers on PBS.
What he's doing this week: Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Symphony.
Michael, the San Francisco Symphony has become known as one of the most innovative in the world. What distinguishes it from other symphonies across the globe? The San Francisco Symphony is a collection of musicians who truly reflect the city in which they reside. San Francisco is well known for its broad thinking and widely varied population. Our musicians’ sense of adventure in performance reflects that same expansive spirit.
What performances are you most excited about this centennial season? Our musicians will have a chance to show that spirit of adventure during our American Mavericks festival in March. In addition to performing the music of groundbreaking composers who pioneered a new American sound -- composers like Charles Ives, Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison -- we perform four world premieres including two by Bay Area composers John Adams and Mason Bates. I'm also excited about a week of staged performances of Barbary Coast & Beyond, which explores the rich musical history of San Francisco especially in the boom surrounding the Gold Rush until the turn of the century.
What are some of your favorite local spots around town? On Saturdays, I love going to the Ferry Building farmer’s market to pick out fresh produce and sample the delights of local culinary artisans. Then its off to Crissy Field, a great place to run with our dog with a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
You founded the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. Do you think the local tech industry influences your approach to the symphony? Although I still believe in the ultimate joy of the live musical experience, technology can enable us to evolve not only the way we think about the Symphony but the way we think about music. It allows us to provide more context than ever before. This accessibility helps people develop their own personal relationships with the music. What is developing in the local tech industry is continually interesting and amazing to me. It was so astonishing that 33,000,000 people checked in to the last YouTube Symphony Orchestra concert.
What do you find most inspiring about San Francisco? One of my favorite things about San Francisco is our famous fog. Ever since I made trips here as a child, watching the fog lurk out over the ocean and then swirl across through the Golden Gate and shroud the city in mystery always captivated me. It still does.