Michael Tilson Thomas is a conductor, composer, educator and pianist. He is Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy; Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony; and Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. In addition to these posts, he maintains an active presence guest conducting with the major orchestras of Europe and the United States.
Mr. Tilson Thomas studied piano with John Crown and conducting and composition with Ingolf Dahl at the University of Southern California. At age nineteen he was named Music Director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra. 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.
In 1969, after winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood, he was appointed Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. That year he also made his New York debut with the Boston Symphony and gained international recognition after replacing Music Director William Steinberg in mid-concert. He was later appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra where he remained until 1974. He was Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1971 to 1979 and a Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1981 to 1985. He was Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra from 1987 to 1995.
His recorded repertoire of more than 120 discs includes works by composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Prokofiev and Stravinsky as well as his pioneering work with the music of Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, Steve Reich, John Cage, Ingolf Dahl, Morton Feldman, George 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’ extensive 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. In 2004 Mr. Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony embarked on a multi-tiered media project – Keeping Score – which includes television, web sites, radio programs and programs in the schools, all designed to make classical music more accessible to a new audience.
Among his many honors and awards Mr. Tilson Thomas is a Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, was named Musical America’s Musician of the Year and Conductor of the Year, Gramophone Magazine’s Artist 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 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts at a ceremony in the White House.