Rhinegold Photo credit: Bill Swerbenski

Katy Wright

Deputy Editor, Classical Music

Michael Tilson Thomas to leave San Francisco Symphony in 2020

2:08, 1st November 2017

Michael Tilson Thomas is to conclude his 25-year tenure as music director of the San Francisco Symphony in June 2020.

He will then assume the title of music director laureate, as which he will conduct the Orchestra for a minimum of four weeks each season in addition to other special projects.

The 2019/20 season – Tilson Thomas’s last with the SF Symphony – will see the conductor celebrate his 75th birthday and his 25th year leading the ensemble. In anticipation of the occasion, the next two years will feature recording projects, festivals, new ­­works and staged productions, as well as a two-week tour of the United States in 2018/19 and a three-week European tour in 2019/20.

Tilson Thomas’s relationship with the Orchestra began in 1974, when he conducted Mahler’s ninth symphony aged 29. He was appointed as the Orchestra’s 11th music director in September 1995.

Since then, Tilson Thomas and the SF Symphony have embarked on over 24 national and international tours, and undertaken numerous media and recording projects.

The conductor has received particular praise for his Keeping Score tv series, championing new music and repertoire by American composers, and playing an instrumental role in the creation of SoundBox, a space for unconventional programming.

The orchestra’s music education and community engagement programme have significantly expanded under his leadership, and in 2001 the ensemble became the first orchestra in the United States to establish its own recording label. SFS Media has since released more than 40 recordings.

Tilson Thomas said he felt this ‘an appropriate moment to set aside some of my administrative responsibilities and begin a new period of creative possibilities’, adding: ‘Fortunately my new and unique relationship as music director laureate of the San Francisco Symphony will allow me to continue to work with my esteemed colleagues for years to come on projects close to my heart.’

Sakurako Fisher, president of the San Francisco Symphony, said that Tilson Thomas embodied ‘the personality and the spirit of San Francisco’, adding: ‘We look forward to continuing to support his vision, ideas, and innovation around what an orchestra can mean to its community.’

‘Under Michael Tilson Thomas’ leadership, the worldwide artistic reputation of the Orchestra has experienced a trajectory of unprecedented growth,’ said SFS executive director Mark C. Hanson. ‘His vision, energy, and ideas have excited and engaged both new and long-time audiences and have attracted 50 extraordinary musicians who have joined the Orchestra during his tenure. The MTT/SFS partnership is unparalleled and will only continue to strengthen over time.’

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