Michael Tilson Thomas Will Leave San Francisco Symphony

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Michael Tilson Thomas Will Leave San Francisco Symphony

Post by lennygoran » Tue Oct 31, 2017 7:58 pm

I remember seeing some of Keeping Score on TV and enjoying it. Regards, Len


Michael Tilson Thomas, whose trailblazing leadership of the San Francisco Symphony spurred American classical music’s westward expansion, announced on Tuesday that he would step down as its music director in 2020, after his 25th season.

Under his baton, the ensemble secured its place among, and helped redefine the role and repertory of, America’s top orchestras. Its success, and that of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to the south, exploded the myth of an industry dominated by venerable East Coast ensembles.

Mr. Thomas, 72, has been lauded for conducting both Mahler and his beloved “mavericks” — offbeat American composers including Charles Ives, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison. His lavishly produced Keeping Score series was perhaps the best music education on television since his mentor, Leonard Bernstein. And under his leadership, San Francisco opened a small nightclub-like space for unconventional programming called SoundBox that is the envy of other orchestras.

Widely known as M.T.T., Mr. Thomas will stay on as the artistic director of the New World Sympony, the training academy in Miami he co-founded — and he will not disappear from Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. He said in a telephone interview that as music director laureate, he would continue to lead the orchestra for at least four weeks a season. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Why did you decide it was time?

It will be my 75th year when this happens, and will also be my 25th year as music director of the San Francisco Symphony. Almost my entire adult life I’ve been the music director of some organization or another. I have volumes and volumes of almost-completed compositions and stories and poems and collections and all sorts of things. For years I’ve been thinking that if I’m going to be able to devote time to making sure that these things are in good shape before I’m outta here, this would be a kind of good moment to think about doing that.

How is this orchestra different from the one you inherited?

I’m not a control-freak maestro. From night to night we’re not trying to make the performances congruent to one another, but different from one another. And when we come back to a piece, it will be different, as we’ve all changed. And I think that keeps it a very living kind of experience.

I have encouraged people to color outside the lines, for lack of a better analogy. We’re not trying to reproduce the notation here. We’re trying to get back to the inspiration that caused the notations to exist.

So you’re not an originalist?

“I only do exactly what’s in the score, the score has everything in it”: I do not believe that at all. I think the score is only the suggestion of what the piece actually has in it. The composers assume that the musicians who are going to play that music have imaginations and identities, and are going to bring something special to it.

Looking back, are there favorite performances that stand out, or composers you are especially proud of having brought back into the repertory?

We have found our way with Mahler, which is recognized. Also composers that I knew when I was a kid: Stravinsky and Copland and Bernstein and Feldman. And the orchestra has had an extraordinary relationship with John Adams over the years. The Maverick festivals in their various incarnations generally opened up the idea that American music could be many, many different things — from very intricate and very technical to very simple and acoustic. And that of course allowed composers like Lou Harrison to really become culture heroes.

I should also mention that it really meant so much to Joshua [Robison, his husband] and to me to be able to be such an accepted, loved couple in this city — in its artistic life, in its social life. This was a really wonderful kind of acceptance, which somehow symbolized so many changes that have happened for the good in our society in this time.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/31/arts ... ction&_r=0

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Re: Michael Tilson Thomas Will Leave San Francisco Symphony

Post by John F » Wed Nov 01, 2017 7:06 am

He will be missed. And while I expect he will guest-conduct in San Francisco and elsewhere, it looks like any orchestras that may have hoped to get him as their music director will be out of luck.
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Re: Michael Tilson Thomas Will Leave San Francisco Symphony

Post by THEHORN » Wed Nov 01, 2017 4:47 pm

Thomas has agreed to spent four weeks per season with the San Francisco symphony orchestra after he steps down . He's leaving big shoes to be filled .

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Re: Michael Tilson Thomas Will Leave San Francisco Symphony

Post by Beckmesser » Wed Nov 01, 2017 5:19 pm

Tilson Thomas appears at Tanglewood every few seasons. I hope he will continue those appearances now that he will have more time on his hands.

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Re: Michael Tilson Thomas Will Leave San Francisco Symphony

Post by IcedNote » Wed Nov 01, 2017 7:42 pm

I'm very curious to see how the SFS will shape itself moving forward. I'd heard he was stepping down months ago, and there's a *lot* of upheaval within the symphony's staff. Hope they right the ship quickly.

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Re: Michael Tilson Thomas Will Leave San Francisco Symphony

Post by John F » Wed Nov 08, 2017 12:37 pm

After Michael Tilson Thomas retires, who will take up the baton?
By Joshua Kosman
November 4, 2017

For nearly a quarter century, Michael Tilson Thomas has offered San Francisco Symphony patrons — and observers around the world — a virtuoso display of just how much can be accomplished by an orchestral music director with seemingly boundless reserves of energy, ambition and musical imagination. On his watch, the Symphony has become a byword for innovative programming, institutional vigor and a command of a wide swath of orchestral repertoire, from Beethoven and Mahler through music of our time.

Now the Symphony will have to find someone to fill those shoes when Thomas, 72, steps down after the 2019-20 season — not only to command the role of music director as capably as he has, but to refashion the position to fit the distinctive challenges of American cultural life in the 21st century.

“If you look back at music director transitions from even 30 years ago, the set of considerations was much simpler,” said Jesse Rosen, president and chief executive officer of the League of American Orchestras, an industry umbrella group. “You were looking for someone who could make good programs, put together good seasons and give great concerts. But today, the challenges and opportunities extend so much beyond that. There’s a much broader definition now of artistic leadership.”
The roster of tasks facing the next San Francisco Symphony music director will be daunting and varied. It includes finding new ways of making the standard repertoire speak directly to a younger and more diverse audience, including many for whom the music of Mozart or Brahms is terra incognita. It includes embracing a broader range of contemporary music — including works by women and composers of color, a point on which this orchestra has lagged woefully behind organizations like the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Music Director Gustavo Dudamel.

The new music director will also have to be adept at all sorts of outreach, from educational projects to romancing the donors and board members who keep the coffers filled. And, of course, he or she will have to give great concerts, which means creating a vibrant and productive working relationship with the members of the orchestra.

What’s striking about this description is how closely it tallies with the Michael Tilson Thomas of 1995, when he arrived in San Francisco. At the time, Thomas was a noticeably different breed of conductor — different from his predecessor, the staid and strait-laced Herbert Blomstedt, and different from just about anyone else the orchestra could have chosen. He had a reputation as a splashy showman (in part the legacy of his grandparents, immigrant stars of the Yiddish theater), and a demonstrated commitment to a wide array of American and contemporary music. He had an extensive discography covering a broad stylistic expanse, and he was able right from the start to put his own stamp on the orchestra’s proceedings.

“He brought such energy to the podium, and he was the perfect personality for this city,” said violinist Melissa Kleinbart. “He was just what the orchestra needed. Those are going to be big shoes to fill. But of course, the next person doesn’t have to be a mirror image of Michael.”

Indeed, it seems unlikely that anyone on the horizon will boast the full panoply of gifts that Thomas has brought to the job. (Thomas will stay on as music director laureate, conducting the orchestra for at least four weeks each season.) And even speculating about the identities of possible successors is premature, given a three-year search that is only now getting into gear.

But broadly speaking, it’s possible to sketch out the sort of conductor the Symphony might opt for. They might choose someone in the flashier, more dynamic mold of Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbanski or Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki. They could give the nod to a maestro in a more solidly traditional vein, such as Manfred Honeck. They could split the difference, picking a conductor like the suave, imaginative Italian Fabio Luisi or the thoughtful but more reserved Slovakian conductor Juraj Valcuha.

And that’s just a sampling from among the conductors who have made impressive showings in Davies Symphony Hall recently. It’s equally likely that the successful candidate will be someone with a long relationship with the Symphony — or someone who has yet to make their debut with the orchestra.

The process is a little like romance, said cellist Barbara Bogatin. “There has to be that special chemistry, which is more important than any preconceived notions. Just like finding a partner — everything could be right, but it wouldn’t matter if there’s no chemistry.”

And chemistry is unpredictable, said Matthew Spivey, the Symphony’s director of artistic planning. “I’ve seen appointments grow out of a long relationship, and I’ve seen it be love at first sight where someone gets appointed after one week. But that spark is a surprisingly tangible thing. When the relationship connects, it’s palpable — the orchestra feels it, the person on the podium feels it, and the audience feels it.”

Just like in the dating market, the search for a music director involves a certain amount of self-assessment. “An institution has to start out with some notion of what it values most,” said Rosen. “They will definitely not find someone who’s good at everything, so the question is what are the things they feel they can forgo or trade off. Many orchestras look at this as a moment to ask themselves, ‘Who are we today, and who do we want to become?’”

For Deborah Borda, the powerhouse orchestra manager who hired Dudamel in Los Angeles and in September began a second nonconsecutive stint as head of the New York Philharmonic, one of the perils at this juncture is an orchestra that tries to solidify its reputation by bringing in a marquee name. “You want to be sure that the institution is secure enough to say, ‘We don’t need a famous maestro to define ourselves.’ An institution itself should be more broad-based, inventive and possibly disruptive.”

The San Francisco Symphony certainly has enough cachet at this point to attract a wide range of potential candidates. The orchestra’s reputation both for stylistic fearlessness and technical excellence is well established; a conductor even with outlandish programming plans would find a group of willing collaborators.

Geography is a complicating factor, though, even in the age of ubiquitous air travel. Ideally, a music director should be a recognizable and ensconced resident of the city, as Thomas has been, and for conductors with active European careers, San Francisco can be a long way from the hub.

Still, said Mark Hanson, the orchestra’s new executive director, “This will be a very attractive position, and the process is a two-way street. In the coming years, we’re going to be trying to attract the interest of some of the world’s greatest conductors, known or up-and-coming, and I think just as many of our guest conductors are going to be trying to impress us.”

Many of them, presumably, have already undergone some kind of courtship ritual, whether consciously or not. “A search should be organic and ongoing,” said Borda, “because these relationships need to be nurtured over time. You start it the day after you hire the last music director. Wherever I’ve worked, I’ve always had a list of three people in mind as the next music director.”

But it’s also entirely possible that Thomas’ successor will be someone as yet unknown to the Symphony’s musicians and audiences — which means that the guest conductors traipsing through Davies over the coming seasons will merit particularly close attention. They know it, too, according to Spivey, who is responsible for scouting and engaging the orchestra’s guest artists. “It’s funny how the level of activity increases immediately around something like this. Just since the announcement, I’ve suddenly had countless calls and emails from conductors who just wanted to say hello.”

http://www.sfchronicle.com/music/articl ... 332501.php
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Re: Michael Tilson Thomas Will Leave San Francisco Symphony

Post by barney » Wed Nov 08, 2017 4:52 pm

I hadn't understood that MTT was so loved. He's a long way from Melbourne. But there is no doubt that the role is expanding and requires wider skills than "merely" musical.

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Re: Michael Tilson Thomas Will Leave San Francisco Symphony

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Nov 08, 2017 5:46 pm

Among his other talents, MTT could sing. Some time ago, I posted him surprising the audience by turning around from the conductor's stand and singing a verse from one of Bernstein's musicals. Unfortunately I cannot now find it, but it is a bit ironic, for Bernstein himself, though he had absolute pitch and much other talent, couldn't produce a proper singing note to save his life.

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Re: Michael Tilson Thomas Will Leave San Francisco Symphony

Post by Wallingford » Sat Nov 11, 2017 3:52 pm

If the phrase "fruitful partnership" applied to anything, it was definitely MTT & SFS.

Tilson Thomas (that's how I've always rather cumbersomely referred to him--I'm not the one who initiated that trend, however) led the pack in terms of inventive, innovative programming on the part of maestros.

I didn't get to see one of his SFS concerts live, but I DID get in on Blomstedt's final program (the third night, I believe)--it was Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, and the long, long, long and eternal ovations and many varied flowers were well- deserved. I think Blomstedt is as seminal a figure as Tilson Thomas: The former put the ensemble on the map once and for all in becoming a much-recorded orchestra as well as one of truly world-class ensembles.

(I DID, however, see MTT lead the LSO in Mahler's Ninth--the climax of my London visit.)
If I could tell my mom and dad
That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
Getting ready for Christmas day
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Re: Michael Tilson Thomas Will Leave San Francisco Symphony

Post by John F » Sun Nov 12, 2017 12:10 am

For me at least, the San Francisco Symphony was on the map since the 1930s, when Pierre Monteux became its music director for 17 years. They made quite a few recordings for RCA Victor.

I'm less enthusiastic than you about Herbert Blomstedt, because I've never heard a specially distinctive or eloquent performance or recording by him; I think of him as a skilled and honest musician and nothing more. He's still alive and active, by the way; he turned 90 in July.
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Re: Michael Tilson Thomas Will Leave San Francisco Symphony

Post by barney » Sun Nov 12, 2017 6:25 am

And Universal released a huge set, which tends in my mind to confirm your estimation, John.

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