Introduction: American Masters: Michael Tilson Thomas: Where Now Is (02:46)
Michael Tilson Thomas was San Francisco Symphony’s music director for 25 years; he describes the role of a conductor.
Miami Beach and New World Symphony (07:23)
Thomas helped found the New World Symphony; he concerns himself with student names and futures. Violinist Raushan Akhmedyarova explains how she met Thomas at a pivotal time in her education and career. The orchestral academy helps musicians discover their life’s purpose.
Focusing on composition, Thomas revisits pieces he wrote as a young man. He recalls his childhood without siblings, having time to improvise on piano. He grew up on Whitsett Avenue in San Fernando Valley when it was still rural countryside.
Thomas' Childhood (06:43)
Thomas’s biggest musical influence was his artistic father; he inspired a love of dissonance through humor. Thomas' parents wanted him to have a normal childhood; his grandmother was a pioneer of American Yiddish theater, and recognized his talents.
Los Angeles and Secondary School Days (08:51)
In 1958, Thomas met husband Joshua Robison at school, impressing him with his musical and conducting skills. Piano lessons with Alice Ehlers encouraged him to find nuances in music and realize decisions musicians make while reading pieces; Professor Ingolf Dahl inspires him to analyze form.
Los Angeles and University School Days (05:40)
Thomas attended the University of Southern California during the 1960s, majoring in piano and conducting. He began the Monday Evening Concert series wherein classical and modern music was performed. At 20, he became the conductor of the Young Musicians Foundation.
Massachusetts and Tanglewood Music Center (09:08)
Thomas describes Serge Koussevitzky’s influence and building up Tanglewood. After winning the Koussevitzky Prize, he met and was inspired by alumni such as Leonard Bernstein.
Massachusetts and Boston Symphony Orchestra (09:51)
In 1969, Thomas became the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s assistant conductor, under William Steinberg; he was promoted after Steinberg experienced health problems. Thomas initiated the Spectrum Concert series and was criticized for his youth and modern ideas; he resigned the post to take another in Buffalo.
Buffalo Philharmonic (09:47)
Thomas had freedom to interpret old songs and a home that encouraged improvisation and writing. He was reintroduced to Robison after a concert and by 1976, they were a couple. Thomas started a piece based on "Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind."
New York City (04:11)
After eight years in Buffalo, Thomas moved to New York with Robison, securing a recording contract with CBS Masterworks; the deal opened access to multiple orchestras worldwide. He gained the attention of BBC Television who sought a presenter that could contextualize music.
London and Miami Beach (09:19)
Thomas was appointed principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra in 1987, providing new programming and approaches. The same year, he started the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, eventually commissioning a theater from Architect Frank Gehry.
San Francisco Symphony (08:29)
Thomas was appointed music director in 1993, dedicating program time to American Composers. In his fifth year, he initiated the American Maverick Festival. He used several Gustav Mahler symphonies, encouraging the orchestra to express themselves as soloists.
Wallcast Concert Series (07:41)
Thomas initiated the series during New World Symphony’s 31st season, utilizing an outside wall as a projection surface for public enjoyment. The academy is important to his life, providing the ability to influence music’s future.
Credits: American Masters: Michael Tilson Thomas - Where Now Is (03:25)
Credits: American Masters: Michael Tilson Thomas - Where Now Is
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