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The Kennedy Center

Michael Tilson Thomas



Biography

Michael Tilson Thomas is Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Symphony, and Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra. He is an 11-time Grammy Award® winner and has, over the course of his career, conducted the major orchestras of Europe and the United States.

Born in Los Angeles, he studied piano, conducting, and composition at the University of Southern California, and as a young musician worked with such artists as Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland. In his mid-20s, he became Assistant Conductor—and later Principal Guest Conductor—of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which he conducted in his New York debut. He subsequently served as Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

In 1988, he co-founded the New World Symphony, an orchestral academy in Miami Beach that prepares gifted music graduates for leadership roles in classical music. Over the years, he has guided the artistic and professional development of more than 1,100 young musicians, many of whom have gone on to careers with major orchestras and institutions.

He became Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony in 1995, and his tenure has been a period of significant growth and heightened international recognition for the orchestra. He has led SFS in championing contemporary and American composers alongside classical masters, while also innovating new ways of engaging 21st–century audiences with classical music. In 2020, he concludes his 25-year directorship and becomes Music Director Laureate.

Throughout his career, he has been an active composer, with major works including From the Diary of Anne Frank, commissioned by UNICEF and premiered in 1991 with narrator Audrey Hepburn, and Shówa/Shoáh, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.

He is a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, a member of the American Academies of Arts and Sciences and Arts and Letters, and has been profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes and ABC’s Nightline. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts and has also been inducted into the California Hall of Fame.

Michael Tilson Thomas