Michael Tilson Thomas
Michael Tilson Thomas | Credit: Art Streiber

First news of Michael Tilson Thomas’s operation came on Aug. 6, a week after the event, from MTT himself, via a Tweet:

Dear friends and music lovers, I recently returned home from the UCSF Medical Center. After a series of tests, it was diagnosed that I had a brain tumor and that an immediate operation was necessary. The operation was successful. 

I’m embarking on a course of therapy for the next several months. This means that I must curtail my public appearances through the end of October. I plan to return to the stage in November.

I am very fortunate to be cared for by the excellent team at UCSF and their national and international collaborators.

Thank you for your love and prayers. See you soon!”

In addition to the pandemic chaos in his final year leading the San Francisco Symphony, this is the second major medical interruption in the career of the orchestra’s former music director in two years – in 2019, he underwent a heart operation and recovered in record time. 

Michael Tilson Thomas
Michael Tilson Thomas | Credit: Spencer Lowell

MTT, 76, is not slated to appear with the SF Symphony until November, so there is no change in his schedule here at this point, but the ever-busy conductor had to modify his plans elsewhere, including an important concert with the National Symphony Orchestra in September to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Center, appearances with the New World Symphony — the youth orchestra in Miami he had helped to create — and guest conducting appearances in Indianapolis and Chicago.

“I deeply regret missing projects that I was greatly anticipating,” MTT wrote, “I look forward to seeing everyone again in November.”

“I can’t begin to express my emotions in learning of Michael’s diagnosis,” Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter said. “In addition to being a close personal friend, he is arguably one of the most important and influential artists of our time. We will miss him at our 50th-anniversary celebration concert, but the essence and design of the program remains his intent. We offer him our love and best wishes for the next months on his journey to health.”

No other information was released by MTT, but an approximate timeline can be established: He conducted the Academy Chamber Orchestra in Santa Barbara on July 17. He was slated to appear with them again on July 31, but he canceled, and Larry Rachleff took the podium. Apparently MTT’s tumor diagnosis and surgical procedure taking place by then.

From his hosts at the Music Academy of the West came a statement today:

“Sending our very best wishes for a speedy recovery to Michael Tilson Thomas. Further proof of the pandemic era’s exit strategy arrived when MTT stepped on the Granada Theater stage, leading the young but stellar Academy Chamber Orchestra.”