Michael Tilson Thomas
Michael Tilson Thomas | Credit: Brigitte Lacombe

San Francisco Symphony Music Director Laureate Michael Tilson Thomas, 79, who has continued his stellar conducting career even after being diagnosed with the brain cancer glioblastoma multiforme three years ago, has some impressive new activities and accomplishments.

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music has named Tilson Thomas distinguished professor of music, and to celebrate his artistic achievements as his 80th birthday (on Dec. 21) approaches, SFCM’s allied record label, Pentatone, will release a box set of 18 of MTT’s compositions in the fall.

In his role as distinguished professor of music, the conductor will work individually with students, participate in readings with the SFCM Orchestra, and lead master classes.

“I’m so looking forward to expanding my work with the next generation of musicians and to building connections with the faculty and staff at SFCM and Pentatone to realize our many common musical ideals,” Tilson Thomas said.

MTT’s decades-long relationship with the Conservatory, born out of his lifelong commitment to music education, has included mentoring and coaching students, delivering the centennial convocation in 2017, and receiving an honorary doctorate.

Michael Tilson Thomas
Michael Tilson Thomas conducts | Credit: Kristen Loken

“Michael is a singular visionary who stands alone in his transformative impact on music,” said SFCM President David Stull. “He is unmatched in craft, imagination, and sheer genius as a creator and performer, but his work and leadership on behalf of education may well transcend his legacy of exceptional achievement as an artist. We are honored and inspired to have him with us.”

Pentatone will honor MTT’s lifetime of contributions as a composer by releasing a deluxe collection of CDs and digital recordings of his works, titled Grace: The Music of Michael Tilson Thomas, in fall 2024.

Among the compositions: From the Diary of Anne Frank, Street Song, Meditations on Rilke, Shówa/Shoáh, Agnegram, Whitman Songs, Poems of Emily Dickinson, and Urban Legend.

MTT has asked that proceeds from the project benefit the Brain Tumor Center at the University of California, San Francisco in recognition of the care that he is receiving for glioblastoma.

Executive producers for the collection are Stull; Joshua Robison, MTT’s husband and manager; and Hank Mou, associate vice president of artistic operations at SFCM.

Jack Vad, Grammy-winning producer and engineer, is audio producer, and the managing producer is Oliver Theil, former director of communications for the SF Symphony and later head of digital innovation, who had a major role in the creation of MTT’s Keeping Score documentary series.

The box set comprises 18 works, all in Dolby Atmos spatial audio, from a wide variety of sources, including premiere recordings produced exclusively for this collection, remastered archival performances from the SF Symphony and New World Symphony, and previously released recordings from other artists and labels. This comprehensive project will stream on all platforms, include composer’s notes, and be supported by a new website featuring a media-rich catalog of critical editions for the compositions.

SFCM and MTT are acknowledging the sponsorship of the professorship by the John and Marcia Goldman Foundation. Support for the archival and recording project has come from the Arison Arts Foundation, Joachim and Nancy Hellman Bechtle, Matt and Pia Cohler, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Crankstart, Dagmar Dolby, Mary and Howard S. Frank, Samuel Freeman Trust, Todd Gordon and Susan Feder, Sakurako and William Fisher, Gordon P. Getty, Rose Ellen Meyerhoff Greene, Mimi Haas, Bruce and Suzie Kovner, Nellie and Max Levchin, Barbro and Bernard Osher, Joanne Rosen, and Diane B. Wilsey.

Artistic partners contributing to the collection are the SF Symphony, New World Symphony, and The Bay Brass, and featured artists include Ian Bousfield, Measha Brueggergosman-Lee, Sasha Cooke, Renée Fleming, Thomas Hampson, Isabel Leonard, Audra McDonald, Ryan McKinny, Edwin Outwater, Pat Posey, Paula Robison, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Lisa Vroman, and John Wilson.