SF Symphony to Celebrate Michael Tilson Thomas ... Remotely

Janos Gereben on May 11, 2020
Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the S.F. Symphony | Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Of the many regrets and losses in the performing arts from the coronavirus, the San Francisco Symphony’s greatest is cancellation of the current season’s June finale, which was to celebrate Michael Tilson Thomas’s 25th and final year as music director.

“Celebrating the legacy of Michael’s tenure as music director in a way that is fitting of his decades of adventurous and generous music-making with our orchestra has been something we’ve all been preparing for and looking forward to for quite some time,” said SF Symphony CEO Mark C. Hanson.

“While we are disappointed to not share in our long-planned celebrations with live audiences at this time, we are focusing our time and energy on developing and supporting new online content and experiences that will engage current and new audiences and that will celebrate the deep and lasting legacy of MTT’s vision and enthusiasm and extraordinary musical partnership with the orchestra and our community.”

The focus of the online substitute is a 25-day streaming program, according to the SFS announcement: “A forthcoming 25-day digital celebration of the remarkable 25-year tenure of MTT.” Details are still being worked out, and will be announced around the end of May; SFCV will carry the information when it becomes available.

Ragnar Bohlin directs the SFS Chorus in a season of emphasis on choral works | Credit: Stefan Cohen

MTT himself spoke of being “greatly saddened” by the cancellation, saying that “We would have been performing essential works in which we have developed our special sound, style, and collaboration. It would have been such a joy to share our innovative tradition with our audiences and to savor once again how much we have grown together during these last 25 years.”

Those works include Mahler, of course, the composer MTT has been consistently associated during his tenure, with several performances and recordings of Mahler’s symphonic cycle. Another MTT “specialty” has been semistaged concert performances of operas, so the season was to end with big vocal works, Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman and Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, (“Symphony of a Thousand”).

MTT with Yo-Yo Ma | Courtesy: New World Symphony

While waiting for the “25 days/25 years” project, there are many ways to follow MTT and listen to his work, beginning with his own website, where he currently highlights New World Symphony archives. In addition to NWS and SFS, his ongoing activities also involve the London Symphony Orchestra, where he is conductor laureate.

Significantly and realistically, MTT lists as his next concerts in San Francisco as Oct. 30 – Nov. 1, Higgins, Concerto for Trombone and Mahler: Symphony No. 1; Nov. 5–8, Beethoven, Missa solemnis.

Free streaming of the MTT-SFS documentary-performance combinations remains available

Thanks to the SF Symphony’s release for free streaming, MTT’s best work with SFS remains available online in the nine documentary-performance presentations of Keeping Score. They are described on MTT’s website as “Explorations into the stories behind the music, discoveries for all, insights for curious listeners, educators, students, and everyone in between.”

Here are the episodes in series:  

* Aaron Copland and the American Sound
* Dmitri Shostakovich — Symphony No. 5
* Charles Ives — A Symphony: New England Holidays
* Part 1: Mahler Origins — Symphony No. 1
* Part 2: Mahler Legacy — A Mahler Journey
* Berlioz — Symphonie fantastique
* Stravinsky — Rite of Spring
* Tchaikovsky — Symphony No. 4
* Beethoven — Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”

Links to all programs are available via the SF Symphony’s YouTube Channel.

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