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S.F. Symphony to Name Michael Tilson Thomas’s Successor

December 4, 2018

In the 107 years since the first concert on Dec. 8, 1911, San Francisco Symphony has had only nine music directors — impressive individual records of longevity among major orchestras, where the conductor’s tenure is usually a decade or less. Six of the S.F. Symphony’s music directors served longer than that.

The current maestro, Michael Tilson Thomas, will have served 25 years when he steps down from the podium (remaining music director laureate) at the end of the next season.

And so news today of an announcement coming on Wednesday about MTT’s successor-to-be created a buzz, especially as most Symphony-watchers did not expect this development until early next year.

As at the announcement of MTT’s retirement plans in October, 2017 — and ever since — gossip and rumors about who the next music director will be have been at a minimum: “We have no clue,” say even the insiders.

Significantly, the appointment follows by days the announcement of a new four-year labor contract between the Symphony and the musicians, assuring a stable future on that front.

Complicating the guessing game is the unusually busy picture around the world of conductors coming and going. As compiled recently by Lisa Hirsch, the roster shows some three dozen well-known conductors looking for assignment.

Speculation for the S.F. Symphony post has focused on young and youngish talent, some with local experience, such as James Gaffigan, Pablo Heras-Casado, Cristian Măcelaru, and Lionel Bringuier. There are also numerous women conductors among the up-and-coming.

The appointment to be announced Wednesday will take the 10th spot on this distinguished list:

Henry Hadley, 1911–1914
Alfred Hertz, 1915–1930
Pierre Monteux, 1936–1952
Enrique Jordá, 1954–1962
Josef Krips, 1963–1970
Seiji Ozawa, 1970–1976
Edo de Waart, 1977–1984
Herbert Blomstedt, 1985–1995
Michael Tilson Thomas, 1995–2020

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].