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Michael Tilson Thomas’s Streamed Farewell From SF Symphony

June 29, 2020

San Francisco Symphony

Whetting the appetite for hours more of his concerts in Davies Hall, the San Francisco Symphony’s 76-minute streamed tribute on Sunday to Michael Tilson Thomas did a splendid job summing up his 25 years here at the head of the orchestra.

Initial streaming of MTT25: An American Icon attracted 21,600 unique views throughout the length of the broadcast, scoring 8,685 as the highest number of viewers at any one time.

With Oliver Theil as executive producer and hundreds of participants around the world, this is — present tense as the program is staying up on YouTube — an impressive, emotional grand finale, substituting for special programs scheduled in Davies Hall but eliminated — along with all concerts through the rest of the year — by COVID-19

After a dazzling opening montage, cohosts Audra McDonald and Susan Graham spoke and sang their tributes to MTT, tracing his quarter-century presence in San Francisco, focusing on his advocacy for American music, his Leonard Bernstein-class promotion of Charles Ives, and his unfailing kindness to musicians and singers.

Members of the orchestra, former SF Symphony Resident Conductor Christian Reif, Isabel Leonard, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, Renée Fleming, and Frederica von Stade acknowledged their debt and devotion to MTT.

Warm tributes to the conductor came from Marina Mahler (the composer’s granddaughter), Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Governor Gavin Newsom, Mayor London Breed, Yo-Yo Ma, and dozens of notables, colleagues, and music stars.

Measha Brueggergosman performed the world premiere of MTT’s “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” from the poem by Emily Dickinson, followed by a memorable scene from last year’s Kennedy Center Honors as Debra Winger introduced Yuja Wang, whose performance of MTT’s “You Come Here Often?” was a highlight of the show.

Theil, who followed the YouTube conversations throughout the telecast, sent a message: “Yuja made her debut at SFS when she was 17 and has performed here almost every year since.”

Just when the viewer started missing the great orchestral performances of the past, there came a ZOOM segment of the SF Symphony in a movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.

MTT himself appeared at the end, thanking everyone, Graham leading into the grand ZOOM’d “Open Your Golden Gate” finale, with the title song of MGM’s San Francisco, played by the orchestra and sung by all participants.

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