KDFC’s Rik Malone with Michael Tilson Thomas
This spring, Michael Tilson Thomas wraps up his 25 year tenure as the Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony. To celebrate, we’re sending him off with a series of broadcasts Tuesday nights at 8pm on air and on demand. We’re also taking this opportunity to reflect on our own personal histories with MTT. See what some of our hosts had to say below and share your memories in the comments below!
There are too many moments to choose from! MTT is the consummate entertainer, and usually unflappable, even when surprised (which didn’t happen often). I think the only time I ever saw MTT lose his cool on stage in any way was the Opening Night Gala in 2003, when – seconds before the end of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite – the fire alarm went off! It didn’t take long for him to regain it, though – after a few minutes waiting for the alarm to stop, he finally put down his baton and said “Well, I guess that’s it, then. Let’s go party!”
I remember more than 25 years ago, attending the first San Francisco Symphony concert he conducted after being named Music Director Designate. He chose to perform Scheherazade on the first half of the concert and The Rite of Spring on the second half. Every second was riveting! I’ll never forget the ovation he received when he first walked out on stage! I can’t imagine a better conductor/orchestra fit than MTT and the SFS; a match made in heaven.
I am forever grateful for the Keeping Score series with MTT’s storytelling and enthusiasm for favorite composers and monumental works. Whether you have a lifelong love of classical music, or are a newcomer, there is so much to learn in these documentaries and performances. SF Symphony is streaming the entire series for free during the stay-at-home orders.
Long before I ever got to KDFC, I was working for NPR, and we were going to present a series of live broadcasts across the country to commemorate New Year’s Eve 1999 and the arrival of 2000 (in four back-to-back time zones). MTT had only been Music Director for a little more than four years at that point. The concert included Audra MacDonald and Frederica von Stade, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and, in a nod to his parents’ Jewish musical theater past, the San Francisco Klezmer experience. By the time the West Coast experienced Y2K, everyone was fairly certain that disaster wasn’t going to strike at midnight, and had a wonderful time – and you could already see the mutual love shared between Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco community.
Around 2000, when I was new to KDFC, we had a Sunday brunch show live at the Hotel Nikko in SF. I was the host and we’d try to line up musical guests and one
Sunday it was MTT. I was very nervous about interviewing him and exposing my lack of extensive musical knowledge. He couldn’t have been more supportive and charming. I think he realized what the show was about and was prepared to make the SFS, himself and yours truly shine as best he could. I became an even bigger fan of MTT that day.
Do you have any favorite memories? Let us know in the comments below.