The San Francisco Symphony announced today that Michael Tilson Thomas will conclude his tenure as Music Director of the Symphony at the end of the 2019-2020 season. It will be his 25th season as Music Director (and the 45th anniversary of his debut with the orchestra), and he’ll also celebrate his 75th birthday that December. His new title will be Music Director Laureate, and he will conduct the orchestra for at least four weeks each season, as well as leading them in special projects.
During his time on the podium the Symphony has won 8 Grammy Awards, as well as prestigious recording awards from Germany and France, toured the world, commissioned new works from composers like John Adams, Mason Bates and Charles Wuorinen, created a video series (Keeping Score: MTT on Music) and a radio show (13 Days that Changed Music History), and helped launch the Symphony’s innovative Soundbox series. MTT himself has received the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the U.S. government, presented by President Barack Obama in 2010; Columbia University’s Ditson Award for Services to American Music, and the President’s Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He was named Musician of the Year and Conductor of the Year by Musical America, Gramophone’s Artist of the Year, and inducted into the magazine’s Hall of Fame. MTT has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres of France.
So who will succeed MTT on the podium at Davies Symphony Hall? There have been some names thrown around, including basically anyone who has conducted the Symphony regularly and who gets great results from the players. It also seems likely to be someone who will build on the Symphony’s commitment to new music. Will it be an American like the distinguished veteran David Robertson or a dynamic young European like Pablo Heras-Casado or Krzystof Urbanski? Will a woman like Susanna Malkki get the chance? Let the speculation begin!