Michael Tilson Thomas
- Category : Conductor
- Type : ME
- Profile : 3/5 - Martyr / Heretic
- Definition : Split - Small (13,20,48)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX The Vessel of Love 4
American director and conductor of the Boston Symphony from the age of 26, who started playing piano by ear at the age of five, and became a pianist with the great orchestras, achieving assistant conductor status by age 25.
Thomas grew up in Los Angeles, the only child of a mother who taught junior high and also worked in research for Columbia Pictures, and a father who was a self-taught musician working in the movie business. His grandparents had been founders of the Yiddish Theatre in New York, and their friends included George Gershwin. Thomas was playing the piano by ear by age five, and began formal studies at age ten.
He entered the University of Southern California in 1962 as a music major and during his sophomore year was appointed conductor of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra of Los Angeles, a post he held for four years. Thomas graduated summa cum laude from USC in 1968 with a Master’s in music, a year that also saw him win the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Koussevitzky prize and conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the first time.
By age 25, he already had a national reputation as an assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which he first conducted on 10/22/1969 with only one month’s experience when its music director fell ill before the performance. Thomas went on to conduct 37 concerts for the Boston Symphony, and he stayed with them through 1974, while also holding the title of music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1971 to 1979.
He was tapped by close friend Leonard Bernstein to take Bernstein’s role as music director of the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts, which he conducted from 1971-1977. At the same time, he was serving as a guest conductor throughout Europe and America, as well as in Los Angeles. He later served as principal guest conductor of the Philharmonic from 1981 to 1985.
In 1978, he was arrested at Kennedy airport for carrying small amounts of cocaine and marijuana, after which he plea-bargained and was charged with disorderly conduct. During the ‘70s and ‘80s, he lost out on some important jobs, but used the time to work on projects and to start the New World Symphony in 1988, a Miami-based training orchestra. In September 1988, he became music director of the London Symphony a post he held until 1995.
In the ‘90s, he moved to San Francisco with long-time partner and production manager, Joshua Robison, to become music director of the San Francisco Symphony.