Michael Tilson Thomas Hands in His Baton After 25 Years at the San Francisco Symphony

By Anna Pulley

Michael Tilson Thomas (affectionately known as M.T.T.) announced recently that the 2019–20 season of the San Francisco Symphony will be his last as musical director.

Tilson Thomas debuted with SFS in 1974 when he was just 29, conducting Mahler‘s Ninth Symphony. He officially became the orchestra’s 11th musical director in 1995. The 2019–2020 Season will mark his 75th birthday and his 25th year leading the symphony.


“Looking back over these decades I am filled with gratitude for the extraordinary artistic partnership I have had with the members of the orchestra and for the warm and generous style of music making we have shared with all of our audiences,” said Tilson Thomas.

Under his helm, M.T.T. blazed a trail that showcased core masterworks by composers such as Mahler, Beethoven, and Schumann, as well as pioneers in his American Mavericks series, which included Charles Ives, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Carl Ruggles, John Cage, Henry Cowell, and Aaron Copland, among others.

He also significantly expanded SFS’s education and community programs, and championed unconventional programming with SoundBox, the small nightclub-esque space home to experimental sound art and offbeat repertoire. (Read our review of a SoundBox show here.)

Those bereft over the loss of such an exceptional music partnership, fear not: M.T.T. won’t permanently exit the stage. Following his last season, Tilson Thomas will take on the title of Music Director Laureate of SFS, and will conduct the orchestra for a minimum of four weeks a season, in addition to other special projects.