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With the titles music director of the San Francisco Symphony, artistic director of the New World Symphony, and principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas has built quite a reputation for himself in the music industry. He is internationally known as a composer and a conductor, combining his own eclectic style with various American music styles. During his career he has worked with such music greats as Igor Stravinsky, Pierre Boulez, and Aaron Copland.
Michael Tilson Thomas was born in Los Angeles in 1944. He was musically influenced by his family, who had been artistically inclined for three generations. He began studying piano at the University of Southern California with John Crown and conducting and composing classes with Ingolf Dahl. By the age of 19, he was appointed music director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra. During this time Tilson Thomas was also pianist and conductor for Gregor Piatigorsky and Jascha Heifetz.
Tilson Thomas became assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1969 after winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood. He gained international recognition with the orchestra when he replaced William Steinberg, during a New York performance in 1969. He became principal guest conductor of the orchestra, where he stayed until 1974. From there his accomplishments included music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and principal conductor of the Great Woods Music Festival. In the summer of 1990, Tilson Thomas and Leonard Bernstein began the Pacific Music Festival in Japan. During the summers of years thereafter, he returned to Japan to be the artistic director of the festival.
Besides performing and conducting worldwide, Tilson Thomas recognizes the need for helping music graduates gain experience. In 1988 he created the New World Symphony, a training symphony for graduates of music conservatories. The symphony has trained many young men and women who have acquired employment in orchestras and symphonies worldwide. He himself led the symphony on a tour of the United States in 1991. The tour featured his composition From the Diary of Anne Frank. Since its debut, this piece has been heard all around the world in a variety of languages.
In 1995 Tilson Thomas became the 11th music director of the San Francisco Symphony. After he took this position, the orchestra toured the United States, Europe, and Asia and gained international recognition. The orchestra also signed an exclusive five-year contract with BMG Classics/RCA Red Seal under the direction of Tilson Thomas. The first release under the label, Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, won a Grammy Award in 1997 for Best Orchestral Performance. Tilson Thomas and the orchestra also created the cross-platform educational series Keeping Score, and in the 2014-2015 season celebrated the 20th year of their partnership.
Aside from his appointments for the various orchestras, Tilson Thomas also likes to spend time on composing. In 1995, he was commissioned by Hiroshima, Japan to compose a piece for their 50th anniversary of the bombing of the city, a work he entitled Shówa/Shoáh. Among his other compositions are Three Poems by Walt Whitman, for baritone and orchestra; Street Song for brass quintet; and Notturno for chamber ensemble.
Michael Tilson Thomas is known as one of the busiest conductors of the present era. He has been internationally recognized for his conducting, composing, and performing and still travels and performs worldwide.