Michael Tilson Thomas Salutes an Old Friend in SF Symphony's New Season

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Leonard Bernstein in 1955. The famed conductor and composer is the subject of tributes during the San Francisco Symphony's new season. (Courtesy San Francisco Symphony)

When he was 24, an illness subtly steered the course of Michael Tilson Thomas' fate. In the middle of a concert by the Boston Symphony, conductor William Steinberg suddenly wasn't feeling well. Tilson Thomas was called in to replace him, and reviews were overwhelmingly positive.

Moreover, Tilson Thomas' last-minute fill-in echoed another famous substitute act: Leonard Bernstein's taking over for Bruno Walter at the New York Philharmonic, at age 25. The two seemed destined to meet, and when they did, a historic bond was forged.

For the San Francisco Symphony's just-announced upcoming season, Tilson Thomas pays tribute to his old friend and mentor. Throughout the season will be performances of Bernstein works both famous and obscure: Candide and West Side Story alongside The Age of Anxiety and Divertimento, among others.

Peppered throughout the season are guest artists, like Yo-Yo Ma, Hillary Hahn, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Behzod Abduraimov, Gautier Capuçon and more. In the opera realm, there's a semi-staged production of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, in the original Russian. And in San Francisco Symphony tradition, the season also includes five works by living composers, including a commission by Charles Wuorinen.

Daniil Trifonov, the Russian pianist who returns for a season-long residency, including a performance of Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 3.
Daniil Trifonov, the Russian pianist who returns for a season-long residency, including a performance of Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 3. (Dario Acosta / Deutsche Grammophon)

With Tilson Thomas now the longest-tenured conductor of any major U.S. orchestra, at 70 years old, many are viewing the Symphony's guest conductors as applicants undergoing an informal audition. Conducting music from their home countries are Krysztof Urbański, Susanna Mälkki, Semyon Bychkov, Osmo Vänskä, and Herbert Blomstedt; conducting contemporary works are Juraj Valčuha, Pablo Heras-Casado, Stéphane Denève, and David Robertson; and looking back on the work of Ravel is Charles Dutoit.


Charles Ives' Symphonies No. 3 and 4 make an appearance, as does Gershwin's An American in Paris. In the film series, on the heels of the Symphony's Vertigo film performance comes another Bernard Herrmann collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock, North By Northwest, as well as Home Alone, Batman, West Side Story and Amadeus. And the nightclub experience SoundBox makes its return.

For full details on the upcoming season, see here.