Michael Tilson Thomas Looks to His Final Season as SF Symphony Music Director

2 min
Michael Tilson Thomas. (Brandon Patoc)

Michael Tilson Thomas says one of the best things about being music director of the San Francisco Symphony is the variety. 

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"I was very lucky to find an atmosphere here in San Francisco that allowed me to do quite a lot of experimentation," says Thomas, who opens his final season as the symphony's music director on Wednesday at Davies Symphony Hall after 25 years in the role.

A glance at the orchestra’s upcoming roster is enough to get a sense of the conductor’s careening musical tastes. The first few concerts of the season include 19th-century Austrian composer Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 and a collaboration with Metallica.

The heavy metal band and the San Francisco Symphony perform together on Sept. 6 to mark the official opening of the Chase Center, the Golden State Warriors’ new home.

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Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, a regular concertgoer at Davies Symphony Hall, says he loves watching Thomas in action on the podium.

"Every time, it’s an incredibly enriching experience," Ulrich says.

Discussing his views on his role, Thomas says cultural institutions have a responsibility to enrich people’s lives beyond entertainment.

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"I do believe that arts organizations should be involved in presenting progressive social issues," he says.

He points to recent San Francisco Symphony performances benefiting California wildfire victims and LGBTQ+ nonprofits in honor of Pride.

The 74-year-old conductor is looking forward to continuing his relationship with the San Francisco Symphony as Music Director Laureate.

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"I get to do whatever music I want with this wonderful orchestra," he says. "And I have virtually no administrative responsibilities."

Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s former music director, will take over from Thomas next fall.

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