Michael Tilson Thomas is pictured in 1993, when he was San Francisco Symphony’s music director designate. (Courtesy San Francisco Symphony)

SF Symphony super sizes MTT’s farewell season

Beloved music director leads big shows in 25th year with orchestra

Michael Tilson Thomas is about to launch a significant, deeply meaningful San Francisco Symphony season. It will be his 25th and final year of being music director of the orchestra before yielding the baton to Esa-Pekka Salonen in 2020.

After the conclusion of the season in June, he’ll become music director laureate, expected to conduct a few times each season while maintaining his residency here.

“From my very first encounter with the San Francisco Symphony in 1974,” he says, referring to a guest-conducting engagement, “I was aware of the daring spirit of this orchestra and this city. That spirit has been very much at the center of our long and meaningful relationship.

“It takes a very special environment of people who have worked together and deeply trust one another to make music magical, and that is what has happened these last 25 years. This season is very much about celebrating the relationships we have built together,” says the conductor, 74, who encourages colleagues and fans to call him MTT.

The MTT-SFS partnership has included acclaimed tours of the U.S., Europe and Asia, along with numerous awards and accolades; 12 of the orchestra’s 15 Grammy Awards came during MTT’s tenure.

SFS Chief Executive Officer Mark C. Hanson says, “The warm and genuinely close relationship that Michael has not just with the members of the orchestra, but with our entire community, is something unique and wonderful to see. Long-term relationships are deeply important to Michael, and the resulting journey of generous and adventurous music making has been our shared reward.”

At the 2019-20 season’s opening concert on Wednesday, MTT, 74 (he turns 75 Dec. 21) and his husband Joshua Robison will be celebrated as gala honorees. Together for 43 years, they married in 2014.

The conductor responded to the announcement by thanking The City, which, he said, “has been welcoming and generous to me ever since the first day I visited as a child. It has allowed me and Joshua, my husband, to be a part of this remarkable community in the fullest and richest sense.”

The opening concert, which is sold out, will be the first big statement of a departure with a bang, not a whimper.

“Big music” from end to end characterizes the season (which, of course will have quiet, lyrical moments as well) from the majestic choral “Ode to Joy” movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the gala to season-closing behemoths of the Wagner opera “The Flying Dutchman” (June 11-15) and Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, “Symphony of a Thousand” (June 25-28_.

Programmed by MTT, the 2019-20 season features 31 subscription programs and numerous special events for a total of 187 concerts, a good many conducted by MTT, who took a career-first medical leave just two months ago for a long-delayed heart surgery. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic called the procedure a “complete success,” and the conductor is returning to full schedule both in San Francisco and at his New World Symphony in Miami.

IF YOU GO

San Francisco Symphony

Conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

Tickets: $35 to $165

Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org

Upcoming concerts

Mahler’s Sixth Symphony: 8 p.m. Sept. 12-14; 2 p.m. Sept. 15

Rachmaninov and John Adams: 2 p.m. Sept. 19 and Sept. 22; 8 p.m. Sept. 20-21

Stravinsky and Haydn: 8 p.m. Sept. 26-28

Classical Music

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MTT closes out 25 years with the symphony in the 2019-20 season. (Courtesy Mark Mahaney)

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