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Robert Cohen

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  • Born: Los Angeles, CA
  • Years Active: 1980s, 1990s, 2000s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

With the titles Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, Artistic Director of the New World Symphony, Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, and Artistic Director of the Pacific Music Festival, 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 Thomas was also pianist and conductor for Gregor Piatigorsky and Jascha Heifetz and was the assistant conductor at the Bayreuth Festival.

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 his New York debut 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, Thomas accompanied Leonard Bernstein to Japan for the first Pacific Music Festival. During the summers of years thereafter, Thomas returned to Japan to be the artistic director of the festival.

Besides performing and conducting worldwide, 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 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 Thomas. Their first release under the label, Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, won a Grammy Award in 1997 for Best Orchestral Performance. The orchestra has also released Mahler's Das Klagende Lied, the fourth release for Thomas and the orchestra.

Aside from his appointments for the various orchestras, 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. The piece has since become part of his First Symphony. Among his compositions are a collection of after-hours songs, Teddy's Tunes; three piano preludes; four preludes on Playthings of the Wind for the London Symphony Orchestra; and an orchestral work titled Graduation Day.

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.

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