Michael Tilson Thomas, the San Francisco Symphony’s music director from 1995 to 2020 and founding conductor of the New World Symphony in Miami, has announced his semi-retirement from the Florida ensemble and plans to scale back his other activities as he copes with an aggressive form of brain cancer.
The 77-year-old conductor last summer underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment for glioblastoma, and is currently in remission, he reported in a statement. “But the future is uncertain as glioblastoma is a stealthy adversary. Its recurrence is, unfortunately, the rule rather than the exception.”
Tilson Thomas is scheduled to conduct the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington in two programs of staples of his repertory, American music and Mahler (the “Resurrection” Symphony [No. 2 in C minor]) between March 25 and April 1 at the Kennedy Center.
His schedule in coming months includes engagements with the Cleveland Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra, as well as the New World Symphony, with which he will play a laureate role after retiring as music director. He also plans to continue composing.
The New World Symphony, founded by Tilson Thomas in 1987, is this country’s premier post-graduate orchestral academy, selected from alumni of leading conservatories who after fellowships in Miami typically are hired by professional orchestras and educational institutions in the US and abroad.
For some years, the Richmond Symphony has recruited musicians from this source, notably as principal players. Current New World Symphony alumni are the symphony’s first-stand violinists, concertmaster Daisuke Yamamoto and assistant concertmaster Adrian Pintea; acting associate principal second violinist Jeannette Jang; violinist Stacy Matthews; and four wind principals – oboist Victoria Chung, clarinetist David Lemelin, bassoonist Thomas Schneider and French horn player Dominic Rotella.