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Michael Tilson Thomas

Headshot of Michael Tilson Thomas wearing a suit.
Photo by Art Streiber. Courtesy of San Francisco Symphony.

(b. 1944)

California Connection

  • Born in Los Angeles, CA; educated at University of Southern California and current San Francisco Symphony Music Director


Biography current as of induction in 2017

Conductor and composer Michael Tilson Thomas is Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Symphony and Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra.

At age 19, Tilson Thomas became Music Director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra in Los Angeles. He worked with Stravinsky, Boulez, Stockhausen and Copland on premieres of their compositions for Monday Evening Concerts.

In 1969, after winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood Music Center, he was appointed Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. That same year he made his New York debut with the Boston Symphony, where he gained international recognition after replacing Music Director William Steinberg mid-concert. He served as Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1969 to 1974, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1971 to 1979 and a Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1981 to 1985. 

In 1988, he launched the New World Symphony, a post-graduate orchestral academy. As Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra from 1988 to 1995, he led regular tours in Europe, the U.S. and Japan.

Tilson Thomas became Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony in 1995. Under his tenure, the symphony has presented 18 festivals and received international acclaim. To date, he has recorded more than 120 albums, 11 of which have won Grammy Awards®.

Selected Awards/Recognition

  • Knight of the Legion of Honor, France
  • National Medal of Arts
  • Peabody Award

View more inductees from the 11th class, inducted in 2017.