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    A Musical Maverick in His Prime: Michael Tilson Thomas


    Michael Tilson Thomas just turned 70, proving that the big 7-0 can be as sexy, passionate and vibrant as the steamiest climaxes ever set to music. Tilson Thomas is our own musical maverick who is still very much in his prime. Always out and proud, he is arguably the first LGBT conductor to achieve worldwide prominence at the highest levels while remaining true to himself, including his sexuality. Our entire community has benefited as a result.


    Over the years, for example, Tilson Thomas has commissioned works from David Del Tredici and others who address LGBT themes in their compositions. Del Tredici’s piece Gay Life chronicles everything from the highs of sexual liberation to the agonizing lows of losing a loved one to AIDS. Tilson Thomas’ own compositions, such as Three Poems by Walt Whitman and We Two Boys Together Clinging, have not shied away frAom intimacy between men. Such works have, in stunningly beautiful and emotional ways, helped to open the hearts and minds of audiences.

    Tilson Thomas also serves as a powerful role model. His work ethic and achievements continue to astound. He has won a mind-boggling 11 Grammy Awards (representing the symphonies, choruses and more under his baton), not to mention a Peabody Award and the National Medal of Arts, which is America’s highest honor specifically given for achievement in the arts conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the people.

    In November 2014, Tilson Thomas married Joshua Mark Robison, his partner of 38 years who is also now his career manager. The two met years ago at Hollywood’s Walter Reed Junior High School orchestra. Robison played cello, while Tilson Thomas played oboe and piano. It goes without saying that the two have been making beautiful music ever since.

    The best is yet to come, though, starting with a special all-star MTT Birthday Gala concert on January 15 at Davies Symphony Hall. The program will honor Tilson Thomas’ distinguished career as a conductor, pianist, and composer. The evening’s concert will be centered around Liszt’s Hexameron for Six Pianos and Orchestra, featuring Tilson Thomas in a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration with five of today’s foremost pianists: Yuja Wang, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Emanuel Ax, Jeremy Denk, and Marc-André Hamelin. Tilson Thomas himself will join in as the sixth pianist. Attendees can additionally expect to see performers from Beach Blanket Babylon and other surprise guests.

    On the occasion of his 70th birthday and amidst the celebration of his 20th season as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, Tilson Thomas said, “I still feel like very much the same person. My outlook on life, my idealism, wanting to work with people in a way that is collaborative—I think those are very much the same. The music, and the opportunity to work with great orchestras and musicians day in and day out gives me the most energy and joy.”

    For more information about the MTT Birthday Gala, please go to