Michael Tilson Thomas — co-founder and artistic director of the New World Symphony, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, and conductor laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra — has been selected by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as one of five honorees who will receive the 2019 Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime artistic achievements.
“Michael Tilson Thomas goes far beyond keeping score,” said Kennedy Center chair David M. Rubenstein. “He has shaped American music and musical institutions for the 21st Century.”
In a statement about receiving these honors, Thomas said, “The life of an artist, or of an arts institution, has essentially two moments. The first is inventing yourself which takes vision and gumption. The second is going the distance, sustaining the vision and sharing it. I was fortunate to grow up around people who did both. My family and my devoted teachers lived every day reaffirming the highest standards and ideals of the arts and of our nation. They understood that the arts really matter when they have a creative role in a living tradition. I am honored that the Kennedy Center, which is a living center of both arts and ideals, has chosen to recognize my work. I hope that I can be thought of as a representative for all American classical musicians at this remarkable event.”
Fellow recipients to be honored at the 42nd annual national celebration of the arts are: R&B collective Earth, Wind & Fire; actress Sally Field; singer Linda Ronstadt, and children’s television program Sesame Street. The Kennedy Center Honors medallions will be presented on Saturday, Dec. 7, at a State Department dinner, and recipients will be recognized and celebrated through performances and tributes at the 2019 Kennedy Center Honors Gala on Sunday, Dec. 8. The Honors Gala will be recorded for broadcast on the CBS Network for the 42nd consecutive year as a two-hour primetime special on Sunday, Dec. 15, at 8 p.m. ET.
Michael Tilson Thomas is an 11-time Grammy Award winner and has, over the course of his career, conducted the major orchestras of Europe and the United States.
Born in Los Angeles, he studied piano, conducting, and composition at the University of Southern California, and as a young musician worked with such artists as Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland. In his mid-20s, he became assistant conductor — and later principal guest conductor — of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which he conducted in his New York debut. He subsequently served as music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.
In 1988, he co-founded the New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy, where he prepares gifted music graduates for leadership roles in classical music. Over the years, he has guided the artistic and professional development of more than 1,100 young musicians, many of whom have gone on to careers with major orchestras and institutions.
Throughout his career, he has been an active composer, with major works including From the Diary of Anne Frank, commissioned by UNICEF and premiered in 1991 with narrator Audrey Hepburn, and Shówa/Shoáh, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.
For more information about Michael Tilson Thomas, visit michaeltilsonthomas.com.