Michael Tilson Thomas, who announced his retirement from the San Francisco Symphony last night, has his champions and detractors like every other conductor of his generation.
But looking over the half-century span of his career one has to be struck by the old-fashioned virtues that inform it.
1 MTT has only ever been music director of three orchestras: Buffalo (1971-1979), London Symphony Orchestra (1988-1995 and San Francisco (1995-2020).
2 He never flitted between two jobs, never squeezed other dates into long tours. He committed to the job.
3 Aside from his three successive posts, he founded and continues to lead the New World Symphony, probably America’s most important training orchestra.
4 He never bothered with opera.
5 While he made plenty of recordings, these were not a career motivation. He loves giving concerts.
Some of these old-fashioned virtues may have been imbued from his mentor (below), but it has been a while since a leading conductor had so well defined a career.