Just in: San Francisco Symphony wipes out its maestro’s farewell

Just in: San Francisco Symphony wipes out its maestro’s farewell


norman lebrecht

April 29, 2020

The San Francisco Symphony today cancelled all concerts until September, ending Michael Tilson Thomas’s 25 years as music director without allowing him a chance to say farewell.

It has also cut pay for musicians, chorus, and stagehands by 25% on average. MTT will not be paid for the cancelled concerts.

‘We would have been performing essential works in which we have developed our special sound, style and collaboration,’ he said. ‘It would have been such a joy to share our innovative tradition with our audiences and to savor once again how much we have grown together during these last 25 years. I’m looking forward to our making music together in the future in my new role as Music Director Laureate.’



  • CA says:

    I hope that the administrative staff are also sharing in the pay cuts on some level. If they are not, that is plain wrong. At least those making over $X amount salary need to take a cut too, if they haven’t.

    • Anon SF says:

      All staff salaries above $125k have been cut, CEO pay has also been cut significantly. Future cuts likely in the works. Thanks for your concern.

    • Skippy says:

      Fair enough, but it’s not as if management’s responsibilities have waned in this crisis. For example, Volpe at Boston took a 50% pay cut with the musicians’ 20% cut. Nevertheless, he’s still working full-time.

    • Elizabeth Barnes says:

      The press statement on their website confirms administrative staff taking a cut too.

  • John Rook says:

    MTT and SF are indissociable. I hope he’ll be honoured when the time is right.

    • Cubs Fan says:

      Why “indissociable”? I still fondly recall the eras with Ozawa, de Waart, and Blomstedt. The latter in particular made some fantastic recordings. I still regret not having gone there when Krips was in town…
      But if EPS can do for San Francisco what he did in LA, the SFO will be in for a good time!

      • John Rook says:

        Agree concerning EPS, but Tilson Thomas always had something SF about him, even when he wasn’t there. A bit like Colin Davis and the LSO.

      • Edgar says:

        I lived in SF through most of MTT’s tenure, and I look back fondly on the music experiences I had there. The most -more- exiting performances I witnessed, howver, wereoutside SF: in Prague (Mahler 2 in Smetana Hall in May 2011), Mahler 6 in Vienna (Konzerthalle, the better hall imho, May 2011), and in NY’s Carnegie Hall in a program of music by Cage, Ruggles, and Feldman. As operatic conductor MTT is engraved in my memory with a superb Fidelio, a superb Holländer, and a superb Grimes. I left SF in 2016, and by then the orchestra and its music director had gotten a bit tired of each other. MTT’s Big Bang Farewell would have been Mahler 8. C’est d’hommage. Once EPS gets down to work with the SFS, I hope the sparks will fly. Post-corona music making and -experiencing. EPS might just be the one put in place by The Universe for this demanding task, pace MTT.

        • Paul says:

          You wrote “C’est d’hommage”, but actually …
          il devait être un hommage …
          et maintenant c’est dommage.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Don’t ask me to cry tears over MTT’s ‘bye-bye’. He was rude and dismissive to my staff at the Tower Records Classical Annex in S.F., and he was dismissive to customers who came to the ‘meet and greet’ sessions to get autographs and have a chance to say “hi”. I witnessed it all. We had a meeting with KDFC staff and S.F. Symphony staff, and decided not to have any future ‘meet and greet’ events. The way he treated my staff appalls me to this day. We sold tons of his now mediocre Mahler cycle. Maybe it was a reaction to having his Mavericks series cancelled, but MTT has constantly repeated Ives, Copland, Gershwin and Mahler. Nothing wrong with any of those composers, but it’s been like a broken record. Good riddance, in my book.

    • Stuart says:

      It is good to see that you have gotten past it…

    • Greg Bottini says:

      To confirm Barry’s statements, MTT WAS rude and condescending towards the staff. And, do you remember, Barry, when he came into the store he always brought those two big dogs of his?
      A real piece of work, is MTT.
      Can’t agree with you about his musical side, though.

    • Jan Kaznowski says:

      MTT was very rude to an interviewer who asked about his friendship with Bernstein. Why do you people always have to bring up Lenny ? etc.
      Good riddance

    • Anon says:

      Why do you constantly troll every single SF Symphony related social media post? Seriously Barry, no one cares about what you think of MTT or anyone in the SF Symphony family. Leave your annoying opinions to yourself.

      • Barry Guerrero says:

        I’m not alone. Read the other opinions. I don’t care how he dealt with me (if he even noticed). I DO care that he treated my staff like garbage, as they were enthusiastic to be accommodating to MTT. He squelched that enthusiasm. I also care that he was rude to customers who came to meet him, thus making the ‘meet and greets’ short and all about him. But maybe even more to the point, we should go back to the beginning of MTT’s tenure. Why was it that the local major newspaper critic (I won’t name him), along with a few symphony musicians, tried to spread the lie that Herbert Blomstedt didn’t really know what he was doing? Answer that. The MTT era is over with. Move on. What goes around comes around.

      • Bruce says:

        I think his comments are interesting, and I enjoy reading them.

    • Wilber says:

      Oh I believe it because I’ve been in the trenches for decades. And the arrogance is amplified since classical musicians are not really as relevant in 2020 as they were in say 1985.

      I got into music simply because of the joy that an old electric organ in my grandparents’ house brought me as well as seeing the high school band play when I was in elementary school. But it took six years at Juilliard, a few appearances at Carnegie, and a lot of BS to tell me that we have some serious A-holes involved in this beautiful art. It’s tragic because there are some really wonderful people caught up in the mess who end up doing things they don’t want to do due to politics.

    • Andy says:

      How’s that job at Tower working out for you?

    • Bruce says:

      Yeah, it’s funny how that Mahler cycle just kind of disappeared.

    • Dennis says:

      I’m curious about this: “…his now mediocre Mahler cycle.” So, it wasn’t, and then it suddenly was mediocre at some point? When did this change take place, and how?

  • Bone says:

    I was so fortunate to be in attendance at the concert the eve he was announced as the next director. The electricity that night…easily one of the top musical experiences of my life (Mariss Jansons playing Shosty 7 with Oslo is pretty high up there, too).
    Best wishes for an appropriate closure to this important tenure in American orchestra history. Hope future generations get to enjoy the fine recordings of American music that MTT and SFO made.

  • MusicLover60 says:

    Ah man I was looking forward those concerts. How am I supposed to take a nap now?

  • Rob says:

    MTT would have gone out with Mahler 8.

  • MacroV says:

    The same is surely going to happen to Kent Nagano in Montreal, also finishing up his tenure this season.

  • fflambeau says:

    Somehow, I think MTT can suffer the economic losses.

    I’m sure, SF will honor him soon. He still remains as a conductor emeritus.

  • Karl says:

    Kent Nagano’s planned farewell in Montreal may get wiped out too. The OSM website says; “As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government of Quebec has issued a directive forbidding all indoor and outdoor festivals and public cultural events from now until the end of August 2020. In light of this, the Classical Spree as well as the grand concert on the Esplanade of Olympic Park, which was scheduled to take place from August 6 to 9, is cancelled.”