WELCOME HOME, MR. THOMAS/ GLOBETROTTING CONDUCTOR SETTLES IN TO LEAD THE SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY
JOSHUA KOSMAN, CHRONICLE MUSIC CRITIC
Perhaps only Michael Tilson Thomas could take up residence in a city where he's never lived and make it seem like a homecoming.
After years of living the peripatetic life of a modern international conductor -- with homes in London, New York and Miami -- the 50-year-old musician will arrive shortly in San Francisco, ready to begin his tenure as the 11th music director of the San Francisco Symphony. And he talks about the move as if it were a long-awaited return. ... He also talked about music and his goal of placing the Symphony at the very center of San Francisco's cultural life. The first shot in that campaign was fired earlier this year when Thomas announced the schedule for his first subscription season, an exhilarating mix of standard repertoire with new and unusual music -- including an unprecedented number of works that the orchestra has never played before.
Chief among these new offerings are the works of American composers, which have never before figured so prominently in the repertoire. Thomas' programs are studded with music by Ives, Copland, Henry Cowell, Carl Ruggles, John Adams and especially Lou Harrison, who has been commissioned to write a piece for the September 6 season opener.
DISTRACTED BY EUROPEANS
"In recent years, we've perhaps been distracted by Europeans and other people whose interest was to make us believe that the really important things were happening in Berlin or Vienna or Darmstadt,'' he says. "But a big part of why I'm here is that I believe there's a lot more history to be made that is directly based on our musical past right here in San Francisco.
"Don't forget that there was a time when San Francisco was the place to be, musically -- when Cowell and (John) Cage, Harrison and all the composers connected with Mills College were developing all these innovative approaches to music.''
Innovation is a fine thing, but will it go over with the subscribers, at least some of whom tend to prefer the familiar masterpieces?
"Sure,'' Thomas says with a confident grin. "For one thing, there are plenty of old warhorses on the schedule. And also, what the audience may not know is that some of the new pieces are not full-length works -- they last 10 or 15 minutes, and are balanced by very substantial pieces of standard repertoire.
"But the main thing is that they're all very exciting and engaging pieces. There are no pieces that are there simply because they represent some style or other; I programmed all these pieces knowing how effective, thrilling, tuneful, rhythmic, provocative and attractive they are.