Michael Tilson Thomas first conducted the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in 1974 and has been music director since 1995. A Los Angeles native, he studied with John Crown and Ingolf Dahl at the University of Southern California, becoming music director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra at age 19. He worked with Stravinsky, Boulez, Stockhausen, and Copland at the famed Monday Evening Concerts and was pianist and conductor for the Piatigorsky and Heifetz master classes. In 1969, Mr. Tilson Thomas won the Koussevitzky Prize and was appointed assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO). Ten days later, he came to international recognition, replacing Music Director William Steinberg mid-concert at Lincoln Center. He went on to become the BSO’s principal guest conductor, and he has also served as music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and as a principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. With the London Symphony Orchestra, he has served as principal conductor and principal guest conductor; he is currently conductor laureate. He is artistic director of the New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy, which he co-founded in 1987.
Mr. Tilson Thomas’s recordings have won numerous international awards, including 12 Grammys for SFS recordings. In 2014, he inaugurated SoundBox, the San Francisco Symphony’s alternative performance space and live music series. His television credits include the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts, and in 2004 he and the SFS launched Keeping Score on PBS. His compositions include From the Diary of Anne Frank; Shówa/Shoáh; settings of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Rainer Maria Rilke; Island Music; Notturno; and, most recently, Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind.
Michael Tilson Thomas is a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, was Musical America’s Musician and Conductor of the Year, and was inducted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame in 2015. He has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2010 was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama. Most recently, he joined the California Hall of Fame and was elected to the Academy of Arts and Letters as an American Honorary Member.
Leonidas Kavakos was born and brought up in a musical family in Athens, where he still lives. The three important mentors in his life have been Stelios Kafantaris, Josef Gingold, and Ferenc Rados. By the age of 21, Mr. Kavakos had already won three major competitions: the Sibelius Competition in 1985, and the Paganini and Naumburg competitions in 1988. He followed this with the first-ever recording of the original version of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, which won the Gramophone Award for Concerto of the Year in 1991. Most recently, Mr. Kavakos was the winner of the Léonie Sonning Music Prize 2017, Denmark’s highest musical honor.
In recent seasons, Mr. Kavakos was artist-in-residence at both the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the Vienna Musikverein. He gave the European premiere of Lera Auerbach’s NYx: Fractured Dreams (Violin Concerto No. 4) with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, embarked on a European recital tour with Yuja Wang, and toured North America in trio concerts with Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax. He has also built a strong profile as a conductor, leading noted ensembles worldwide.
Mr. Kavakos is an exclusive Sony Classical recording artist. Recently, he joined Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax for a recording of Brahms’s piano trios for the label. His first solo project with Sony is Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, which he will play and conduct with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. This will be followed by a project to record the complete Bach solo sonatas and partitas.
Mr. Kavakos’s extensive discography also includes Beethoven’s violin sonatas with Enrico Pace, for which he was awarded ECHO Klassik’s Instrumentalist of the Year award; Brahms’s Violin Concerto with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra; Brahms’s violin sonatas with Yuja Wang; and Virtuoso. Recipient of Gramophone’s Artist of the Year Award for 2014, he has also recorded for the BIS, ECM, and Decca labels.
Mr. Kavakos curates an annual violin and chamber-music master class in Athens, attracting violinists and ensembles from all over the world. He plays the “Willemotte” Stradivarius violin of 1734 and owns modern violins made by F. Leonhard, S. P. Greiner, E. Haahti, and D. Bagué.
The San Francisco Symphony (SFS) gave its first concerts in 1911 and has grown in acclaim under a succession of distinguished music directors who include Henry Hadley, Alfred Hertz, Basil Cameron, Issay Dobrowen, Pierre Monteux, Enrique Jordá, Josef Krips, Seiji Ozawa, Edo de Waart, Herbert Blomstedt, and Michael Tilson Thomas, who assumed his post in 1995. The SFS has won such recording awards as France’s Grand Prix du Disque, Britain’s Gramophone Award, and the United States’ Grammy. The SFS education program Adventures in Music brings music to every child in grades 1–5 in San Francisco’s public schools. In 2004, the SFS launched the multimedia Keeping Score on PBS and the web. In 2014, the SFS inaugurated SoundBox, an experimental performance venue and music series located backstage at Davies Symphony Hall. SFS radio broadcasts, the first in the nation to feature symphonic music when they began in 1926, today carry the orchestra’s concerts across the country. For more information, go to sfsymphony.org.