Tilson Thomas Steps Down as Artistic Director of New World Symphony

The conductor reveals in a letter that he has an aggressive form of brain cancer, and will be reducing his administrative responsibilities 

(Photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony)


American conductor Michael Tilson Thomas wrote a letter to friends in the industry, announcing that he will be stepping down as Artistic Director of the New World Symphony (NWS), and transitioning to the role of Artistic Director Laureate.

Sadly, Tilson Thomas has made this decision due to his diagnosis of Glioblastoma Multiforme, an aggressive brain cancer. In the letter he writes, "Currently, the cancer is in check. But the future is uncertain as Glioblastoma is a stealthy adversary. Its recurrence is, unfortunately, the rule rather than the exception. I'm taking stock of my life and will be reducing my administrative responsibilities."

After co-founding the NWS with Lin and Ted Arison 34 years ago, Tilson Thomas will now work with the NWS Fellows and Alumni on upcoming projects, in addition to leading orchestras throughout the United States and Europe this season and next.

"I intend to stick around for a bit," the letter continues. "Creating and collaborating to make great music is what it's all about for me. Every moment on stage with my colleagues is memorable."

In August 2021, Tilson Thomas announced that he would step back from performing for a few months to recover from surgery. He returned in November 2021, leading the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony (SFS), and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 20 concerts.

"My turn to performing these last months has been very special. Making music with these great artists and for so many friends in the audience felt like coming home, like coming back to life. I couldn't have been happier."

Tilson Thomas' impressive conducting career has also seen him become the SFS music director laureate and conductor laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra. He has won eleven Grammys for his recordings, is the recipient of the National Medal of Arts and the 2019 Kennedy Center Honors, and is an Officier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France.

"I will continue to compose, to write, and to mull over your thoughts and mine. I'm planning more time to wonder, wander, cook, and spend time with loved ones - two legged and four. Life is precious."