In 2007, as he neared the completion of his recordings of the full cycle of Mahler’s symphonies with the San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas discussed what makes these performances unusual.
“My perspective has always been to encourage sections of the orchestra—as well as soloists with the orchestra—to feel a great deal of freedom of inflection in the music, with a great awareness of the source of the music’s inspiration.”
“[That source] might be cabaret music or military music or Jewish music or folk music from different parts of the world. Or religious music, maybe, or something very beautiful and burnished or something quite rangy and grotesque.”
“Artists in an orchestra can sometimes feel, in their relationship to the general situation of the orchestra or even to some conductor who is there, that they must show a certain amount of restraint….So it has been part of a larger process—a process of their having the confidence that I was, indeed, asking them to do something that was ‘outside the lines’—which involves the artists taking the lead in creating the particular color or the particular direction or the particular sound of the music.”
Quoted from “Outside the lines” by David Templeton (Strings XXII/3:152 [October 2007] pp. 52–59).
Today is Thomas’s 70th birthday! Below, he leads the SFS with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in the Urlicht movement from Mahler’s second symphony.