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Brain tumor forces Michael Tilson Thomas to withdraw from KenCen event

Written By | Aug 7, 2021
Michael Tilson Thomas, Kennedy Center, NSO, brain tumor

Michael Tilson Thomas. Public domain photo, via Wikipedia entry on the conductor.

WASHINGTON – Friday, August 6, widely respected orchestra conductor and pianist Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) announced via Twitter that he recently underwent treatment for a brain tumor. Subsequently, the sudden news shocked his many friends, fans and supporters. He was to appear here next month during the Kennedy Center 50th Anniversary Celebration. But he canceled this and other scheduled early fall appearances due to his convalescence.

Impact on the fall schedule of Michael Tilson Thomas

The publicist for Tilson Thomas released the following information on the former conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. It includes news on how his illness and convalescence affect his fall 2021 schedule.

“He is now embarking on a course of therapy for the next several months which necessitates curtailing his public appearances through the end of October. MTT is being cared for by the excellent team at UCSF who are continuing to explore all possible options for treatment.

“‘I deeply regret missing projects that I was greatly anticipating,’ said Tilson Thomas. ‘I look forward to seeing everyone again in November.’

“Scheduled engagements from which Tilson Thomas is withdrawing [include] performances with … the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the New World Symphony, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.”

Canceling appearance at the September 14, 2021 Kennedy Center 50th Anniversary Celebration 

The Washington Post noted that Tilson Thomas also canceled

“… a hosting turn at the Kennedy Center’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert scheduled for Sept. 14, a multidisciplinary program that the 2019 Kennedy Center honoree curated and modeled after his mentor Leonard Bernstein’s 1962 “An American Pageant for the Arts.”

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NSO music director Gianandrea Noseda, KenCen President comment

In an email statement, the National Symphony Orchestra’s current music director’s commented on the current health of Michael Tilson Thomas.

“‘I was very shaken when I was told about Michael’s health situation,’ National Symphony Orchestra Music Director Gianandrea Noseda in an email. ‘Although he and I have only met once, we share many mutual friends and musical institutions. I have immense respect for Michael’s contribution to our art form and send him my deepest wishes for a full recovery in the coming months. I look forward to welcoming him back to Washington, D.C., soon.’”

Deborah Rutter, the Kennedy Center’s current President, conveyed her best wishes as well.

“‘I can’t begin to express my emotions in learning of Michael’s diagnosis. In addition to being a close personal friend, he is arguably one of the most important and influential artists of our time. We will miss him at our 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert on September 14 but the essence and design of the program remains his intent. We offer him our love and best wishes for the next months on his journey to health,’ said Deborah Rutter, President of the Kennedy Center.”

Career and brain tumor prognosis

In addition to his lengthy stint as the San Francisco Symphony Music Director and conductor (1995-2020), notes New Delhi-based international news site WION, “Michael Tilson Thomas … founded the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida, in 1987, and serves as artistic director even to this day. Other than that, he was also  a music director at the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1971-1979….”

As of this writing, physicians did not reveal the specific nature of Michael Tilson Thomas’ brain tumor and future prognosis.




Terry Ponick

Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Senior Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17