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I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Tilson Thomas at the San Francisco Music Tech Summit this week. Michael, or MTT as he’s affectionately known, gave a short presentation about his online work. And the work is formidable.
He’s a true maestro. Aside from his role as the Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, MTT founded The New World Symphony, an orchestral academy for graduates of prestigious music programs, based in Florida. The school is focused on developing new perspectives in performing arts. Most recently, MTT has been working closely with architect Frank Gehry to create a block size building for the academy. MTT calls it the Music Meeting House. The main space is broken into many performing spaces, each room wired for audio and video productions with online capabilities. The smaller performing spaces have glass walls, so visitors and students can watch practice & performances without disturbing the musicians. The main performing room has multiple seating levels with 360-degree video projection. This means the entire space can include video light sculptures to run during performances. And those performances can also be projected onto an outdoor screen, situated just outside the building. The massive screen is adjacent to a large new park, so audiences can enjoy performances in nature. The new site will officially open in the next few months.
Another project MTT has been working on is his PBS series Keeping Score. The series features performances by the San Francisco Symphony. It brings the joy of classical music to both devotees and the uninitiated. The program serves many communities. It’s available as a PBS television series, a national public radio series, home DVDs and is also modeled for classroom integration. Teachers from participating schools receive special training by musicians and arts educators to provide a curriculum for students K - 12. The objective is to teach students to learn through the arts.
On the web, Keeping Score shines even brighter. Michael Tilson Thomas becomes your teacher and presents some of his favorite works to feast on. The website offers an opportunity for people of all musical backgrounds the opportunity to interact with a composer’s signature piece. Work by Beethoven, Stravinsky and others can be deconstructed and analyzed. You can play along, and shift tempo and try your hand at conducting. Each piece has a full music score notated, with sidebars of written commentary outlining the emotional components, and live video of the work performed by the SF Symphony. It’s an amazing website.
Michael Tilson Thomas is a scholar and a visionary. He’s someone who adds so much to our lives. If the measure of a man is the wealth he leaves behind. MTT’s contribution is incalculable.
This is Celia Hirschman with On The Beat for KCRW.