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About The Program

Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) is acclaimed for his work as a conductor, composer and as one of the great communicators about music in the world today.

In The MTT Files, MTT metaphorically pulls out some of his "files" - files full of ideas about music and art, and reminiscences of the legendary artists he has known throughout his career – to create eight very original and personal one-hour radio programs. The "house band" for The MTT Files is the San Francisco Symphony, with music throughout the episodes drawn from live recordings during the 12 years MTT has been Music Director of the Orchestra.

The MTT Files are part of the San Francisco Symphony's acclaimed Keeping Score project, which includes a national PBS television series, public radio series, interactive websites, and K-12 Education and Community programs, all designed to make classical music more accessible to people of all ages and musical backgrounds.

Singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega is once again joining MTT after hosting the immensely popular "American Mavericks" radio series.


Steven Mackey
Program 1: You Call That Music?!

What's music, and what's noise? In this program, Michael Tilson Thomas demonstrates that noise is in the mind of the listener. His guest is contemporary composer Steven Mackey.

Aaron Copland
Program 2: What Does America Sound Like? — Part 1

In this program, Michael Tilson Thomas reviews what American classical music was like at the turn of the 20th century, and asks what it was about the cultural melting pot of places like Brooklyn that led us beyond Beethoven and Brahms, to our very own concert music. Aaron Copland's modernist compositions are front and center. Featured is a recorded rehearsal of Copland's little-known piece for women's chorus, "An Immorality," where Michael demonstrates the raucous sounds the composer was striving for in his earlier works.

Aaron Copland
Program 3: What Does America Sound Like? — Part 2

In this program, Michael Tilson Thomas explains Copland's musical transformation, and the political and artistic sentiments behind it. Included is a recorded rehearsal of the composer's greatest modernist work, the Symphonic Ode, with MTT conducting the New World Symphony, America's Orchestral Academy.

Igor Stravinsky
Program 4: Igor Stravinsky’s Copyright Blues

In this program, Michael Tilson Thomas tells the sad tale of Stravinsky's efforts to collect a royalty payment or two and asks why we should even care whether artists can protect their intellectual property. Featured is an interview/performance with pianola scholar Rex Lawson about one of Stravinsky's efforts to make some money – the piano roll versions of tunes from The Firebird.

Jascha Heifetz
Program 5: The Last Virtuoso

In this program, Michael Tilson Thomas examines why Heifetz was so good, and asks whether any violinist living today could ever hope to match his incredible technical ability and immense musicality. What's changed? What is virtuosity, and why is it so hard to maintain? Featured is an interview/demonstration recorded on the stage of Davies Symphony Hall with Alexander Barantschik, the Concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony, who now plays Heifetz's Guarnerius violin.

Alban Berg
Program 6: Freud and the Ballet

After Giselle, music grew increasingly dissonant as the world view of the human psyche became more central to art—until the bubble burst in the mid-20th century, when dissonance overtook itself with a human scream in the opera Lulu. This program is a tour de force examination of one of the major historical transformations in music.

James Brown
Program 7: We Were Playing Boulez, But We Were Listening To James Brown!

The core of this program, an extensive interview with James Brown about his music, was recorded at Brown's home in Georgia.

Garrick Ohlsson
Program 8: Five Degrees of Separation

A program about teachers and students – about how teachers pass on technique and musicianship, but also about how they use stories about their own teachers to pass on the spirit of a musical life.

The MTT Files are supported by a grant from Koret Foundation Funds and by members of Minnesota Public Radio. The MTT Files are part of Keeping Score, made possible with lead funding from the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund and with generous support from The James Irvine Foundation, Marcia and John Goldman, Nan Tucker McEvoy, William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, and others.

Michael Tilson Thomas