Michael Tilson Thomas: Making Anything Sound Good



Michael Tilson Thomas
Interview Excerpt #5


FRANK J. OTERI: So let’s take this abroad for a bit.

MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS: Yeah.

FRANK J. OTERI: You’ve conducted in London for years and years. What is your experience in conducting new music, specifically American repertoire abroad in terms of audience reactions, musicians’ reactions?

MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS: It’s changed over the years. When I first was conducting as guest conductor in Europe 25 years ago, I would propose doing American pieces and grudgingly it would be accepted from time to time. Now nearly I’m always asked if I will do an American piece. So the attitude of the public, particularly in countries like Holland, and in France, a few places in Germany, not all, the attitude has changed. There’s much more interest in that. London of course is a special case because it has so much music taking place. And, at the drop of a hat, the BBC will decide to do a complete retrospective of Henry Cowell, or Fibich

FRANK J. OTERI: And these concerts are well attended too! I remember going to a Proms concert and there was a piece by a contemporary composer named John Casken–which was fantastic–and it was a full, enthusiastic audience. And it was a varied audience too. There was even a guy with a mohawk walking around, which you’d almost never see here, and he seemed to be really enjoying it.

MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS: Well, the Proms is a very special phenomenon. They’ve established a concert series around the idea of diversity and surprise and that there will be a lot of new music done is an essential part of it and that there are young people who come to those concerts knowing that they’re going to hear something entirely different to what they’ve ever heard is a major point of the series. And that’s what gives it so much excitement. During the actual concert year, there’s nothing quite equivalent to that and you really have to balance novelty with works of the past. But I think also, it’s always an economic question, too. When concert tickets are as expensive as they are, it means that only people of a certain economic milieu can buy them. And also people are inclined to say: "Oh well, I really only want to hear something that I like." If the price of the tickets can be brought down to the point that these things can become more spontaneous, it was like, then "Why the hell not?"

FRANK J. OTERI: I totally agree.

MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS: It’s just 10 pounds. I’ll go hear that. Then you have a much greater chance of opening peoples’ worlds to new and unusual music.