Michael Tilson Thomas named Judge Widney Professor of Music

“My teachers at USC helped to mold and guide me and I am grateful that I may be able to continue their tradition.”


Michael Tilson Thomas, one of the world’s most prominent musicians and a two-time alumnus of the USC Thornton School of Music (’67 and MM ’76), has been named a Judge Widney Professor of Music at USC.

The appointment, which takes effect in Fall 2015, will give USC Thornton students the chance to work directly with Thomas through mentorship and other educational opportunities that will further enhance their developing careers.

“I have always been honored to be a part of the USC family,” said Thomas. “My teachers at USC helped to mold and guide me and I am grateful that I may be able to continue their tradition.”

Thomas is a Los Angeles native whose parents and grandparents had artistic careers. At USC, he studied piano with John Crown and conducting and composition with Ingolf Dahl. At age 19, he was named music director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra, and worked with Igor Stravinsky, Pierre Boulez, Karlheiz Stockhausen and Aaron Copland on premieres of their compositions at Los Angeles’ Monday Evening Concerts. During this time, he also was the pianist and conductor for Gregor Piatigorsky and Jascha Heifetz.

“Michael Tilson Thomas stands among USC’s most distinguished alumni, and our students will benefit tremendously from his exceptional experience and expertise,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “Given his longstanding and illustrious career, he is a singular role model, particularly for our students at USC Thornton. In becoming a Judge Widney Professor, he joins a select group of distinguished individuals, including Frank Gehry, Dana Gioia and General David Petraeus, all of whom have graciously agreed to serve as mentors for our talented students.”

Robert Cutietta, dean of USC Thornton, said: “We are thrilled to welcome Michael Tilson Thomas back to campus. It is so meaningful that one of our outstanding alumni has such fond memories of his time at USC that he has decided to give back and impact today’s students.”

Thomas received the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest award for artistic achievement, in 2010. In addition to being the longtime music director of the San Francisco Symphony, he also is the principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and the founder and artistic director of the New World Symphony, America’s orchestral academy. The New World Symphony, founded in 1987, is dedicated to the development of young musicians. Hundreds of New World Symphony alumni work in orchestras around the world.

Prior to his appointment to the San Francisco Symphony 18 years ago, he had been the principal guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

Thomas has recorded more than 120 albums, and led television broadcasts with the London Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony. He is a Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, was Musical America’s Musician of the Year and Conductor of the Year, Gramophone magazine’s Artist of the Year, and has won 11 Grammy Awards. He also has a Peabody Award for his radio series, The MTT Files.

The conductor’s last performance on campus was in 2009, when he led the USC Thornton Symphony in a concert at Bovard Auditorium as part of USC Thornton’s 125th anniversary celebration.

TAGS: Alumni, Classical Performance and Composition,

Never miss a story

Subscribe to USC Thornton’s e-newsletter