Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas announced on Wednesday that he would step down as artistic director of the New World Symphony, a prestigious training orchestra for young artists in Miami that he helped create while battling an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Thomas, 77, former conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, said he was “taking stock of my life,” saying he was reducing his administrative duties to focus on his health.
“I now see that it is time for me to consider what level of work and responsibilities I can sustain in the future,” he said in a statement.
In the statement, Thomas gave details about his condition for the first time, which he announced last summer when he canceled a series of assignments. He said he had glioblastoma, one of the deadliest forms of brain cancer; had surgery to remove a tumor last year; and had also received chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
“Currently, the cancer is under control,” he said. “But the future is uncertain, as glioblastoma is an insidious adversary. Unfortunately, its recurrence is the rule rather than the exception.”
The New World Symphony, where Thomas will remain Artistic Director-Laureate, praised the “genius of his vision and the strength of his leadership” in a statement, in which board chairman Will Osborne said: “We are honored that we have its continued presence and involvement.”
Thomas said he planned to continue conducting in the United States and Europe. In the coming months, he will conduct more than two dozen concerts, including with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. On May 6 and 7, he is scheduled in Miami to lead the New World Symphony in Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, one of his specialties.
Since his surgery, Thomas has conducted 20 concerts, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the New York Philharmonic. The crowd greeted him with hearty ovations and he seemed relatively energetic.
“I will continue to compose, write and reflect on your thoughts and mine,” Thomas said in his statement. “I plan more time to wonder, wander, cook and spend time with loved ones – two-legged and four-legged. Life is precious.”