Michael Tilson Thomas was on 22 June named an Officer in the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, awarded to distinguished artists who have made significant contributions to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world. MTT was previously honoured as a Chevalier, or Knight, in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and this promotion is in light of his ongoing contributions to the arts and culture all over the world, plus his 25 years of accomplishments as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony.
The Award ceremony, hosted by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco at the Legion of Honor’s Court of Honor, was attended by Consul General Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, SF Symphony President Sakurako Fisher, former SF Symphony President and CEO Nancy Bechtle, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Thomas Campbell, and President of the War Memorial Board of Trustees Thomas E. Horn.
“By promoting Michael Tilson Thomas to the rank of Officer in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France celebrates an immense artist, unanimously recognized by the Parisian public, who worked hard to promote French music composers in the United States. As a universal language, music brings people together and MTT’s work shows the essential role of culture in the Franco-American friendship.”
-Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens, Consul General of France, San Francisco
MTT has conducted many of the major French orchestras and has toured France with the San Francisco Symphony, London Symphony Orchestra, and more. He will return to France to conduct the Orchestre de Paris in June 2021.
Read a selection of remarks delivered at the ceremony:
“On behalf of the San Francisco Symphony, I want to express my appreciation to Mayor Breed and Consul General Lebrun-Damiens for being here with us to acknowledge this incredible honor, which the French Minister of Culture has bestowed on our own Michael Tilson Thomas. The Officier des Arts and Letters recognizes people who have significantly furthered culture and the arts globally. And we at the San Francisco Symphony have been so fortunate to benefit from Michael’s passion, artistry, and dedication to spreading the transformational power of music worldwide for a remarkable 25 years. . . . France holds a deeply meaningful place in my heart. It has been, and is still a home for me, and is a place that truly celebrates curiosity and creativity in the arts. No other city in the United States upholds the same values more than San Francisco. We thank the French Ministry of Culture for bestowing this great and well-deserved honor on our MTT on the occasion of the conclusion of his 25 years as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony.”
-Sakurako Fisher, President of the San Francisco Symphony
“Mayor Breed, Consul General, dear Michael, you have brought us such a joy for this last 25 years. I feel like we’ve been riding on a wave of beauty and of music under your leadership. You have educated us with Keeping Score. You have shown us nuances and insights into Mahler. You’ve refocused some of our attention on American music, American composers, and now you’re training a whole new generation of artists and musicians with the New World Symphony. It is such a thrill for me to participate in this well-deserved honor of recognition by the Government of France—an acknowledgement that you so richly deserve having promoted French artists, French music, and French culture your entire career.”
-Thomas E. Horn, President of the Board of Trustees, San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center
“Thank you everyone for being here today to celebrate someone who is absolutely incredible. I think about the fact that here in San Francisco, we’ve been able to have MTT give 25 years dedicated to the San Francisco Symphony, but also doing so much more for music in the entire world. We are so blessed and grateful for your service to San Francisco. What you have done has really put us on the map, but more importantly, what you have done has lifted our spirits with music. I know that the world is a more beautiful place because you are in it and because of what you have brought here. And again, I can’t express how significant it is to have you as a part of San Francisco. Even though you have spent your 25 years at the Symphony and now you’re stepping away somewhat, you’re still going to be a part of our city. You’re still going to be conducting here in San Francisco. You’re still going to be working with the next generation of artists and conductors and musicians. And that is truly incredible.”
-London N. Breed, Mayor of the City of San Francisco
“It is truly an honor, and a great pleasure for me as the French Minister of Culture asked me to present Michael Tilson Thomas with the insignia of Officer in the Order of Arts and Letters. Maestro, you have been a Knight in this order for a long time and you know well the importance France gives this distinction. In the United States and beyond you have made a profound impact upon the lives of many. Through your talent and your personality, you have transmitted your passion to thousands of musicians and audiences.
We very much value the relationship that you and the San Francisco Symphony developed with France. The Mayor mentioned the concert after the fire at Notre-Dame, and we will never forget the solidarity you showed with Paris. The Symphony immediately proposed to perform in these concerts, by which San Francisco showed that Sister Cities are stronger together. You should have been performing in Lyon and Paris this spring, but sadly, these concerts could not take place because of the health crisis. But this award that France gives you today is an invitation to come back as often as possible to our country so that we can continue to share creative moments with you and enjoy your talent.
At the time when you prepare to leave the San Francisco Symphony after 25 fabulous years, we wish Joshua and you the very best. I will never forget the day when both of you welcomed me backstage [at Davies Symphony Hall] and I discovered that a conductor could be welcoming, talkative, and relaxed! Today, we are awarding the Arts and Letters to a dear friend. A friend of the arts, a friend of France. We are celebrating someone who has continually supported artistic exchanges, relentlessly expanding cultural horizons, and supporting new generations of musicians and music lovers. It is to express our admiration and recognition that we present you with the insignia of Officer in the Order of Arts and Letters, Michael Tilson Thomas.”
-Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens, Consul General of France, San Francisco