February 19, 2020
Michael Tilson Thomas To Receive Honorary Doctorate from Cleveland Institute of Music
Art Streiber

Degree recognizes MTT’s work and impact as a conductor, composer and educator

MTT to accept degree remotely in live video address to CIM graduates at centennial-year commencement 

CLEVELAND, OHIO (February 19, 2020) — The Cleveland Institute of Music announced yesterday that acclaimed conductor, composer and educator Michael Tilson Thomas will be awarded an honorary doctorate at the school’s 95th Commencement Ceremony in Kulas Hall on Saturday, May 16 at 10am EDT. Attendance is by invitation only, but a live stream will be available via cim.edu. Yesterday’s announcement was given at a special MTT-led rehearsal of the CIM Orchestra at Severance Hall, home of The Cleveland Orchestra, which MTT also conducts February 20-23.

Michael Tilson Thomas – Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Symphony, Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra and a 2019 Kennedy Center Honoree – is recognized globally as an innovator on and off the podium. His wide-ranging projects encompass a broad repertoire – from the classical canon to 20th-century masterpieces to contemporary works, particularly those by leading American composers. He shares this music with audiences in person in the concert hall; in televised performances and radio broadcasts; through recordings and online streaming; and even via “wallcast” simulcasts at the New World Center in Miami, Florida.

“The word ‘legend’ gets used a lot,” said CIM President & CEO Paul W. Hogle, “and only occasionally is it actually true. In the case of Michael Tilson Thomas, his charismatic presence, his deep musical insight, his inspired leadership and his boundless creativity have established him among the greatest of all time – the definition of a true legend. Michael led a CIM Orchestra rehearsal when he was in Cleveland in 2018, and we wanted our students to have more opportunities to learn from him.

“We benefited from his generosity of spirit again Tuesday,” Hogle continued, “when he worked with the CIM Orchestra, teaching, coaching and refining technical details as well as imparting his understanding of Brahms’ Second Symphony – honed from years of experience – and his vision.”

A member of CIM’s International Council since 2013, MTT will address graduates and their families via a live video feed from San Francisco. “Like CIM, Michael embraces the opportunities that modern technology affords,” Hogle explained. “Live connections to distance locations is an important part of the educational landscape today. CIM students use this technology to collaborate with colleagues in other locations, take lessons with faculty members who are traveling and gain valuable feedback from worldwide educational partners in the Global Audition Training Program, and Michael uses it for his own virtual teaching. While we believe this may be the first-ever virtual commencement address, it undoubtedly won’t be the last.”

Founded in 1920 by the women of the Fortnightly Club, CIM is celebrating its centennial throughout 2020 and 2021. As it enters its second century, CIM is working to ensure that the world’s most talented classical music students have affordable access to its esteemed faculty and programs, with more than $14 million raised for student scholarships in the past 18 months.


CIM has awarded more than 90 honorary doctorates since 1965 when the practice began. Recipients are recommended by the faculty and the honor is granted by CIM’s Board of Trustees. Among the musical luminaries to receive this distinction are conductors Christoph von Dohnányi, Kurt Masur and Franz Welser-Möst; composers Donald Erb, Pierre Boulez and Malcolm Arnold; violinists Josef Gingold, Itzhak Perlman and Robert Mann; harpist Ann Hobson Pilot; vocalists Frederica von Stade and Tony Bennett; and pianists Van Cliburn and Leon Fleisher.


Michael Tilson Thomas is Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Symphony and Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra. He is an eleven-time Grammy Award winner and has conducted the major orchestras of Europe and the United States. For his lifetime artistic achievements, he received the 2019 Kennedy Center Honors.

Born in Los Angeles, he studied piano, conducting and composition at the University of Southern California, and as a young musician also worked with leading performers, including Gregor Piatigorsky and Jascha Heifetz, and composers, including Stravinsky, Boulez, Stockhausen and Copland. In 1969, after winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood, he was appointed Assistant Conductor and pianist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and also conducted the BSO in his New York debut. Later serving as BSO Principal Guest Conductor till 1974, he held subsequent appointments as Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic (1971–79), Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1981–85) and Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (1988–95).

In 1988, he co-founded the New World Symphony, an orchestral academy in Miami dedicated to preparing gifted music graduates for leadership roles in classical music. As Artistic Director, he works with NWS Fellows to further their artistic and professional development. Of the more than 1,100 NWS alumni, 90% maintain careers in music, often with major orchestras. Since 2011, the NWS campus has been the technologically advanced, Frank Gehry-designed New World Center.

He was appointed Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony in 1995, and his tenure has been a period of significant growth and heightened international recognition for the orchestra. In addition to exploring the standard repertoire, he has led SFS in championing contemporary and American music and enriching the concert experience through semi-staged performances. In 2020, he concludes his 25-year directorship and becomes SFS Music Director Laureate, continuing to lead the orchestra regularly in concert, as well as in special projects.

His guest conducting engagements have included the major orchestras of Europe and the United States, and he is also a two-time Carnegie Hall Perspectives artist, curating and conducting series from 2003 to 2005 and from 2018 to 2019.

A winner of eleven Grammy Awards, he appears on more than 120 recordings, including a critically acclaimed Mahler cycle with SFS and pioneering recordings of American music, including by Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, and Steve Reich. His television work includes a BBC series with the LSO, the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts, PBS’s Great Performances and Keeping Score with SFS, which also includes web and radio content.

Throughout his career, he has been an active composer, and his major works include From the Diary of Anne Frank, commissioned by UNICEF and premiered in 1991 with narrator Audrey Hepburn; Shówa/Shoáh, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing; a setting of Carl Sandburg’s poem Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind, premiered in 2016 by NWS and since performed at Carnegie Hall and Disney Hall, among other venues; and Meditations on Rilke, a song cycle premiered this year by SFS and to be performed on his Cleveland Orchestra program this week.

He is a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was Musical America’s Musician of the Year and Conductor of the Year, Gramophone magazine’s Artist of the Year and has been profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes and ABC’s Nightline. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts and has been inducted into the California Hall of Fame and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. For more information, visit michaeltilsonthomas.com.


The Cleveland Institute of Music empowers the world’s most talented classical music students to fulfill their dreams and potential. Its graduates command the most celebrated and revered stages in the world as soloists, chamber musicians and ensemble members; compose meaningful, award-winning new repertoire; and are highly sought-after teaching artists, administrators and thought leaders. A testament to the excellence of a CIM education, more than half of the members of The Cleveland Orchestra are connected to CIM as members of the faculty, alumni or both. All students benefit from access to world-renowned visiting artists and conductors, intensive study with CIM’s stellar faculty and the rich curriculum offered by CIM’s partner Case Western Reserve University. In fall 2019, the diversity of CIM’s student body increased by a remarkable 235 percent to an historic high: 15 percent of the 375 students. CIM is an integral part of Cleveland’s arts community, presenting nearly 600 free performances and master classes on campus each year, and hundreds more at locations throughout the region, including Severance Hall. Explore cim.edu to learn more.

Download press kit and photos[ZIP]

# # #

Press contacts:

For Michael Tilson Thomas:
Shuman Associates
(212) 315-1300 | shumanpr@shumanassociates.net

For Cleveland Institute of Music:
Amy Brondyke, Director of Marketing & Communications | Cleveland Institute of Music
(216) 795-3122 | amy.brondyke@cim.edu

See Related:
Back to List
Back to Top