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‘A gesture of appreciation.’ New World Symphony gifted $30M as artistic director steps down

Read the original article in the Miami Herald here.

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the New World Symphony on May 6, 2022. Tilson Thomas will step down as the symphony’s artistic director due to health concerns. ALEX MARKOW Courtesy of New World Symphony

When famed conductor Michael Tilson Thomas performed his last concerts as the New World Symphony artistic director this weekend in Miami, he received a gift much bigger than a bouquet of flowers or bottle of champagne. He welcomed a gift for the symphony he co-founded 35 years ago: $30 million. On Saturday, the Arison Arts Foundation awarded the New World Symphony with a $30 million endowment gift to commemorate Tilson Thomas’ achievements and dedication to the symphony. Tilson Thomas, who is considered to be one of the greatest living American conductors, announced in March that he will step down as artistic director next month due to health concerns.

The Arison Arts Foundation, which supports artists and institutions through grants, was founded by philanthropists Ted and Lin Arison, who supported Tilson Thomas’ vision for the New World Symphony decades ago. Along with the gift, the foundation and symphony also announced a new name for the New World Center’s concert space: the Michael Tilson Thomas Performance Hall.

“I am deeply touched by this extraordinary gift from Lin and her family,” Tilson Thomas said. “Our collaboration has allowed young musicians to find their paths and has allowed my artistic life to grow and to flourish. I am so grateful that Lin and the Arison family have been my friends and partners for over 35 years.” On June 1, Tilson Thomas will officially leave his role as artistic director and assume the less strenuous job of artistic director laureate. Tilson Thomas, 77, had undergone treatment for glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer. Last August, he withdrew from several performances to recover from surgery to remove a brain tumor. In a March letter explaining his decision to step down as artistic director, he said that the cancer was “in check” following surgery and chemotherapy, but it was likely to return. “I’m planning more time to wonder, wander, cook, and spend time with loved ones — two-legged and four,” Tilson Thomas wrote in his letter. “Life is precious.” The New World Symphony, which was founded in 1987, is an ensemble and intensive three-year fellowship program for music school graduates. The symphony was originally housed in the Lincoln Theatre on Lincoln Road, but later moved into the state-of-the-art New World Center when it opened in 2011.

Tilson Thomas, who has performances scheduled in Europe this summer, boasts a prolific career. He has conducted at Carnegie Hall, won Grammy awards, received the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Honors. In 2020, he stepped down from his position as music director at the San Francisco Symphony.

This past weekend, Tilson Thomas led the New World Symphony fellows in a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. Lin Arison announced the $30 million gift at the beginning of Saturday’s concert. In a statement, Lin Arison said she looks back on her and her late husband’s decision to back Tilson Thomas’ ideas with “tremendous pride.” “Thanks to MTT’s vision and his 35 years of devotion, the NWS has been a major part of the growth of Miami and our 1,200 alumni are leaders in their musical communities, sharing his standards of excellence,” she said. “As Michael makes the transition to Artistic Director Laureate, I wanted to support his dream and offer a gesture of appreciation and love by naming the hall for him in perpetuity.”