Performing Arts

You’ve seen him at free Miami Beach concerts. Now he’s being honored by the Kennedy Center

Michael Tilson Thomas, co-founder and artistic director of Miami’s New World Symphony, is receiving a Kennedy Center Award.
Michael Tilson Thomas, co-founder and artistic director of Miami’s New World Symphony, is receiving a Kennedy Center Award. Miami

The celebrated maestro who made classical music a Saturday night hit in Miami Beach is being recognized with one of the nation’s highest honors.

New World Symphony co-founder and artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas will receive a Kennedy Center Award, according to an announcement Thursday. He and fellow recipients — actress Sally Field, singer Linda Ronstadt, the “Sesame Street” TV show and the R&B group Earth, Wind and Fire — will be honored at a gala broadcast in December.

“The life of an artist, or of an arts institution, has essentially two moments. The first is inventing yourself which takes vision and gumption. The second is going the distance, sustaining the vision and sharing it,” said Thomas in a statement. “I was fortunate to grow up around people who did both. My family and my devoted teachers lived every day reaffirming the highest standards and ideals of the arts and of our nation. They understood that the arts really matter when they have a creative role in a living tradition. I am honored that the Kennedy Center, which is a living center of both arts and ideals, has chosen to recognize my work. I hope that I can be thought of as a representative for all American classical musicians at this remarkable event.”

Founding New World Symphony

MTT, as he is widely known, became connected to Miami in the late 1980s through philanthropists Ted and Lin Arison, when the Arisons first introduced the idea of creating a national youth training orchestra. The New World Symphony, now 31 years old, has since trained more than 1,500 classical music professionals.

Since 2011, NWS fellows have studied, practiced and performed at the Frank Gehry-designed New World Center campus in Miami Beach, which hosts free concerts each winter simulcast into an outdoor park. The concerts draw hundreds of families, couples and young people who might otherwise not engage with classical music.

Thomas, an 11-time Grammy Award winner, has served as principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, and played significant roles with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Linda Ronstadt on Thomas

Linda - Credit Jim Shea.jpg
Linda Ronstadt, in concert in 1980, on her Mad Love Tour. The singer recorded a concert from Television Center Studios in Hollywood on April 24, 1980, for an HBO concert. Her band included Danny Kortchmar, Kenny Edwards, Russ Kunkel, Bob Glaub, Billy Payne, Dan Dugmore and backing vocalist Wendy Waldman. Jim Shea

Ronstadt, 73, known for her eclectic output, which has included country, rock, Mexican rancheras, standards and opera, praised some of her fellow inductees — including Thomas.

“I am a huge fan of Michael Tilson Thomas,” Ronstadt told The Washington Post. “And, of course, I’m a huge fan of ‘Sesame Street.’ ”

Though Parkinson’s has made it impossible for Ronstadt to sing, she told the Miami Herald in February that she’s found ways to still incorporate music into her life. She mentors young musicians, for instance, and relishes a life off the road.

“Life is more horizontal than vertical now, but I’ve spent my whole life wishing I didn’t have to go to the next town and now I don’t have to,” Ronstadt said.

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