MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS: A Musical Pilgrim's Progress

MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS conducts like a sprightly Ichabod, arms flapping, legs skittering. The audience is unusual too; it's all ears

From a huge caldron on the kitchen stove in a London flat wafts the comforting aroma of classic chicken soup, enough to feed a hungry orchestra. From a small upright piano in the living room wafts a bittersweet trickle of melody, enough to feed a hungry spirit. Michael Tilson Thomas, the 45-year-old principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, is cooking on both burners.

The soup, redolent of the shtetlach of Thomas' Jewish forebears, speaks for itself. The melody, from Anton Bruckner's sixth symphony, needs no elaboration either, but Thomas can no more resist parsing a composer's score than he can...

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