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Michael Tilson Thomas Suffers from Confusion at London Symphony Orchestra

Tilson Thomas, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2021, stopped conducting midway through a Mahler symphony


Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas suffered from a bout of confusion during a recent performance of Mahler's Third Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) at the Barbican. The 79-year-old conductor has been facing various health struggles: in 2021, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer and underwent surgery to treat it.

Since that time, Tilson Thomas has scaled back his conducting activities. Recent engagements have included four concerts with the New York Philharmonic in March 2023 and a week of concerts with the San Francisco Symphony in early 2024.

On May 12, 2024, Tilson Thomas was leading Mahler 3 with the LSO, mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, and the combined forces of the Tiffin Boys' Choir with the women of the London Symphony Chorus. As reported in The Telegraph, Tilson Thomas got up from the podium partway through and closed his score, "telling the audience cheerily they’d been listening to an extended warm-up." He appeared to think that the performance was a rehearsal.

Coote, as well as some of the players of the orchestra, then gently reminded Tilson Thomas of his surroundings, and after a short delay, Tilson Thomas regrouped and returned to conduct the work's final movement. The performance concluded with a standing ovation.

Another performance of the same program is scheduled for May 16.

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