Michael Tilson Thomas (Conductor and Narrator), the Grandson of Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, is Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, Artistic Director of the New World Symphony and Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.
A Los Angeles native, Mr. Tilson Thomas began his formal music studies at the University of Southern California, where he studied piano with John Crown and conducting and composition with Ingolf Dahl. At 19 he was named music director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra. He worked with Stravinsky, Boulez, Stockhausen and Copland on premieres of their works at Los Angeles's famed Monday Evening Concerts. During this same period he was pianist and conductor for Gregor Piatigorsky and Jascha Heifetz.
In 1969, after winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood, Mr. Tilson Thomas was appointed Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. That year he also made his New York debut with the Boston Symphony and gained international recognition after replacing Music Director William Steinberg in mid-concert. He was Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1971 to 1979, a Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1981 to 1985, and Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra from 1987 to 1995. In 1995, he assumed his current post as the San Francisco Symphony's Music Director. His guest conducting includes appearances with the major orchestras of Europe and the United States.
In l987 he created the New World Symphony, a post graduate orchestral academy based in Miami Beach. Over 700 graduates of the academy are now in musical leadership positions internationally. In 1991, Mr. Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony were presented in a series of benefit concerts for UNICEF featuring Audrey Hepburn as narrator in Mr. Tilson Thomas' composition From the Diary of Anne Frank. The piece has since been translated and performed in many languages worldwide. In August 1995 Mr. Tilson Thomas led the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra in the world premiere of his composition Showa/Shoah, written in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Among his other compositions he has written song cycles for Thomas Hampson and Renee Fleming.
Mr. Tilson Thomas's extensive television work includes a series with the London Symphony Orchestra for BBC Television and the television broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic Young People's Concerts from 1971 to 1977. Starting in 2004 Mr. Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have embarked on a multi-tiered media project, Keeping Score, which includes television, web sites, radio programs and programs in the schools. In April 2009 he conducted the YouTube Symphony Orchestra in Carnegie Hall. The orchestra was the first ever assembled by world-wide on-line auditions.
Viva Voce, his volume of conversations with British critic Edward Seckerson, is published by Faber & Faber. Mr. Tilson Thomas is a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has been named Gramophone's Artist of the Year and Musical America's Musician of the Year. He has won ten Grammys for his recordings. In 2008 he received a Peabody Award for his radio series The MTT Files., and in 2010 was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Judy Blazer (Bessie Thomashefsky) began her career as a young singer in opera, oratorio, and recital in New York City and throughout Italy. She moved into Broadway theatre with leading roles in Me and My Girl (Sally), A Change in the Heir (Prince Conrad), Titanic (Lady Caroline) and Neil Simon's 45 Seconds from Broadway (Cindy), and was featured in LoveMusik, directed by Harold Prince.
Off-Broadway, she was featured in Candide (the Old Lady), The House of Bernarda Alba (LTC) and Sweeney Todd (the Beggar Woman) with New York City Opera, the Torch Bearers (Florence) with The Drama Dept., Lincoln Center's Hello Again, (Drama Desk nomination), The Roundabout's Hurrah at Last by Richard Greenberg and the New York City Center Encores production of Connecticut Yankee (Alice/Sandy). She most recently performed a solo piece at Primary Stage's Inner Voices: Whida Peru; Resurrection Tangle by David Simpatico and Josh Schmidt, directed by Jonathan Butterell.
Ms. Blazer has sung at the Metropolitan Opera as a soloist in Twyla Tharp's Everlast with American Ballet Theatre, and she has performed in concert at Lincoln Center and at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater. She has been a guest on the recordings of Mandy Patinkin and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, as well as a featured artist on over twenty recordings of varied genres.
Ms. Blazer has been seen on television in Law and Order (as Defense Attorney Simon and as Clara Porazzi, convicted murderer), As the World Turns (Ariel), Guiding Light (Marissa), and as a featured artist on two PBS specials: Bernstein's New York and In Performance at the White House. Regionally, she has just completed a run of Giant (Luz) at the Signature Theatre. She played the title roles in Funny Girl at Sundance Theater, The Miracle Worker at George Street Playhouse, My Fair Lady at the Paper Mill Playhouse and the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, Peter Pan at Artpark, and The Night Governess at McCarter Theatre. She has appeared as Maria in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at the Long Wharf Theatre and Lily Garland in On the 20th Century with the American Musical Theatre of San Jose.
A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music from which she just received a Distinguished Alumni Award, Ms. Blazer has been on the voice faculty of New York University and is a guest teacher in colleges throughout the United States and major cities around the world. She is also the Founder and Artistic Director of the Artist's Crossing Theatre Company and School.
Shuler Hensley (Boris Thomashefsky) who wowed Broadway and London audiences as Jud Fry in the internationally acclaimed revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!, most recently starred on Broadway as "The Monster," in Mel Brooks' musical, Young Frankenstein, and in the World Premiere of Paradise Found, directed by Harold Prince and Susan Stroman.
Hensley garnered the coveted Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Olivier, and Theatre World Awards for his showstopping -- and show-stealing -- portrayal of tormented farmhand Jud Fry in the groundbreaking revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! He went on to make his critically acclaimed Broadway debut as Javert in the long-running musical Les MisÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©rables. He also co-starred as Kerchak, head of the Gorilla Tribe, in Disney's Tarzan and starred Off-Broadway in The Great American Trailer Park Musical.
Hensley brought his titanic talent to the silver screen in May 2004 with the release of Universal Pictures' epic action-adventure film Van Helsing, in which Hensley portrayed the fabled monster created by author Mary Shelley's fictional Dr. Frankenstein. Most recently, he was seen in the feature film The Legend of Zorro starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. His upcoming film projects include Opa! with Matthew Modine, shot on-location in Greece and the independent feature, Cheer the Brave.
Throughout his eclectic career, Hensley has also appeared as a guest soloist in numerous concerts including The Happy End by Kurt Weill at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, The American Songbook Tribute to Frank Loesser at Lincoln Center, Regina, with Patti LuPone at the Kennedy Center and the premiere of The Thomashefsky Project, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.
Hensley's television appearances include the recurring role of Bob Arnovitz on NBC's Ed, the TNT movie Monday Night Mayhem, as well as appearances on Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. His film credits include the romantic comedy Someone Like You and the multi-award-winning independent film The Bread, My Sweet.
A Marietta, Georgia native, he made his performance debut at the age of four in a production of The Nutcracker directed by his mother. At age nine, he became a member of The Atlanta Boys' Choir. His father, an All-American football star, influenced his passion for sports and he attended the University of Georgia on a baseball scholarship while majoring in business and performing in the school's choral programs. He studied opera at The Manhattan School of Music and attended graduate school at the prestigious Curtis School of Music, performing leading roles in Don Giovanni, La Boheme, and The Magic Flute. He recently returned to Curtis as a Guest Artist to perform the demanding title role in Berg's Wozzeck.
Shuler Hensley resides in New York City and Atlanta with his wife Paula and their children, Skyler and Grayson.
Ronit Widmann-Levy (Various roles including Mme. Krantzfeld and Sophie Karp, co-star of Alexander, Crown Prince of Jerusalem) has received accolades for her operatic and concert performances throughout the world. A versatile artist equally at home on both concert and opera stages, Ronit has sung in opera houses and festivals in San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Berlin, Munich, London, Bangkok and Jerusalem. She sang at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, the Bath and Dartington Festivals in England, the Judische Kulturtage in Berlin, and the America Haus Concert Series in Munich. Ms. Widmann-Levy made her debut with the San Francisco Symphony in February 2005 in Schumann's Das Paradies und die Peri, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher. Ronit has regularly performed with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony in Carnegie Hall, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and with the New World Symphony Orchestra. Ms. Widmann-Levy's interpretation of Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire has won praise and she has been invited to perform the piece in Europe and the United States. Ronit Widmann-Levy's repertory includes the roles of Violetta, Constanza, Madama Butterfly, Micaela, Mimi, LiÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¹, Gilda and Freia. Symphonic works include, among others, Carmina Burana, Beethoven's 9th Symphony and the 2nd and 4th Symphonies of Mahler. She is renowned for her interpretation of Ladino Romance and in the fall of 2005 she embarked on a world concert tour of her CD Como la Rosa.
Critics have consistently praised Ms. Widmann-Levy's singing, writing that her "naturally extensive range shows fine-spun altitudes" (Washington Times). Of her performance as Micaela, The Eugene Register-Guard wrote: "One of the most impressive artists was Ronit Widmann-Levy playing...Micaela, the sweet innocent country girl...Widmann-Levy, made her two arias memorable. Her voice has a weighty tone, and she uses it with solid technique." Bill Glackin of the Sacramento Bee wrote of her performance of the last scene from Capriccio by Richard Strauss: "she is a singer of compelling conviction and warmth as well as unusual personal beauty."
Eugene Brancoveanu (Various roles including Young Boris Thomashefsky and Leon Blank, co-star of The Green Millionaire) Eugene Brancoveanu's virile voice and superior stagecraft have earned him critical acclaim in both North America and Europe. Following recent performances of San Francisco Opera's The Little Prince, the San Francisco Chronicle lauds the superb cast as being "led by extravagantly gifted baritone Eugene Brancoveanu as the Pilot. With his unforced charisma, vocal clarity, and total heft, Brancoveanu managed the tricky feat of doing most of the show's heavy lifting..."
This season, in addition to appearing with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic in The Thomashefskys, Eugene Brancoveanu returns to the Santa Cruz County Orchestra as soloist in Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. Mr. Brancoveanu's 2009-10 season included the role of Marcello in La boÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©hme with Virginia Opera, Gonzalvo in Schreker's Die Gezeichneten with Los Angeles Opera, the title role in Don Giovanni with Berkeley Opera, Yeletzky in Pique Dame with the Israeli Opera, singing as soloist in Carmina Burana with Santa Cruz County Symphony, and an appearance in recital with California's prestigious San Francisco Performances concert series.
He held a prestigious appointment as an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera for two seasons, directly following his critically acclaimed summer 2004 performances of Tarquinius in The Rape of Lucretia with the company's Merola Opera Program. With San Francisco Opera he has performed Christian in Un ballo in maschera, Marullo in Rigoletto, MoralÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©s in Carmen, Frank in Die Fledermaus, Fiorello in Il barbiere di Siviglia, the Innkeeper and the Captain in Manon Lescaut, Belcore in L'elisir d'amore and The Pilot in Portman's The Little Prince.
Mr. Brancoveanu sang Karnak in Lalo's Le Roi d'ys with the American Symphony Orchestra; Boris in Shostakovich's Moskau, Tscherkomuschki at Staatstheater Stuttgart; Count in Le nozze di Figaro with Livermore Valley Opera; as soloist Elijah with University of California/Davis; and in Carmina Burana with Peninsula Symphony Orchestra. He has performed The Thomashefskys with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood, the San Francisco Symphony and the New World Symphony. Other recent highlights include his New York City Opera debut as Pandolfe in Cendrillon, soloist in Brahms' Requiem with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, and in a concert of Bernstein repertoire with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra.
Originating the role of Marcello in Baz Luhrmann's Broadway production of La BohÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©me, the honorary Tony Award winner is also a recipient of a 2004 LA Stage Alliance Ovation Award for his performances of this production in Los Angeles. Other career highlights include performing the role of Nicomedes in the rarely heard Lou Harrison opera, Young Caesar, for Ensemble ParalÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©lle; a recital as part of the prestigious Schwabacher Debut Recital Series; the title role in Le nozze di Figaro with the International Music Festival in Gut-Immlings, Germany; and the title role in Philip Glass's OrphÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©e with the Universitat Mozarteum Salzburg. Mr. Brancoveanu's numerous performances with the Romanian State Opera include the Count in Le nozze di Figaro, the title role in Don Giovanni, Silvio in I Pagliacci, Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Escamillo in Carmen, and Uberto La serva pedrona.
Mr. Brancoveanu is a graduate of the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz and the Universitat Mozarteum Salzburg. He is also a recent winner of the National Young Opera Singer Competition in Leipzig, the International Music Award in Loenberg, and the International Opera contest "Ferruccio Tagliavini".
Patricia Birch (Director) has earned two Emmy Awards and five Tony nominations in a career that crosses all media. Other honors include Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Barrymore, Billboard and MTV awards, as well as a Directors Guild nomination and the prestigious Fred Astaire Award for her choreography and direction of music-driven projects ranging from Sondheim to the Rolling Stones. She has recently been inducted to the Theater Hall of Fame.
She has created the musical staging for original Broadway and off- Broadway shows including: Grease; You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown; The Me Nobody Knows; A Little Night Music; Candide; Over Here; Diamond Studs; The Happy End; Pacific Overtures; They're Playing Our Song; Gilda Radner, Live from New York; Zoot Suit; Rosa; Parade; Like Jazz; and LoveMusik, with Donna Murphy and Michael Cerveris, directed by Harold Prince.
Direction as well as choreography credits include Celebrating Gershwin at BAM and the televised concert production of On the Town with the London Symphony Orchestra, both with Michael Tilson Thomas; the Melissa Manchester musical I Sent a Letter to My Love; the original production of Maurice Sendak and Carole King's Really Rosie; Joe Raposo's Raggedy; The Snow Queen, a multi-media docu-musical about the Comedian Harmonists; the Cy Coleman musical Exactly Like You and Portraits in Jazz, Coleman, Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Kennedy Center, 2002. She worked with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony on Le Rossignol, a double bill of Of Thee I Sing/Let'Em Eat Cake, and Iolanthe. In development are Orphan Train, a dramatic musical, and Wo Dzai, a multi-media martial arts adventure, and Road to Ruin, an exploitation musical.
Opera and music projects include Salome, The Mikado, Candide and Street Scene for New York City Opera; The Mass and The Balcony for The Opera Company of Boston, also presented at the Bolshoi Theatre; and A Wedding by William Bolcom, Arnold Weinstein, and Robert Altman at the Chicago Lyric Opera.
Ms. Birch's film credits include choreography for all musical sequences for Grease and direction as well on Grease 2. She has also staged musical sequences for Big, Working Girl, Sleeping with the Enemy, Stella, Awakenings, Billy Bathgate, Roseland, The Wild Party, First Wives Club, The Human Stain, with sequences for Anthony Hopkins, Gary Sinese and Nicole Kidman, and The Stepford Wives. For television, Ms. Birch has directed Natalie Cole: Unforgettable with Love and Celebrating Gershwin, both of which earned her Emmy Awards in direction; Dance in America for the 20th anniversary of PBS's Great Performances; and Natalie Cole's Untraditional Traditional Christmas featuring Elmo. She was a choreographer for The Electric Company and spent six years staging numbers for Gilda Radner, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, both Belushis, Dan Ackroyd and many guest stars on Saturday Night Live. She also directed music videos for Cyndi Lauper, The Rolling Stones, The Oak Ridge Boys, Carly Simon and the NBC Olympics. Pat is the choreographer for HBO's Boardwalk Empire.
Gary Halvorson (Television Director) is a veteran director best known for capturing live stage performances and events such as the television broadcast of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parades. A selection from his extensive musical credits includes: four episodes for GREAT PERFORMANCES, Carnegie Hall Opening Night 2008: A Celebration of Leonard Bernstein, Keeping Score, The Merry Widow, Broadway Sings: The Music of Jule Styne, 10 episodes of Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD including Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Massenet's Thais, John Adam's Doctor Atomic, Britten's Peter Grimes, and Verdi's Macbeth.
Michael Bronson (Television Producer) has over 40 years of experience as an arts administrator, producer of television and radio programs, and arts management consulting in labor relations and media projects. An Emmy and Peabody Award winning television producer, he produced the first 10 years of the Metropolitan Opera's Live from the Met television series; negotiated the Metropolitan Opera's first long term international television distribution and home video distribution agreements; and produced television specials including Leonard Bernstein at 70 and Pavarotti and the Italian Tenor, opera productions for Houston Grand Opera (Nixon in China, Little Women) and The Washington National Opera, and theater productions for PBS' award winning American Playhouse series (Tru, Grapes of Wrath). Michael Bronson currently produces live concert programs for the PBS series, Keeping Score: MTT on Music.
Michael Kantor (President, Ghost Light Films) recently created Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America, the acclaimed six-part documentary series hosted by Billy Crystal that debuted on PBS in January, 2009. The series earned him an Emmy nomination for Nonfiction Writing. Kantor's last major series, Broadway: The American Musical, was hosted by Julie Andrews and was honored with the Emmy Award for Outstanding Nonfiction Series in 2005. That same year, Ghost Light Films created three hours of DVD extras for Twentieth Century Fox's 40th Anniversary release of "The Sound of Music." Mr. Kantor wrote, directed, and produced the award-winning profile, Quincy Jones: In the Pocket, which aired as part of the American Masters series. With Stephen Ives, he co-directed Cornerstone: An Interstate Adventure for HBO. Kantor is also President of Almo Inc., which distributes The American Film Theatre series, including Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance (starring Katharine Hepburn), Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh (Lee Marvin), and Chekhov's Three Sisters (Laurence Olivier) among its titles. In addition to developing new projects for television, Mr. Kantor currently serves as a Tony nominator.
Linda Steinberg (Executive Director, The Thomashefsky Project) Ms. Steinberg has directed the project since it was founded in July 1998, overseeing the research, cataloguing, translating and compiling of Thomashefsky-related materials housed in archives and collections across the country. During the prior decade, she was Director of The Jewish Museum San Francisco. Earlier in her career she served as: Curator of Collections for the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, Associate Director of the Center for the Arts at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and Director of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, California. She has been a guest curator or arts consultant at: the Museum of Jewish Heritage, New York City; the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, New York City; Moore College of Art, Philadelphia; the Skirball Museum, Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Ms. Steinberg has also taught on the art faculties of the University of Judaism's Lee College for Jewish Studies, Los Angeles; the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland and San Francisco State University.
The New World Symphony
Established in 1987, by Michael Tilson Thomas and Ted Arison, the New World Symphony prepares gifted graduates of distinguished music programs for leadership positions in orchestras and ensembles worldwide.
The New World Symphony is dedicated to the artistic, personal and professional development of outstanding instrumentalists. The NWS fellowship program provides the opportunity for young musicians to enhance their musical education with the finest professional training. A laboratory for musical education and expression, the NWS, through a wide range of performance and instructional activities, seeks to develop in participants the full complement of skills and qualifications required of twenty-first century first class musicians. The program offers in-depth exposure to traditional and modern repertoire, with the active involvement of leading guest conductors, soloists and coaches.
The live performance of The Thomashefskys: Music and memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater was filmed in Miami Beach in April 2011 with the New World Symphony in their new Frank Gehry-designed New World Center.