Destinations | Perfect Weekend

Michael Tilson Thomas’s San Fransisco

Conductor and composer Michael Tilson Thomas is music director of the San Francisco Symphony and principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

February 07 2010
Hilary Whitney

“I am a truly bi-coastal American, although I divide my time between San Francisco and Miami rather than Los Angeles and New York. I find it extremely restorative to be near green space, open skies and water, and both my houses look out over bays.

However late I go to bed, I always wake up around 7am. In San Francisco, I hope it will be a foggy morning. I love the way the fog rolls away, leaving the radiant clarity of a beautiful sunny day in its wake.

I’ll give my dogs Sheyna and Banda, a standard and a miniature poodle, a quick walk around the block before heading out to the farmers’ market (pictured) in and around the Ferry Building. I’ll go directly to the take-out counter of Vietnamese restaurant The Slanted Door for some of its wonderful congee, a rice porridge with chicken or duck, lots of ginger and crunchy greens. I’ll eat it on a park bench, in the fog.

Then I’ll head back into the market. I like to get there by 8.30am: the quality of our local produce is outstanding and the stallholders run out of things fast. Some of my favourites are Farmer Al at Frog Hollow Farm, for amazing seasonal fruit; Dirty Girl Produce, purveyors of such an astonishing array of vegetables that I don’t know the names of half of them; the Cowgirl Creamery, which has fabulous cheese; and June Taylor, who makes wonderful tangy jams, marmalades and butters using interesting combinations such as rhubarb with lavender. If I have time, I’ll stop for an oyster po’boy sandwich – French bread loaded with oysters, grilled onions and chicory – from the Hayes Street Grill stall, but I have to be at Davies Hall by 10am to rehearse with the San Francisco Symphony.

The rehearsal usually finishes around 12.30pm, when I’ll take the dogs to the Presidio, one of the Golden Gate National Parks on a former military base. The dogs can run around off the leash at Crissy Field, an airfield that has been very successfully restored to a beautiful green area by volunteers. By then the fog should have lifted, and I’ll continue up to the Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Mason, which dates back to the Civil War.

If I can find a safe place to leave the dogs, I’ll have a quick look around The Walt Disney Family Museum, another jewel in the area which only opened last year and tells the story of the Disney Studios, from Walt Disney’s hand-drawn illustrations right up to all the latest technical advances.

I’ll have a short rest at home before my concert that evening at Davies Hall, which is only a short walk away. It’s a fantastic hall, and we do about three or four concerts a week there for a very diverse and enthusiastic public. After the concert, I’ll drive for an hour or so to some place north of the city. There are some wonderful little spots up there; Stinson Beach, Inverness, Point Reyes, and one that I’d prefer to keep a secret.

I’ll probably stay at a bed and breakfast and wake up in this beautiful environment with endless walks along the beach, in the mountains or the forest, where the shade of the redwood trees creates an incredible sense of stillness. I use this time to think about the music in my head, the music I want to write. People often ask me where I feel my home is and the honest answer is: some place inside the music. When I conduct a Mahler or a Beethoven symphony, it’s a bit like revisiting a favourite national park; I feel I’ve stepped into a place I know – I understand where to go and how to pace myself.

Eventually I’ll have to return to the city. I’ll eat at Rose’s Café, which has tables outside, so I can take the dogs. The fog will have returned, but there are heaters and, besides, I relish the constantly changing weather. Then I head home, fully restored for the week ahead.”

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