The MTT Files

American Public Media, San Francisco Symphony

The absence of musical snobbery is one of the key attractions of The MTT Files, an eight-part public radio series anchored by Michael Tilson Thomas, a piano prodigy who grew up to be, among other things, the current music director of the San Francisco Symphony. Thomas’ “files” are bursting with anecdotes and observations gleaned from creative associations and study going back nearly 50 years. In an hour entitled “You Call That Music?!,” he opens listeners’ ears to challenging new music by reminding us, verbally and with samples, that now-beloved compositions by Beethoven and other classical icons were initially booed by audiences and dismissed as noise by critics. In the two-part “What Does America Sound Like?,” Thomas lovingly demonstrates how Aaron Copland, a friend and mentor, forged a uniquely American classical music. “Igor Stravinsky’s Copyright Blues” relates the sad, fascinating story of how the great Russian composer spent years trying to collect royalties for his best-known work, “The Firebird.” Perhaps best of all, there’s “We Were Playing Boulez, But We Were Listening to James Brown,” in which Thomas elucidates his undying admiration of “Cold Sweat” and includes his interview with Brown, conducted just a few months before the Godfather of Soul’s death. For its open-eared, open-minded approach to music education and appreciation, a Peabody Award goes to The MTT Files.


Executive producer: Sarah Lutman. Producer: Tom Voegeli. Writers: Michael Tilson Thomas with Tom Voegeli. Research: Rex Levang.