“Keeping Score”: Where the Classics Are Current — and High-Tech

“I sometimes think I should’ve been a filmmaker rather than a musician.”

So says Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor and music director of the San Francisco Symphony.

As a matter of fact, Thomas has had the opportunity to be both a filmmaker and a musician simultaneously in Keeping Score, his acclaimed documentary series with the San Francisco orchestra — a modern equivalent to what Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic achieved with their televised Young People’s Concerts in the 1960s. After a pilot episode on Tchaikovsky, Keeping Score had a debut season of Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Copland and a second season of Berlioz, Ives, and Shostakovich. It now concludes with a season devoted to Mahler, comprising two episodes that are premiering nationally on PBS on June 23 and 30 and other dates in the last 2 weeks of the month (check local listings).

Thomas on location in the Czech Republic town of Kaliste, the birthplace of Mahler

Thomas on location near the Czech Republic town of Kaliste, the birthplace of Mahler

“I tend to work with musicians more as if they’re actors,” Thomas reflects, “giving them a kind of subtext for what they should do. So it was a pleasure for me to do this series. I think in these next years, I will be working more in this area — and actually thinking more about what is seen by the audience, whether that’s onstage or on-camera.”

Which is not to say that he doesn’t take very seriously the musical significance of the project. “The power and the emotion of classical music speak to all of us and are part of our human heritage. In Keeping Score, we try to bring audiences closer to that heritage — to experience it, enjoy it, and learn more about it.”