LENOX, Mass. — The conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, during his half-century career in music, has led many performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with its rousing “Ode to Joy” finale.
But when he took the podium on Sunday at Tanglewood, the summer music festival here in the Berkshires, Thomas felt different. It had been more than a year since he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, which has drained him of energy and forced him to confront his mortality earlier than he expected. He has emerged with new appreciation for the wonder in Beethoven’s music and the electricity of live performance.
“It feels really great,” Thomas, 77, said after the performance. “It feels restorative.”
Thomas, the former music director of the San Francisco Symphony, who has spent his career as a musician studying questions of time and existence, knows that his days are limited. He has taken bucket-list trips to Tahiti and Nova Scotia with family and friends; organized journals on life and art that he has kept for more than 60 years; and started contemplating the music to be played at his memorial service.