Harry McDoggus
December 23, 2022
New Leadership Guides TSO to Bright Future for Second 100 Years
Jag Gundu

On Monday, 13 February 2023 at 8pm, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) will return to Carnegie Hall for the continuing celebration of its 100th anniversary season. The date is the centerpiece of a brief tour - Southam Hall in Ottawa on Saturday, 11 February at 8pm; Symphony Center in Chicago on Tuesday, 14 February at 8pm - the Orchestra's first under the direction of Music Director and Conductor Gustavo Gimeno. "I am beyond excited to be embarking on this journey with the TSO." says Mr. Gimeno, appointed as Music Director in 2020. "Not only is it our first tour together, but the New York concert will also represent my Carnegie Hall debut and the Chicago concert marks the TSO's debut at Symphony Center."

The Toronto Symphony is indeed engaged in opening a new chapter in its history, one which will be powered by a dynamic partnership between two leaders: Mr. Gimeno, and the Orchestra's newly appointed CEO, Mark Williams, who was hired to lead the TSO team in the spring of 2022. "Gustavo and I have known, worked with and admired one another for years, so it is particularly fitting that we now find ourselves colleagues, collaborating on a new vision and a new direction for this terrific orchestra." says Mr. Williams. "Two of our biggest priorities are new music and audience diversity. The TSO has a solid history in both realms, but we believe we can add more layers of depth and relevance going forward, as they are the two most important keys to really expanding the growth and success of the TSO over its next 100 years."

The tour's concert program features two much-beloved audience favorites: Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole (featuring Spanish violinist María Dueñas), and in a nod to Valentine's Day, a suite compiled by Mr. Gimeno from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. The very first piece on the program is a new work commissioned by Gimeno from Canadian composer Samy Moussa. Says Mr. Gimeno "This will not be the kind of short piece often programmed by orchestras, a brief-as-possible gesture to new music. This is a substantial work of 20 minutes, Moussa's Symphony No. 2, in its U.S. premiere. We believe strongly in giving young composers the attention they deserve, and to sharing our discoveries with our audiences in creative ways."

The Toronto Symphony is a champion of new music, with a rich tradition of playing and commissioning new works. Since 1960 the Orchestra has commissioned almost 200 compositions, from such composers as John Adams, Nicole Lizée, John Harbison, Mark Anthony Turnage, Jennifer Higdon, Philip Glass, Tod Machover, Mason Bates, Peter Lieberson, Luigi Nono, André Previn, Abigail Richardson, Jörg Widmann, Vivian Fung and many more. And in their pursuit of bringing important compositional voices to light, Williams and Gimeno are thinking not only of today's composers but the rising stars of tomorrow. Each year the TSO teams up with the Canadian Music Centre to hold composition-reading sessions called Explore the Score. These sessions provide emerging composers the opportunity to hear their compositions played by a first-rate orchestra, a rare and invaluable tool for the development of a natural talent. Then there is the NextGen Composers series: As part of Mr. Gimeno's commitment to supporting and developing Canadian talent, each season he selects early-career composers to be mentored and have a five-minute piece performed during the season. The composers most currently chosen for this program are Luis Ramirez, Fjola Evans, and Matthew-John Knights.

The other top priority for the Toronto Symphony is well articulated in an interview Mark Williams gave in the Toronto Globe and Mail: “Ultimately, my dream is that the audience for any TSO concert looks like Toronto—has the diversity, the texture, the fun, the depth that this city has. Because when that happens, I’ll know this organization is serving everyone, and it’s of the city.” One could hardly illustrate this philosophy better than to describe the Orchestra's offerings on 24 September 22, its Open House and Free Concert day to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Four thousand members of the community - both familiar faces and new friends - came to participate in a full day of concerts, activities, contests, games and general merriment. No prior experience with the Toronto Symphony required; no special clothes, no level of music education, nothing expected of audience members except open ears, a curious mind and a sense of fun.

The TSO has also developed a number of programs to engage the community: The Art of Healing, a new initiative in collaboration with CAMH (Toronto's psychiatric teaching hospital Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) that supports First Nations, Inuit, and Métis patients through storytelling and musical composition; in-person children's concerts targeted to specific grade levels; online learning programs; open rehearsals; teachers' study guides; Young People's Concerts focused on specific topics ("Reggae Roots"; "The Hockey Sweater"; "Why Sci-Fi?"); "Relaxed Performances", intended to be sensitive to and welcoming of neurodiverse audiences, including patrons on the autism spectrum, those with sensory and communication disorders, people with learning disabilities, or those who simply want a more relaxed concert experience; Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, heading into its 50th season providing a high-level orchestral experience for talented young musicians aged 22 and under and delivering, tuition-free, a unique, powerful, and life-enriching opportunity that encourages significant achievement, regardless of the career path participants choose to pursue; partnership with the local YMCA; collaborations with the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and, in a uniquely innovative partnership with a local small-batch ice cream maker, the TSO developed Toronto's first symphonic ice cream flavor, Be Major.

Given the vast galaxy of robust, ambitious programs and initiatives developed by the Toronto Symphony, it is remarkable that the Orchestra recently announced the elimination of its accumulated deficit. Simultaneous to that good news was added the extension of Mr. Gimeno's contract through the 2029/2030 season.

In the Toronto Star, Mark Williams added another statement of purpose: “I would like to see the orchestra taking up more space, not just in its own arts and culture silo. Ultimately, we need to be Toronto’s symphony orchestra. What that means is, whatever is important to the city has to be important to us. An openhearted, doors-open orchestra.”

Mark Williams, the new CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, oversees all aspects of artistic planning and programming, touring, and orchestra operations. He comes to the TSO with a background of leadership in orchestra management, having held senior positions at the San Francisco Symphony and most recently as Chief Artistic and Operations Officer at The Cleveland Orchestra. In the latter capacity he led
the development of subscription series in Cleveland and Miami, a touring schedule that frequently brought the Orchestra to Europe and Asia, and operations for the Orchestra and choruses. He first joined The Cleveland Orchestra in 2013, producing acclaimed productions of Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, and a double bill of Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin and Bluebeard’s Castle. From 2009 to 2012, Mr. Williams served as Artistic Administrator of the San Francisco Symphony, where he directed programming of various series, co-produced staged opera, and led casting. Mr. Williams began his career in artist management, holding posts at Columbia Artists Management and IMG Artists. A native of Ohio, Mr. Williams holds a bachelor of music degree in horn performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music and Case Western Reserve University.

Gustavo Gimeno is known for his passion in exploring how well-known classical works contrast and illuminate repertoire across many musical genres and compositional styles. He made his Canadian début with the TSO in February 2018. When he led the TSO in Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé in October 2019, the Toronto Star stated “Gimeno revealed himself to be a focused, meticulous leader whose main goal was to let the composer’s ideas speak clearly…. The Toronto Symphony will be in sure artistic hands for the foreseeable future.” Mr. Gimeno has also been the Music Director of the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg (OPL) since 2015, and is a much sought-after guest conductor worldwide, performing with the Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, London Philharmonic Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and Münchner Philharmoniker. His U.S. conducting engagements include the San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston and Chicago symphony orchestras, The Cleveland Orchestra, and many more. In opera, he has conducted at Liceu Opera Barcelona, Zurich Opera, and Valencia Opera House. Born in Spain, he began his international conducting career in 2012 as assistant to Mariss Jansons at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, and early on was mentored by Bernard Haitink and Claudio Abbado. His first recording with the TSO, in Messiaen’s Turangalîla, will be released in Spring 2023.

Spanish violinist María Dueñas, recently described by the New York Times as a "stupendous soloist...wholly captivating", has at 20 already garnered the reviews, awards and professional opportunities of a person twice her age. A multi-faceted musician, she is not only a soloist much in demand but also a dedicated chamber musician and composer. Notable performances of the recent past include appearances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the world premiere of Altar de cuerda, a piece written for her by Gabriela Ortiz; the Dresdner Philharmonie with Marek Janowski; the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Oslo Philharmonic under Manfred Honeck; and the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg with Gustavo Gimeno. She has signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon and will open her DG discography with Beethoven's Violin Concerto, for which she wrote the cadenza. Recorded in Vienna with the Wiener Symphoniker and Manfred Honeck, this debut album will be released in May 2023.

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