2018/19 in review

From welcoming Gimeno to Star Wars to our first Relaxed Performance—the 2018/19 season was one to remember

It’s hard to believe it’s over already! The whirlwind 2018/19 TSO season started with the exciting announcement of Gustavo Gimeno’s appointment as the TSO’s incoming Music Director, and it ended with Maestro Gimeno coming back to conduct the suite from The Firebird. The maestro also stayed after each concert to take part in a Q&A with Chief Executive Officer Matthew Loden and Concertmaster Jonathan Crow, giving the audience a small taste of his vision and ideas for the Orchestra when he fully takes on his role in the 2020/21 season.

We introduced new initiatives such as opening up Explore the Score (a development program for composers to have their work performed by an orchestra) to the public for free. We hosted our inaugural Evening Epic fundraising event, partnering with Polaris Music Prize and JUNO Award winner Jeremy Dutcher.

2018/19 by the numbers

  • 230,000 seats filled at TSO concerts
  • 32,000 students of all ages attended School Concerts
  • 18 soloists made their début with the TSO
  • 3 World Premières of new works (by Jordan Pal, Emilie LeBel, and Stewart Goodyear)
  • 1 Music Director announcement

The numbers don’t lie: 2018/19 was a groundbreaking year in audience engagement and artistic development for the TSO. Every one of our audience members experienced a season full of enthusiasm, momentum, and incredible performances.

Explore the Score

Kathryn Knowles (left) and TSO Affiliate Composer Emilie LeBel (right) introduce Kathryn’s piece, Gestures and Games, to Explore the Score attendees.

For the first time ever, audience members were invited to witness the composition process first-hand with Explore the Score on January 12. This marked the fifth anniversary of the TSO’s annual Canada-wide Call for Scores, bringing together a cohort of emerging composers to hear their works performed in a professional orchestral setting and receive mentorship from artistic and administrative staff. Composers introduced their pieces to the audience and shared their inspiration for writing. The Orchestra played through each composition in full at least twice, and TSO Composer Advisor Gary Kulesha talked to the audience about the unique parts of each composition as the Orchestra rehearsed.

Relaxed Performance

TSO’s inaugural Relaxed Performance welcomed patrons of all ages and abilities to boogie along to Let's Dance. The program, which was designed primarily for youth on the autism spectrum and their families, featured musical styles from various cultures, dancers from the Joy of Dance Centre, and the TSO début of conductor Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, Artist-in-Residence and Community Ambassador of Symphony Nova Scotia. Close to 800 attendees enjoyed the concert, all in a unique, low-stress, and welcoming environment.

An enthusiastic audience practices some Bhangra dance moves at the TSO's first Relaxed Performance, led by conductor Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser.

Equilibrium Young Artists program

In February 2019, Sir Andrew Davis and conductor/soprano Barbara Hannigan announced the selection of four young Canadian singers who will participate in this unique and transformative professional development program. Selected through an expansive national search and audition process, soprano Jenavieve Moore, mezzo-soprano Jillian Bonner, tenor Charles Sy, and bass Trevor Eliot Bowes will be the featured vocal soloists in Mozart’s Requiem—conducted by Sir Andrew Davis at Roy Thomson Hall from January 15 to 18, 2020. Leading up to the performance, the singers will attend an intensive workshop series at the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance in Nova Scotia in August 2019, working in a close mentoring relationship with Barbara Hannigan (founder of the program), Jackie Reardon (coach to Olympic medal–winning athletes), and leaders in business, technology, and the arts.

Evening Epic

Jeremy Dutcher performs alongside the Orchestra and conductor Lucas Waldin at the TSO's first-ever Evening Epic gala.

In April, Evening Epic brought together TSO supporters for an unforgettable night of music and celebration in support of the Orchestra’s music-education and mentorship programs. Guests were treated to a one-night-only headlining collaboration between the TSO and Jeremy Dutcher (winner of the 2018 Polaris Music Prize and the 2019 Juno Award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year), amazing pop-up performances by TSO musicians and Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra members, and a dance floor energized by DJ Sandy Duperval.

Artist débuts

2018/19 marked the introduction of many exciting new artists to the TSO stage—with 18 débuting soloists including George Li, Claire de Sévigné, and Simon O’Neill. The season was also a fantastic showcase for débuting conductors, with up-and-coming international stars Kerem Hasan, Gemma New, and Aziz Shokhakimov, established maestros such as Han-Na Chang and Kirill Karabits, and Canadian conductors Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser and TSO RBC Resident Conductor Simon Rivard all taking to the TSO podium for the very first time.

Soprano Claire de Sévigné, right, with mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy, who made her TSO début in December 2002.
Simon O'Neill, tenor, made his TSO début in February 2019.
Conductor Kerem Hasan made his TSO début in April 2019.
Conductor Kirill Karabits made his TSO début in September 2018, performing alongside violinist Nicola Benedetti, who made her TSO début in March 2010.
Han-Na Chang made her TSO conducting début in October 2018, 17 years after her début as a cello soloist in 2001.
Conductor Gemma New made her TSO début in March 2019.

Sold-out shows & epic repertoire

Exciting sold-out concerts in 2018/19 included Beethoven Symphony 5—performed at both Roy Thomson Hall and George Weston Recital Hall in North York—and Carmina Burana, which featured an all-debuting cast comprising Nicole Haslett, Sunnyboy Dladla, and Norman Garrett. The TSO’s performance at the 21C Music Festival, in partnership with the Royal Conservatory of Music, also drew a packed crowd and showcased the TSO’s long-standing dedication to new and Canadian music. The 21C performance also featured the first commission by Emilie LeBel as the TSO’s RBC Affiliate Composer. Entitled They do not shimmer like the dry grasses on the hills, or the leaves on the trees, the work was inspired by many lonely drives across the North American landscape.

The TSO is one of the few orchestras in Canada that can showcase some of the biggest and most demanding pieces in the repertoire. The 2018/19 season gave audiences an incredible number of opportunities to witness the TSO at full force, with a performance of Britten’s War Requiem on the centenary of Armistice Day, three Mahler symphonies, and the entire first act of Wagner’s Die Walküre performed in concert with Sir Andrew Davis.

Star Wars Film Concert Series

The TSO took audiences to a galaxy far, far away with the Star Wars Film Concert Series, where fans were able to experience John Williams’s classic scores performed live to picture by the TSO. Audiences began their galactic adventure with Star Wars: A New Hope—In Concert in January, closely followed by Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back—In Concert in March. Generously funded by the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund, the series continues in the 2019/20 season with Star Wars: Return of the Jedi—In Concert in October, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens—In Concert in May.

TSO Associate Principal Double Bass Michael Chiarello, Horn Gabriel Radford, Bassoon Samuel Banks, and Clarinet/Bass Clarinet Miles Jaques greet a pint-sized Darth Vader in the Roy Thomson Hall lobby before a TSO Star Wars performance.
TSO Cello Alastair Eng, right, poses with a mini-Stormtrooper.

Recordings & awards

Last summer, the TSO released a compendium of pieces composed by Vaughan Williams, recorded at a live November 2017 concert conducted by Peter Oundjian and featuring several soloists, including Principal Oboe Sarah Jeffrey and Principal Viola Teng Li. The album was highly acclaimed, winning the 2019 JUNO Award for Best Classical Album: Large Ensemble, and receiving a 2018 GRAMMY nomination for Best Classical Compendium.

Earlier in 2018/19, the TSO recorded Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Fantaisie sur la Tempête de Shakespeare, which has recently been released by Chandos.

TSO in the Community

Partnerships

Musicians, staff, and youth orchestra members all took part in a number of partnership events throughout the year, helping the TSO engage more deeply with the community. Season highlights included:

  • A September visit from soloist Nicola Benedetti to an after-school Sistema program at Parkdale Junior Public School
  • An energetic performance of Adizokan (commissioned by the TSO and premièred in 2017) during the Fall for Dance North Festival in October, featuring the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra and Indigenous multidisciplinary arts group Red Sky Performance
  • Workshops with high school students as part of the Specialist High Skills Major program in November, and with African-Carribean students as part of the Leadership by Design program in April
  • A February masterclass, in partnership with the Royal Conservatory of Music, featuring soloist Alisa Weilerstein
  • Two side-by-side performances with members of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra and students from Regent Park School of Music in February

Outside their performances with the TSO, several musicians played for audiences who would normally face barriers to attending concerts. TSO Principal Harp Heidi Van Hoesen Gorton and Principal Flute Kelly Zimba performed for residents of the Dementia Care unit at Belmont House in a September recital organized by the Health Arts Society of Ontario, and Concertmaster Jonathan Crow performed for veterans in long-term care at Sunnybrook Hospital at the end of April.

School Concerts

Orchestra members interact with excited students after a TSO School Concert.

Did you know that approximately one in six TSO concerts are performed for school or youth audiences? 2018/19 was a fantastic season for School Concerts (despite a couple of snow days), with performances of The Adizokan Suite for high school students, an interactive musical-improv program for junior- and intermediate-level students—in partnership with alumni of The Second City—and the high-energy Let’s Dance! program for kindergarten and primary-level students. These programs are an essential part of the TSO’s work and help to spark creativity and a love for music in new generations. In the words of one student who attended The Adizokan Suite, “If I hadn’t gone to see the TSO the first time I did, I wouldn’t be nearly as passionate about music as I am now.”

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