On a cold winter night in a Yonge Street record shop, a spark was ignited. In early 1974, Brian McBurney attended a recital by renowned violinist Isaac Stern at Massey Hall with a university friend. Afterward, they walked up Yonge Street in search of an Isaac Stern record—one which Brian still has in his impressive shared collection of LPs displayed in the living room of his Cabbagetown home. In the shop, he ran into Thomas Beechy, who happened to have been at the same concert that evening. Shortly after, they began attending concerts together, and, as they put it, have been hanging out ever since.
Tom played piano and harpsichord in his younger years—he is modest, but Brian insists Tom could play Bach beautifully. There was always classical music in Tom’s family home. His father, who worked for the Pentagon, was an amateur musician. Growing up in the Washington, DC area and later Chicago, Tom’s family attended symphony concerts and had access to an array of excellent cultural activities. Tom—a professor of accounting and later an Associate Dean at Schulich School of Business—arrived in Toronto in 1972 and immediately began attending TSO concerts.
Brian has always been an appreciator of music. His first TSO concerts were in the 1960s when he was still in high school. He fondly recalls seeing Maestro Seiji Ozawa walk out to the podium in his turtlenecks, looking “fabulously cool” and “radical for that time.” He also recalls the overwhelming emotion he felt when hearing celebrated Canadian soprano Lois Marshall sing “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” from Handel’s Messiah with the TSO at Massey Hall.
Brian speaks about his and Tom’s mutual affection for Massey Hall and their nervous excitement about the “new hall” opening in 1982. But they’ve come to appreciate Roy Thomson Hall and even have a memento from its opening lovingly displayed in their home—a vintage, framed subway ad—as part of an eclectic collection of art they have curated over time.
Tom and Brian share a deep interest in the cultural life of the city and the province. Over the years, they have been supporters of many cultural institutions, such as the Shaw Festival, the Stratford Festival, the Canadian Opera Company, The National Ballet of Canada, the National Ballet School, Opera Atelier, and others. When asked what inspired them to support these organizations over the years, Brian doesn’t hesitate to answer: “the arts make life richer.”
They have been loyal TSO donors for more than 40 years—initially as Friends and then as Maestro’s Club and Music Director’s Circle members.
As Music Director’s Circle members, Tom and Brian have been recognized as supporting many concerts and artists over the years. Brian—a librarian by profession—keeps a collection of TSO programs that are significant or of interest. Looking through the programs together, Tom and Brian recall some of the artists they enjoyed supporting, like American pianist Leon Fleisher, Canadian pianist Janina Fialkowska, and Danish conductor Thomas Dausgaard. They reflect on a post-concert dinner with Dausgaard, Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki, and others, including Lisiecki's mother, as he was still in his teens at the time. And while meeting artists and being recognized for their support is considered “a nice benefit” by Tom and Brian, it’s abundantly clear that their giving is about supporting the city’s cultural vibrancy.
Tom and Brian describe themselves as comfortable folk. They are not among the ultra-wealthy; they’ve done a lifetime of work and consider themselves very fortunate to have been able to donate $100,000 to the TSO during this milestone 100th year.
They have been with the TSO through ups and downs, and were pleased with the news that the TSO’s 40-year accumulated deficit had been eliminated in 2022. They wanted to do something to ensure the TSO has a firm financial standing in the future—and this felt like the right time.
Brian describes Toronto as a cornucopia of arts. “We have everything here,” he says. “The city’s cultural offerings are on par with the likes of New York and London in a way they weren’t 30 or 40 years ago, and we want to keep it that way.”
Above all, Tom and Brian would like to encourage others to give generously. They urge their fellow music lovers to join them in making a gift of “100 for 100”—whether it’s $100, $1,000, or even $10,000—in honour of the TSO’s 100th anniversary in 2023.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is grateful to Thomas H. Beechy & Brian McBurney for their generous support. If you would like to join them in making a special gift to celebrate 100 years of the TSO, please call Patron Services at 416.598.3375 or visit TSO.CA/Support.