Just weeks after the TSO’s very first concert in 1923, a group of thoughtful volunteers, led by Harriet von Kunits (the wife of our founding Music Director, Luigi von Kunits), formed an organization intended to bolster the success of Toronto’s new orchestra. And though its name has changed no fewer than five times over the years, what is now the Toronto Symphony Volunteer Committee (TSVC) remains an invaluable champion of the TSO—and it marked its own centennial in June.
On the April 30 episode of The New Classical FM’s Sunday Night at the TSO, two long-time TSVC members—Marianne Oundjian (cousin of TSO Conductor Emeritus Peter Oundjian) and Houry Artinian—spoke with host Kathleen Kajioka about the composition of the committee, its many contributions to the TSO, and the fundraising events it holds annually.
“We have people from all walks of life,” noted Marianne. “The common denominator is the love of music. Everyone is there of their free will, working toward a common cause. It’s a very special thing, and it builds camaraderie, life-long friendships, and you’re doing something to really enhance the culture of the city you live in.”
Over the 100 years, we estimate about $42 million-plus has been raised for the TSO,” explained Houry. “This year especially, for the 100th anniversary, just to mark the milestone, we have started a new project, and it’s an endowment fund. We’re collecting $1 million [to] fund the chair of the conductor of the TSYO, which is the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra.
This project perfectly aligns with one of the TSVC’s top priorities—raising funds for the TSO’s education programs. The committee’s financial contributions help ensure that the TSYO—which is now in its 50th season—remains a tuition-free program for its talented young members. The TSVC also currently supports our Morning with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (MTSO) Open Rehearsals for high school music students from across the GTA.
Along with the revenue it receives via donations, the committee raises funds through a variety of enjoyable, community-building events that are held throughout the season. These include a fine-wine auction, a bridge tournament, a speaker series with guest lecturers, participation in the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, and even a Kentucky Derby–themed affair at Woodbine Racetrack.
To celebrate the vital and enduring role the TSVC has played in the TSO’s history and, by extension, Toronto’s musical life, two special events were held in the spring to honour its membership.
A flag-raising ceremony took place at Toronto City Hall on April 21, and the program fittingly began with a fanfare performed by TSO Principal Trumpet Andrew McCandless, whose chair is endowed by the TSVC. Guests arriving at the Council Chamber were also serenaded by a trio of TSYO musicians—Junia Friesen on violin, Lucas Chen on viola, and Mario Rodriguez McMillan on cello.
The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, was in attendance and recognized the committee’s contributions to Ontario culture in her remarks. Our CEO, Mark Williams, and Vice-Chair of the TSO Board, Tom Smee, likewise shared messages of thanks and congratulations, which were warmly received by TSVC President Debra Walker on behalf of all members. The evening concluded with a celebratory reception in the City Hall Members Lounge.
The committee’s centennial was honoured at Roy Thomson Hall as well. The TSO’s June 10 performance of Symphonie Fantastique + Mozart was dedicated to the TSVC, and more than 40 members and their guests attended.
“Over the past century, the TSVC has given the TSO so much,” said Mark in his pre-concert remarks from the stage. “From the first-ever endowed orchestra chair in Canada to two Steinway grand pianos…the TSVC has made a tremendous impact on the TSO, and on our community…. But it’s not only their material support; the TSVC are some of the greatest ambassadors and friends we could hope for.”
Mark then welcomed The Honourable Bob Rae, Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations and a former TSO Board Chair, to the stage to pay special tribute to the TSVC.
Following the performance, guests were treated to cake in the South Lobby and raised a glass of bubbly in honour of the TSVC while Mark and Debra spoke again, and TSO Principal Flute Kelly Zimba Lukić—whose chair is also endowed by the TSVC—shared a message of gratitude on behalf of the musicians of the Orchestra. Kelly referred to the TSVC as a family, and as we reflect on their Centennial year, we couldn’t agree more.
Congratulations to all past and present members of the Toronto Symphony Volunteer Committee and our deepest thanks once again for your century of generous support.