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TSO on stage taking a bow to an enthusiastic audience

In Review: TSO Year 101

Reliving the Bold New Beginning of Our Second Century
July 5, 2024

There are at least 101 reasons why your Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s 2023/24 season—the first year of our auspicious second century—was one for the books. It delivered unforgettable musical experiences that resonated with audiences of all ages, backgrounds, and tastes—from our transcendent Masterworks performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony, to our high-energy Bhangra & Beyond Young People’s Concert (YPC), to our nostalgic Pops tribute to Aretha Franklin—while introducing patrons to new musicians, composers, and creations. At the same time, we continued to support and cultivate emerging talent through a variety of mentorship initiatives, and we worked to enrich the lives of all Torontonians with our community engagement programs and events.

Relive some of the highlights of this truly stellar season:

We Are Your Toronto Symphony Orchestra

When our 2023/24 programming was first announced, Beck Family CEO Mark Williams described the season as “an open-arms, open-heart kind of year,” where “all music lovers can find a home.” Nowhere was this more apparent than in the programs and experiences we crafted to deepen our relationships with our diverse local communities. 

We formed a new partnership with Sistema Toronto, leading workshops, rehearsals, and master classes at elementary schools and Roy Thomson Hall in a shared effort to bring barrier-free music education to students in under-served communities across the city. The second year of our Art of Healing program, offered in partnership with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and in collaboration with Shkaabe Makwa—the Centre for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Wellness—saw CAMH clients work with Cree composer Andrew Balfour to write an original piece. We also gave the World Première of the inaugural Art of Healing creation, Ian Cusson’s Ikiru, in June, led by Music Director Gustavo Gimeno.

Our groundbreaking TSOUND Connections initiative connected our musicians with seniors in day programs twice a week to reduce feelings of social isolation and improve mood. The 83 intimate concerts brought the total number of performances to more than 400 since the program began in 2020. And, our partnership with the Toronto Public Library—Symphony Storytime—paired up library programmers and orchestra members to read and provide musical accompaniment to books for children at different branches on four PA Days throughout the season.

For the second consecutive year, we ushered our season in and out with free community events: On opening weekend, we hosted our Symphony With Us: Open House & Free Concert at Roy Thomson Hall, welcoming thousands of people from across the GTA for a day filled with immersive activities and performances. We closed the year with an outdoor Canada Day weekend concert at Harbourfront Centre, led by Barrett Principal Education Conductor & Community Ambassador Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser and featuring violinist and former Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra Concertmaster Joelle Crigger.

Concerts designed with particular communities in mind also filled the calendar—from our three Relaxed Performances, of YPC and Masterworks programs, for the Neurodiverse and Disability communities; to ringing in the Year of the Dragon with Mayor Olivia Chow; to our second annual appearance in Brampton; to our entertaining and educational School Concerts for students from across the GTA.

Future Forward: Cultivating Musical Talent

Fostering and showcasing emerging and ascending talent is a vital component of our role as a driver of culture in this city, province, and nation. And our ever-expanding artistic-mentorship programs for instrumentalists, composers, and conductors allow us to do precisely that.

The 2023/24 season marked the 50th anniversary of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra (TSYO), and the impressive young musicians seized every opportunity to celebrate the momentous occasion: In addition to three ambitious regular-season concerts featuring works from diverse eras and creators, they performed, for the first time, a full symphony side by side with the TSO and took part in a highly anticipated exchange with the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra.

Simon Rivard completed his remarkable tenure as TSYO Conductor, passing the baton to Trevor Wilson, who will also continue in his role as RBC Resident Conductor—one of two TSO artistic-leadership positions generously supported by RBC Emerging Artists. The other is the RBC Affiliate Composer role—occupied for the last two seasons by Alison Yun-Fei Jiang. Throughout the year, and under the guidance of Gustavo Gimeno, Trevor and Alison gained valuable experience conducting performances and composing original music, respectively.

Gustavo also acted as Conducting Advisor—and the TSO as Lead Orchestral Partner—for the Women in Musical Leadership national conducting fellowship, which is led by Tapestry Opera to support emerging Canadian women and non-binary conductors. In a June master class, five fellows were given the chance to conduct the orchestra and receive valuable coaching from Gustavo.

Similar opportunities for early-career composers were likewise provided throughout the year. In collaboration with the Canadian Music Centre, our Explore the Score orchestral composition reading and career-development sessions provided four composers with the opportunity to hear their pieces rehearsed by a professional orchestra, after which Gustavo, Alison, and Composer Advisor Emilie LeBel provided incisive feedback. And through our NextGen Composer program, three creators whose profiles are on the rise—Katerina Gimon, Julia Mermelstein, and Christina Volpini—were mentored by Gustavo and Alison as they wrote new works ultimately premièred by the TSO during the season.

Expanding Artistic Frontiers: Iconic Collaborations, New Music & Star Power

Of course, creating extraordinary musical moments is at the heart of everything we do. Key to delivering them is our commitment to advancing the orchestral art form, growing our network of creative partners, and evolving the concert-going experience itself.

Symphony Exploder: The Rite of Spring—our first-of-its-kind collaboration with the hit podcast and Netflix series Song Exploder—featured host Hrishikesh Hirway and Gustavo Gimeno in an onstage conversation that dissected the layers of Stravinsky’s scandalous piece. The dialogue was interspersed with live excerpts and followed by a performance of the complete work. It proved to be a refreshingly new way to engage with a classic composition.

Unfamiliar works, however, proved to be the thread that connected every program in our Masterworks Series. For the first time in our history, each included at least one piece never before performed by the orchestra. These included numerous important premières from such renowned creators as Francisco Coll, Detlev Glanert, Samy Moussa (all three of whom we commissioned or co-commissioned), John Adams, Tansy Davies, Olga Neuwirth, and Guillaume Connesson.

One particularly notable North American Première was of enargeia, a suite of vocal works written by women over a span of more than 800 years selected by Canadian mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo for her JUNO Award–winning début album of the same title. D’Angelo joined us to perform the piece—first in Toronto and then on our tour to Montreal and Ottawa—marking her second appearance with us last season as one of our 2023/24 TSO Spotlight Artists chosen by Gustavo for their virtuosity and versatility. The other was renowned Canadian violinist and longtime friend of the TSO James Ehnes, who performed works by Barber, Bernstein, and French-Cuban composer José White Lafitte across two programs. Ehnes also joined The TSO Chamber Soloists for the final pre-concert performance of their series, curated by Concertmaster Jonathan Crow.

Our star-powered roster of returning guest artists also included, among others, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Daniil Trifonov, Dame Jane Glover, Seong-Jin Cho, Ray Chen, Javier Perianes, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Stéphane Denève, Osmo Vänskä, Conductor Emeritus Peter Oundjian, and our late Conductor Laureate, Sir Andrew Davis. And collaborating with the TSO for the very first time—in addition to Drake and Andrea Bocelli—were such acclaimed performers as Isata Kanneh-Mason, Randall Goosby, Isabel Leonard, Oksana Lyniv, Steven Banks, Gerhild Romberger, Canadian jazz icon Molly Johnson, and Broadway luminary Audra McDonald.

Internally, we grew our relationships as well, with the orchestra welcoming seven superb musicians to its ranks: Associate Principal Second Violin Kun Yan; trumpet Renata Cardoso; violins Christina (Jung Yan) Choi and Ah Young Kim; and double basses Jesse Dale, Christopher Laven, and Mark Lillie. These artists, along with the rest of their TSO colleagues, can soon be heard on our new recording of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, which was captured live in 2023/24, just weeks after the release of Turangalîla-Symphonie—the critically lauded first recording of our multi-disc partnership with prestigious label Harmonia Mundi.

Our bold new beginning created a buzz around the city and was well-received by the media. Here are just a few of the favourable reviews our mainstage programming elicited:

The TSO acknowledges Mary Beck as the Musicians’ Patron in perpetuity for her generous and longstanding support.

Gustavo Gimeno’s appearances are generously supported by Susan Brenninkmeyer, in memory of Hans Brenninkmeyer. 

The TSO’s Education and Community Engagement programs are generously supported by Francine and Bob Barrett.

The TSO’s Season Presenting Sponsor is BMO Financial Group.

RBC Resident Conductor and RBC Affiliate Composer are generously supported by RBC Emerging Artists.

TSYO Conductor is generously supported by the Toronto Symphony Volunteer Committee.

TSOUND Connections is generously supported by TD Bank Group, through the TD Ready Commitment, and the George C. Hunt Family Foundation.

The TSO’s Lunar New Year Concert Presenting Sponsor is Bank of China (Canada).

The TSO is grateful for the support of the Toronto Symphony Foundation and all levels of government, including the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council, the Government of Canada, and the Government of Ontario.