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Headshots for Mark Lillie, Jesse Dale, & Christopher Laven

New Season, New Faces: Mark Lillie, Jesse Dale, & Christopher Laven

Meet the seven new members of the orchestra!
November 7, 2023

Adding to an already exciting Year 101 of your Toronto Symphony Orchestra, seven new musicians join the roster, including three new faces in the violin section, three more in the double basses, and one new trumpet. After jumping through the rigorous audition process — which drew in hundreds of applicants from around the world — the latest recruits join our New Season, New Faces series to reflect on the incredible chain of events that has brought them to one of Canada’s premier orchestras. Part Three of this series concludes with TSO Double Basses Mark Lillie, Jesse Dale, and Christopher Laven.

Mark Lillie

Mark Lillie, Double Bass

Mark Lillie is a native of Boulder, Colorado and began his musical career at the age of 13. He received his Bachelor of Music degree from the Colburn Conservatory of Music, his Master of Music degree from The Juilliard School, and a Professional Performance Diploma from the Manhattan School of Music. Lillie has served as Principal Bass of the Colburn and Juilliard Orchestras, Music Academy Festival Orchestra, Colorado College Summer Music Festival Orchestra, and National Repertory Orchestra. 

NW — What are some of your favorite pieces to perform?

ML — I enjoy playing the music of Mahler and Strauss because of the enormous instrumentations that they often call for. The climactic moments in these pieces are second to none!

NW — What are you looking forward to exploring in Toronto?

ML — I’m new to the city, but from what I’ve seen, it’s one of the most diverse and inclusive places I’ve ever been to! I’m really looking forward to trying all of the different foods I’ve never had before made in authentic ways!

NW — What would you like to tell both longtime patrons of the TSO and newcomers?

ML — Whether you’re a regular or it’s your very first concert, we’re excited anytime someone decides to spend their time listening to us! You don’t need extensive knowledge of classical music to enjoy yourself.

Jesse Dale

Jesse Dale, Double Bass

Jesse Dale attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Texas, where he studied closely with many Dallas Symphony musicians. After two years at the New England Conservatory of Music, he graduated summa cum laude in 2021 from the University of North Texas. Jesse has also performed with many acclaimed ensembles, including the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra, the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, the Callithumpian Consort, and the Phoenix Orchestra of Boston.

NW — How did you feel when you found out you were joining the TSO? 

JD — I've dreamt about joining a professional orchestra since I started playing bass, and after performing a successful audition for TSO, it felt unreal. Seeing all of my hard work pay off in such a way brought an immense mix of emotions: disbelief, gratification, relief, and nervous excitement all at once.

NW — Which upcoming performances with the orchestra are you particularly excited about?

JD — Mahler's Third Symphony will be one of the largest pieces — in size and orchestration — that I will have played at this point, and I am looking forward to performing it. 

NW — What are you looking forward to exploring in Toronto?

JD — I've been told the natural parks around Toronto and upper Ontario are beautiful and, as a native Texan, I can't wait to explore the nature and wildlife of this part of the world. Also, the food!

Christopher Laven

Christopher Laven, Double Bass

Christopher Laven grew up in a musical family and began his studies at a young age while living in Houston, Texas. He received his bachelor’s degree in Houston at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, and would go on to complete his master’s degree in Boston at the New England Conservatory (NEC). Outside of classical music, Christopher is also a music producer who works closely with Latino artist 3van, who is a close friend from high school.

NW — How did you feel when you found out you were joining the Toronto Symphony Orchestra?

CL — I honestly didn’t believe it when I heard my name called after the final round. The audition was in December 2022, and it truly still hasn’t set in after almost 12 months! The opportunity to join the TSO is really a great honor for me. Playing full time in a professional orchestra has been something I’ve been working towards and dreaming of since I was a kid, and I can’t wait to show up to work everyday and have fun doing what I love!

NW — What are some of your favorite pieces to perform?

CL — My favorite composer, not only to perform but also to listen to is, without a doubt, J.S. Bach. Something about the freedom that his music yields is inspiring to me as a performer. I enjoy how everytime I play through a movement of one of the cello suites, this freedom lets me improvise my way through, allowing each run to not only sound different but also feel different.

NW — Which upcoming performances with the orchestra are you particularly excited about?

CL — One of the programs I’m looking forward to the most takes place during the last weekend in March, featuring Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony, Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto, and Anna Clyne’s Within Her Arms. The Shostakovich is one of my favorite pieces and holds a very special place in my heart. The Prokofiev has always been a piece I enjoy listening to, so I’m stoked to finally get to play it! During my time at the New England Conservatory, I had the opportunity to play a couple of Anna Clyne’s works, and I look forward to exploring more of her actively growing repertoire.

NW — What are some of your passions outside of music? 

CL — Outside of classical music, I enjoy music production and working with other artists across different genres. I also love basketball. I play anytime I can and love going to see games live. Being outdoors has been something I’ve always enjoyed, and that was really instilled in me by my family ever since I was a kid. Especially skiing, hiking, and climbing.