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Saying Goodbye to Four Musicians

June 5, 2024

The English conductor Thomas Beecham once famously said, “There are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together.” The TSO is constituted of exceptional musicians who do exactly that on a daily basis, and show a great deal of care for everything that happens in-between. For four of those musicians—Paul Meyer, Tim Dawson, Michael Sweeney, and Andrew McCandless—all of whom have been with the orchestra for decades, they will be finishing their time with the TSO at the end of this season as they move on to the next chapter of their musical journey. Please join us in our deep gratitude—a gratitude that words simply can’t convey—for their contributions to the TSO since the day they began with us. The togetherness with which they’ve played will continue to inspire the best in us, and we hope the musical bond they’ve forged with the TSO community will continue far into the future. 

Paul Meyer, violin


Initially joining the TSO in the 1979/80 season, Paul Meyer was an obvious choice in Music Director Jukka-Pekka Saraste’s search for a Principal Second Violin in the 1999/2000 season. Paul held this role for almost 20 years with the TSO, leading the Second Violin section with finesse and natural intuition, becoming a familiar face to many loyal TSO patrons and donors along the way. Paul stepped down from this role at the end of the 2019/20 season to finish in the section where he first started. Originally from Kentucky, Paul is equally at home in Canada—where he spent several summers at the renowned Banff Centre—as he is in the United States, where his wife currently performs with The Cleveland Orchestra. In retirement, Paul is looking forward to finally joining his wife, and having the two of them living under one roof! 

45 years with one orchestra is a lifetime, which explains why when Paul was asked what he appreciates most about the evolution of the ensemble during this period he admits, “I came up blank.” For him, he’s always fixed his mind on the task at hand, night after night, concert after concert. “As a player you don't think about these things. You focus on presenting the best version of yourself, and you try to quickly grasp what the conductor of the moment wants, and live to see another day.” Even after approximately 16,425 days later — equivalent to 45 years — Paul adds that, “I think my favourite version of the TSO is the current one under Gustavo Gimeno.”

Paul Meyer and his mother Mary Aloysia Meyer

After nearly five decades with the TSO, Paul has a deep well of experience to draw from in how he assesses the style of a conductor. “For me,” Paul continues, “a test for how well an orchestra and its Music Director are working can be found in the Brahms symphonies. There was our excellent Brahms 1st with Maestro Gimeno which we repeated in Montreal and Ottawa, and our 1991 performance of the same with Günther Herbig at the Musikhalle Hamburg in Johannes Brahms-Platz [in Hamburg]. Despite very different approaches, decades apart, these two TSO Music Directors created lasting memories for me.”

Clockwise from top left: Winona Zelenka (Principal Cello), Paul Meyer (violin), Teng Li (former Principal Viola), and Jacques Israelievitch (former Concertmaster)

Of course, playing in an orchestra isn’t simply a relationship between a musician and the conductor. It’s the musical relationship with his colleagues that Paul recounts as his favourite activity outside of the orchestra, particularly playing in chamber ensembles, “it is the best thing a player can do to stay attuned in this profession.”

Tim Dawson, Double Bass


When Tim Dawson first joined the TSO in 1980, after graduating from the University of Toronto, he was the ensemble’s youngest member at that time. 44 years and five Music Directors later, Tim will be remembered as much for his offstage accomplishments as those onstage. Tim spent many years championing the TSO’s Adopt-A-Player program, where he developed relationships with dozens of elementary classrooms and shared the joy of music composition. More recently, Tim has served as bass coach for the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, where he inspires the next generation of orchestral musicians. All of this speaks to Tim’s passion for the communities he is involved in- whether at the TSO, teaching, or organising concerts. 

Circa 1990s

While the TSO has maintained the highest level of performance throughout its 101-year existence, the continued evolution of orchestral music has only brought the ensemble to new heights. Tim attests to this growth which he believes “has gone through the roof in recent years.  My new colleagues, to a person, are brilliant! I continue to learn from them every single day. I'm so fortunate to have a “job” that will challenge me to my utmost until the day I leave.” He asks us to consider the true rarity of relationships like the ones he’s cultivated with, and through, the TSO: “How many people have the same job for 44 years and have one that they adore and that demands constant growth? Each of us has a role to play and I've been thrilled and delighted to be able to play mine.”

Tim (L) with his first stand-partner, "Big Sam" Davis (1980)

Alongside these relationships, there’s the music that makes it possible. For some like Tim who’s played thousands of concerts with the TSO, selecting one performance that stands out the most is a slightly herculean task. But for Tim, it’s the people around the music that’s most memorable: “The one that jumps to mind was the “Great Gathering”. In 1987 the orchestra hosted a retirement concert for outgoing Managing Director, Walter Homburger. Many of the world’s great artists interrupted their touring schedules to appear with us that night. Literally the who’s-who of classical music showed up that night—I'll never forget it!” 

After 44 years on the job, what comes next? How do you move on, start something new, but keep the same spirit of growth that’s been driving you for nearly five decades? “My wife and I want to travel—maybe revisiting some of the places that the TSO went on tour,” Tim says, once again bringing the focus back to shared relationships. Nevertheless, it seems he won’t be straying too far from music, as it runs in the family—his daughter is an opera singer in Berlin, his guitarist son is in Alberta, and stepson is an actor here in Toronto. Aside from passing on his musical knowledge to them, he’ll also relish simply passing time together, “we love to garden, and I'll continue with my concert series, the Kingston Road Village Concert Series. In the meantime, we'll be caring for Zeus, our demanding and beautiful Husky/Great Pyrenees.” 

Michael Sweeney, Principal Bassoon

Michael Sweeney is a well-known figure in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, having served as Principal Bassoonist for the last 35 seasons. Often praised in local media for his “soulful and characterful” playing, it’s the memorable artistic collaborations onstage worldwide that Michael cherishes most: from a performance in Hamburg where many young audience members, eager to be closer to the music, leaned over the balcony as the TSO performed Brahms’s First Symphony under Günther Herbig, to the TSO’s first performance at Carnegie Hall under Peter Oundjian, where a sold-out audience gave a standing ovation for Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11 in G Minor. More recently, Michael fondly recalls the incredibly exciting performances of Stravinsky’s The Rite of the Spring that Music Director Gustavo Gimeno led to open the 2023/24 season. In his colleagues’ view, Michael’s legacy is his imaginative playing, his leadership, and dedication to the orchestra. In retirement, he plans to record his adaptation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 2 with his TSO colleagues that was live-streamed in 2022.

Camille Watts and Michael Sweeney on tour (2012)

While he’s moving on from his position at the TSO, it seems his creative engine is only revving up for more boxes to check and new grounds to cover. Most of his upcoming projects are “bassoon-istic” in nature: writing a book for bassoonists about Mozart's concerto; writing a manual for the maintenance and repair of his custom-designed, custom-made bassoon; publishing articles in a journal about his bassoon for the benefit of the curious. For the really curious, Michael is also working on a book of etudes based on a collection that every bassoonist used to learn the instrument—and another volume on the history of the mechanical development of the bassoon since the 1830s. Amidst all these bassoon-based projects, he also hopes to find time to return to the instrument he studied in his youth: the piano. 

When contemplating the trends and developments of the TSO throughout the last 35 years, Michael takes a nuanced and comprehensive perspective that encompasses the repertoire being programmed: “I have seen the orchestra's repertoire change in significant ways with major works going in, out, and coming back into fashion. In particular, I’m extremely pleased that our Music Director Gustavo Gimeno is bringing back a lot of repertoire that, in my view, has been unfairly neglected.” This revival has given Michael the opportunity to play pieces that he’s not performed in over two decades — including Schubert’s Symphony No. 5, Beethoven’s No. 2, Brahms’s Serenade in D, and deFalla’s Three-Cornered Hat, to name a few. 

Michael Sweeney warming up in Smetana Hall, Prague (2017)

“This is to say nothing about the marvellous music,” Michael adds, “that I have gotten to play only for the first time under Gustavo’s direction. In my opinion, both the orchestra and our audience benefit on many levels from playing and hearing a wide variety of music.”

Andrew McCandless, Principal Trumpet


The 2023/24 season marks Andrew McCandless’s 24th season with the TSO, a period during which he’s established himself as a brass player of global prominence. Although Andrew’s career has seen him give world premieres in works like Bramwell Tovey’s Songs of the Paradise Saloon, Andrew remained a steadfast advocate for the importance of music education. Andrew remembers the influence of his childhood trumpet teacher, Mr. Jarrett- even naming his son in his honour. It’s fitting that Andrew is departing the TSO to teach at New York’s Eastman School of Music in a uniquely full-circle development that brings him back to his old professor’s studio! 

Ever the champion of incoming talent, Andrew lauds the degree to which recent arrivals to the TSO have benefited the ensemble. The biggest thing he appreciates about the last 24 years is, “the new players that have been hired over the years, starting with Peter Oundjian and now with Gustavo, are at a very high level.” This praise isn’t merely recency bias, in fact Andrew’s favourite TSO concert is split between his first — nearly 25 years ago — and his upcoming final one with the ensemble. In both cases, it’ll be Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. Alongside improving his teaching prowess at the new gig, he’ll be back to being a student again — this time learning to be a better golfer and tennis player. 

For these four musicians — some of who started nearly five decades ago — finishing together with the TSO at the end of 2023/24 season is a feat of professional and artistic dedication to excellence that words may fail describe. We can perhaps only show our gratitude by responding to the inspiration that emanates from their storied career, and translating that dedication towards our own pursuits. Whether it’s for four years or 40, every downbeat at the TSO is a call to action at the highest level, a call to music, and a call to community. We thank Paul, Tim, Michael, and Andrew for responding to this call night after night, concert after concert.