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Noteworthy

“The Path forward for This Orchestra Is Bright”

TSO CEO Mark Williams Speaks to Gramophone Magazine
January 18, 2023

What better way to ring in an auspicious new year—and new century—for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra than with a feature in Gramophone magazine, the highly respected periodical that is itself marking its 100th anniversary.

Offering “the world’s best classical music reviews,” the publication also reports on the state of the industry via stories and interviews with key players on the musical scene. In the most recent issue, one of those players was our Chief Executive Officer, Mark Williams, who sat down (over Zoom) for a tête-à-tête with Gramophone Editor-in-Chief James Jolly for his regular column, “Carte Blanche”. 

In the piece, Jolly notes that Mark “clearly has a strong vision for the orchestra in the 21st century,” so the question that frames the discussion is: “What should an orchestra be in the third decade of the century?” Here are some of the highlights of Mark’s multi-faceted response:

On the need for a shift in focus

“Twenty years ago…what a major symphony orchestra did…was the same whether you were in Toronto or Berlin or New York. It was about belonging to the club of great orchestras. It was not about what I think it needs to be about now, which is serving your community.”

“I would love it if orchestras were really thinking about melding themselves to being of their city. And I think you can do that without losing membership in the great orchestras of the world club.”

On the uniqueness of Toronto and its orchestra

“More than 50 per cent of the people who live in this city don’t come from Canada – they’re not born here, myself included – and that means dealing with the fact that there’s no visible racial majority in the city.”

“An orchestra in Toronto should inherently look different from an orchestra in Berlin, because these are different cities, different people, different values, different physical topography…. We not only want to be the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, we want to be Toronto’s Symphony Orchestra.”

On how and why the TSO is appreciated by audiences

“I was quite surprised to experience here a…deep passion for this orchestra…. It reassured me that the path forward for this orchestra is bright, because there are people in this community who love it.”

“I think part of it could be just the sheer quality of the orchestra. I think this orchestra is wildly underrated. The way that they play, especially with Gustavo Gimeno, is quite extraordinary.”

On building the TSO’s profile

“I do believe that we can have a profile on a number of different levels. I think about an orchestra that serves the particular needs of this city. Then I think about an orchestra that is the largest orchestra in Canada…. And then I think about an orchestra that, in my view, is the flag carrier for this great country on the global stage. And there’s work to do on all of those levels—and there’s a way to do that work that’s harmonious and doesn’t take away from any one element.”

On the importance of artist and audience inclusion

“What are the voices that deserve to be heard that aren’t being heard, and how can we bring those to light, and how can we contextualize them in a way that will help them be better understood and become beloved?”

“How do we bring everyone in our hall together – and along? You have those folks who’ve been going to concerts for ever, and they know the rules and they know the drill. How do we not put those people in the role of gatekeepers for the people who don’t?”

“Can we have a little grace for people who are in the concert hall, who are really enjoying what’s happening? Let’s encourage that joy!”

Read the article online