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Von Kunits with the Orchestra at the Arcadian Court in the Robert Simpson department store (now The Bay on Queen Street), circa 1929.

1923–1931: Luigi von Kunits

1923—Viennese-born conductor Luigi von Kunits assembles a band of volunteer musicians to create the New Symphony Orchestra (renamed the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1927), and very quickly fashions them into a professional orchestra.

1923—The Toronto Symphony Women’s Committee, now known as the Toronto Symphony Volunteer Committee, is formed to raise funds for the Orchestra.

1925—The first TSO Children’s Concert is held at Massey Hall, sponsored by the Toronto Board of Education and Toronto Catholic School Board. Young People’s Concerts and Classroom Concerts continue to this day.

1929—The TSO makes its CBC radio-broadcast début from the Arcadian Court in Simpson’s department store—marking the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with the CBC.

Sir Ernest MacMillan

1931–1956: Sir Ernest MacMillan

1935—Dr. MacMillan was knighted by King George V for his contributions to music.

1935—The TSO presented the first “Christmas Box Concert” with Christmas carols, audience participation and musicians presenting original skits.

1942—The Orchestra made its first recording on the RCA label under Sir Ernest. Works included Elgar’s Pomp & Circumstance March and Holst’s The Planets, Op. 32.

1956—Sir Ernest MacMillan conducted his final concerts after 20 years. He was invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Walter Susskind and Victor Feldbrill, 1956.

1956–1965: Walter Susskind

1956—Czech-born British conductor Walter Susskind is appointed as third Music Director. Under him, the TSO attains international stature, with the introduction of 27 new or seldom-heard works into the Orchestra’s repertoire, including Canadian Premières of two Mahler symphonies.

1963—The TSO makes its first appearance at Carnegie Hall, with Susskind leading the Orchestra and Canadian soprano Lois Marshall.

Seiji Ozawa conducts the TSO and cello soloist Mstislav Rostropovich.

1965–1969: Seiji Ozawa

1965Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa begins his tenure as fourth Music Director. He is instrumental in introducing new composers, such as Ives (Symphony No. 4) and Messiaen (Turangalîla-Symphonie), to Toronto audiences. The Messiaen work is captured in a pioneering recording in 1968. The TSO travelled to Glasgow, Scotland in 1965 to represent Canada at the Commonwealth Arts Festival and performed at the grand opening of the New Toronto City Hall. 

1967—Ozawa introduced a “Jazz at the Symphony” series which featured legendary artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Louis Armstrong, Harry Belafonte, Benny Goodman, and Oscar Peterson.

Former TSO Music Director Karel Ančerl

1969–1973: Karel Ančerl

1969Czech conductor Karel Ančerl is appointed as fifth Music Director of the TSO and serves until his death in 1973. During his tenure, Ančerl introduces Canadian audiences to seldom-heard Czech composers Janáček, Martinů, and Suk.

1970Harry Freedman is appointed as the TSO’s first Composer-in-Residence.

1971The TSO gives its first performances at the newly opened Ontario Place Forum. The Forum seated 10,000, including lawn seating, and was equipped with a revolving stage.

1974The Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra is formed under the leadership of Victor Feldbrill, the TSO’s Resident Conductor from 1973 to 1975.

Sir Andrew with guest artist contralto Maureen Forrester in China during the TSO’s tour in 1978, the first Canadian orchestra to enter China after the Cultural Revolution.

1975–1988: Sir Andrew Davis

1975—British conductor Sir Andrew Davis is appointed as sixth Music Director, serving until 1988 in that capacity, and now as Conductor Laureate.

1975—Erich Kunzel made his TSO début at the Ontario Place Forum, starting a long tradition of the Orchestra performing the 1812 Overture accompanied by the guns of the H.M.C.S. Haida.

1978—The TSO embarks on a historic tour to China as the first Canadian orchestra to perform there after the Cultural Revolution. 

1982—After 60 years, the TSO moves from Massey Hall to Roy Thomson Hall. 

1987—The TSO’s “Canadian Odyssey” tour takes it to Northern Canada, making it the first orchestra ever to perform in Inuvik, NWT, with smaller groups of musicians also travelling to other remote communities.  

1987—Celebrating Walter Homburger’s pivotal 25 years as Managing Director, the once-in-a-lifetime “Great Gathering” event brings together the musical stars of the day.

TSO opening night with Günther Herbig and Yo-Yo Ma, 1990.
City of Toronto Archives

1989–1994: Günther Herbig

1989—German conductor Günther Herbig is appointed as seventh Music Director. Highlights of his tenure include the historic Israel Philharmonic and TSO joint concert in 1989, and the 1990 Pacific Rim Tour, which includes stops in Vancouver, San Francisco, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Japan.

Jukka-Pekka Saraste poses with the Orchestra on the stage of Roy Thomson Hall.

1994–2001: Jukka-Pekka Saraste

1994—Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste is appointed as eighth Music Director, serving until 2001. Under his baton, between 1996 and 2000, six TSO recordings are produced on the Finlandia label. 

*2002–2003: Sir Andrew Davis, Interim Artistic Director

Peter Oundjian and the TSO perform at Carnegie Hall, March 2011.

2004–2018: Peter Oundjian

2004Toronto-born conductor Peter Oundjian is appointed as ninth Music Director and leads the Orchestra through a period of steady audience growth and innovative programming including the annual New Creations and Mozart Festivals, and the Decades Project.

2005—The TSO travelled to Sudbury and Timmins in the Orchestra’s newly instituted Northern Residency. With a large educational component, the annual program connects communities in Northern Ontario with live orchestral music.

2011—Jonathan Crow débuts as the first occupant of the Tom Beck Concertmaster Chair.

2012—Steven Reineke is appointed as the TSO’s first Principal Pops Conductor, a position he holds to this day.

2014—European Tour in August with James Ehnes, violin; and Jörg Widmann, clarinet. As part of Reykjavik’s Culture Night, 19 musicians were involved with performances in various Icelandic homes, churches, and a chamber concert in Harpa Hall.

2017—The TSO tours Israel (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv) and Europe (Vienna, Prague, Regensburg, and Essen). To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, more than 40 new works by Canadian composers—co-commissioned by the TSO and other Canadian orchestras—are performed, including a series of short, fanfare-like pieces called “Sesquies”.

*2018–2020: Sir Andrew Davis, Interim Artistic Director

2018—Spanish conductor Gustavo Gimeno is appointed as tenth Music Director, to assume the role in the 2020/21 season.

2019—The TSO presents its first ever Relaxed Performance for neurodiverse audiences and those who benefit from more informal concert experiences.It features a variety of accommodations including a quiet room, more freedom to move around the hall during the performance, and sound reducing headphones.

TSO Music Director Gustavo Gimeno speaks at his first in-person performance as Music Director, November 2021.

2020–Present: Gustavo Gimeno

2020—The 99th season ends prematurely on March 6 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, smaller TSO ensembles continue to perform at such venues as the Art Gallery of Ontario, CityView Drive-In, and the Royal Conservatory of Music. 

2021Gustavo Gimeno begins his tenure as Music Director. Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, who helped to initiate the TSO’s Relaxed Performances, is appointed Barrett Principal Education Conductor & Community Ambassador. On November 10, the TSO returns to Roy Thomson Hall for Gimeno’s first live performances as Music Director. 

Program “Timeline” compiled by TSO Archivist John Sharpe