Toronto Symphony Orchestra | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Toronto Symphony Orchestra. English-speaking Canada's principal large symphony orchestra, founded in 1906 as the Toronto Conservatory Symphony Orchestra, becoming the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1908, re-started (after a five-year hiatus, and with mostly different personnel) as the New Symphony Orchestra in 1923, renamed the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) in 1927 (amended to The Toronto Symphony [TS] in 1967) and again renamed the TSO in 1994.

Roy Thomson Hall
The Toronto Symphony moved into the hall (designed by Arthur Erickson) in 1982 (Corel Professional Photos).
\u00a0Seiji Ozawa conducting the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, 1965. Image: CBC Library and Archives Still Photo Collection. \r\n

Predecessor Organizations

In the 1870s the Toronto Philharmonic Society under F.H. Torrington organized the city's first regular full orchestra, which performed standard symphonies and concertos, in full or (more often) in part, as a component of the society's concerts, in Shaftesbury Hall and the Horticultural Pavilion. By the 1880s membership had become more professional, drawing players from theatre-pit orchestras such as that of the Grand Opera House. However, the group was essentially a dependent one, since the society's main emphasis was on choral music. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir began in 1902 to bring guest orchestras from the USA to play its accompaniments and occasionally to present orchestral concerts as well. Thus the city, which had welcomed the touring Theodore Thomas Orchestra in 1873, had opportunities by the early 1900s to hear the orchestras of Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and elsewhere.

Meanwhile there were several attempts to organize a permanent local ensemble, independent of choral affiliation. One such group, calling itself the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, appeared in 1890-1 with Francesco D'Auria as conductor. A Toronto Permanent Orchestra started by the indefatigable Torrington in 1900 evidently did not live up to its name. In 1901 yet another TSO, conducted by James Dickinson, gave a single concert, intended as the first in a continuing series - for which, however, support did not materialize.


In 1906 Frank Welsman formed a Toronto Conservatory Symphony Orchestra with Bertha Drechsler Adamson as concertmistress and with a personnel made up of staff and students of the Toronto Conservatory of Music. After two successful seasons, the orchestra became more firmly established under a directorial board led by a prominent businessman, H.C. Cox, dropped the direct connection with the conservatory and the "Conservatory" part of its name, and presented a flourishing annual concert series in Massey Hall. Toronto finally had its own regular symphonic orchestra.

The early Welsman years show a predominance of standard late-18th- and 19th-century European music - Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, Dvořák's New World Symphony, and symphonies by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. The third and fourth symphonies of Mendelssohn and the last three of Tchaikovsky were played, but, surprisingly perhaps, none by Brahms. An all-Wagner program was given in 1911. Novelties for the time included symphonies by Goldmark and Kalinnikov and Strauss's Death and Transfiguration. Ballots for a request concert (1913) show that among symphonies the Pathétique was the most popular, among overtures the Midsummer Night's Dream, and among other pieces the Second Hungarian Rhapsody.

Guest artists included many world-renowned musical figures: the violinists Fritz Kreisler, Eugène Ysaÿe, Carl Flesch, and the 17-year-old Mischa Elman; the pianists Wilhelm Backhaus, Vladimir de Pachmann, and Sergei Rachmaninoff, the latter playing his own Second Concerto; the singers Clara Butt, Johanna Gadski, Alma Gluck, Louise Homer, Leo Slezak, and Ernestine Schumann-Heink. Elgar conducted the touring Sheffield Choir in his oratorio The Dream of Gerontius with the TSO in April 1911, but otherwise neither guest conductors nor works by English composers were much in evidence.

In keeping with the social temper of the era, the concerts may have had a certain class appeal: "Music [had been] an important part of the social and cultural life of well-to-do Toronto in the latter half of the nineteenth century" (Doris Davies, Over the Years). However, pop concerts were added to the schedule at the end of the first TSO season (April 1909), with a uniform admission price of 25 cents. The orchestra travelled to nearby Ontario centres for a few concerts each season. Frank Blachford was the "concertmeister" (as spelled in the program) beginning in that "expansion" season of 1908-9. Leo Smith joined the cello section shortly after his arrival in 1910 and later became principal, as well as program annotator. Other noted members included, in the later seasons, Jack Arthur, Luigi Romanelli, and the young Harry Adaskin.

The TSO weathered the World War I years, but with increasing difficulty (scattered players, curtailment of travel affecting guest artists, waning audience support), and in 1918 it was obliged to discontinue. This first regularly based phase of 11 years (13 counting the two preliminary years under Toronto Conservatory of Music auspices) had provided a professional standard worthy of international-calibre guest artists and a broad, though conservative, repertoire.


Five years went by before another such musical ensemble and supporting organization could emerge. In the interim the local musical scene had changed significantly. Movie-theatre orchestras (eg, Shea's Hippodrome, the Uptown) were the new employers of professional instrumentalists. Eager for the challenge of more serious fare, in 1922 a group of players persuaded Luigi von Kunits to conduct them in an orchestra. Louis Gesensway, a section violinist (later a violinist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and a composer), and Abe Fenboque, the first flutist, were the chief organizers. Several of the string players were von Kunits' pupils. Moses Garten was the concertmaster. Rehearsals were held that winter in von Kunits' home. On 23 Apr 1923 the New Symphony Orchestra gave its first public concert in Massey Hall. It was announced that "the concert will commence sharp at Five o'clock in the evening, this hour being selected because of the engagements of the Musicians in theatres etc., which prevents any other choice. However this will give everyone an opportunity to hear an hour or so of the best music and leave the Massey Hall in time to reach home before evening dinner."

Two more concerts followed shortly, and a board of directors led 1923-31 by Albert Gooderham was formed. Twenty twilight concerts were given in the 1923-4 season, but, though artistically impressive, they met with indifferent attendance, and the number was reduced to 10 or 12 a season for the succeeding few years, while the board and an especially active women's committee worked gradually to increase the size of audiences.

On 7 May 1924 a particularly striking program - and one of the rare examples to feature originally composed music - brought together the past, current, and future conductors: Welsman conducted von Kunits' E Minor Violin Concerto with the composer as soloist, and Ernest MacMillan conducted the orchestra, of which he later was to become the regular director, in the premiere of his own Concert Overture in A.

In 1923 each player received a fee of $3.95 for each concert, including rehearsals. By the 1925-6 season this honorarium had increased to $14. There were 58 players listed in the program for the reorganized orchestra of 1923, only 4 or 5 of whom had been members of Welsman's TSO; by 1929-30 membership had increased to 64. Tickets cost 75 cents, 50 cents, and 25 cents in 1923; in 1924 the top price was raised to $1; in 1926 seats were 50 cents for the top gallery and $1 for the rest of the auditorium, with season tickets available for dollar seats only.

The orchestra gave its first children's concert at 5 pm 31 Jan 1925. Four such concerts were presented during 1925-6, but none were attempted again until 1930. Once resumed, however, they became a fixture of each season.

In conjunction with the orchestra's concerts in 1923 an announcement stated that "Miss E. Lois Wilson will give a series of lectures on Symphonies and their Meaning on Monday evenings preceding the concert, at 8:15 p.m. in the Women's Art Association. These lectures will fully interpret and explain the program to be given by the orchestra at its next concert. Themes are illustrated at the piano" (quoted by Davies, p 41). These lectures were an early example of a supplemental activity later to become familiar in the orchestra's work.

In 1927, by a decision of the board, the name New Symphony Orchestra was changed to Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Notably, the players listed now included more veterans (11) of the Welsman years. Grant Milligan had succeeded Garten as concertmaster in 1926 and in turn was succeeded by Donald Heins in 1927.

In 1929-30 a new departure brought change, sudden development, and wider recognition. The CNR sponsored a series of 28 weekly one-hour radio broadcasts by the orchestra. Performed live from the Arcadian Court of the Robert Simpson Co department store (C.L. Burton, president of Simpson's, was a member of the TSO board of directors), these were Canada's first national broadcasts of serious music, and they proved highly successful. Von Kunits had revitalized the orchestra, and it became established on a more secure and more elaborate organizational base than in the 1908-18 period - with loyal subscribers, committed guarantors, an orchestra association, and a women's committee. The choice of music in the 1920s seldom ventured outside conservative tradition (Brahms's Third Symphony, Schumann's Second, Beethoven's Eroica, the Schubert C Major, all presented in the first year or two, were, however, an indication of serious high aims); local soloists were more usual than the stellar international artists of the pre-war years.


At von Kunits' sudden death in the summer of 1931, Ernest MacMillan was selected to be the new conductor. He was anxious to shift the concert time from 5 pm to an evening hour and did so on a few occasions during his first season. As it happened, by 1933 the talking motion picture had transformed entertainment life; many of the former theatre musicians moved into other areas of work - particularly radio broadcasting - and now were free to play evening concerts on a regular basis. Longer programs and more ambitious repertoire eventually resulted. An assistant conductor was appointed for the first time: Donald Heins, concertmaster 1927-31, held this new position 1931-42. Ettore Mazzoleni was named to the higher-level position of associate conductor in 1942 and retained it until 1948. Heins's actual successor as assistant conductor, however, after a hiatus of five years, was Paul Scherman, who occupied the position 1947-55. In a move that was unusually bold for a depression period, the board increased ticket prices in MacMillan's first season to a range from 50 cents to $2.50.

MacMillan introduced the orchestra and its audience in the 1930s to the Sibelius symphonies (including the Seventh, then quite new) and to a substantial quota of English contemporary music (Elgar, Delius, Bax, Walton). Holst's The Planets became the most often repeated piece in his régime, and was one of the first works recorded by the TS. MacMillan's correspondence of the time reveals how diplomatically he had to deal with guarantors and especially women's committee stalwarts who objected to unfamiliar works - even though few were modern in any advanced or progressive sense. Finances were precarious, and in several seasons towards the end of the decade MacMillan turned back his own fee to help offset the deficit.

In 1935 the TSO presented its first "Christmas Box" concert. This became an annual event recurrent until 1957. Alongside a selection of Christmas music and carol arrangements in which audience members could join, the players gave original burlesque performances and skits. Stunt acts included the "Sumvak Sisters" (the violinists Elie Spivak and Harold Sumberg dressed in a Siamese-twin gown) performing on a single instrument, one fingering and the other bowing. The blind pianist-entertainer Alec Templeton was a frequent guest, and the recently knighted conductor entered into the spirit, appearing dressed as Santa Claus, as a young boy in knee-pants auditioning for a place in the violin section, or as a professor giving a musicological analysis of a current song hit; or conducting (during World War II) Mossolov's The Iron Foundry in overalls, with a monkey-wrench for a baton. (The eventual disappearance of this tradition may be attributable to the retirement of MacMillan, since his personality had marked it; but other factors, especially the growth and the changing social patterns and tastes of Toronto in the 1950s and 1960s no doubt were responsible as well.)

World War II was a difficult period for the orchestra, but it survived where its predecessor had not survived World War I. Suspension of its concerts was considered seriously in 1940, but the importance of music to wartime morale was stressed, and it took on a new spirit of cultural vitality. In 1943 a campaign of many years succeeded when the Toronto City Council approved its first grant to the orchestra (in the sum of $1500).

In 1944 the idea of pop concerts was revived (Welsman had given them regularly, and there had been some in the early years of von Kunits' tenure). Paul Scherman conducted eight such concerts that season. The series was expanded, and the Robert Simpson Co assumed sponsorship to broadcast them. MacMillan and other conductors participated, but Scherman remained the principal conductor of these concerts. After 1951 a new sponsor, Canada Packers Ltd, took over, and in 1955 the pop series was moved from Friday evenings to Sunday afternoons. Discontinued in 1961, the series was reinstated in 1972 (see below).

The immediate post-war years - 1945-50 - were the most successful the TSO had known. Performance improved in artistic calibre. The string section, whose fine quality was a legacy from von Kunits, was admired particularly. Audiences increased until, in 1946, each subscription concert had to be given twice. To the subscription series and pop concerts (all broadcast on radio at least in part), the occasional recordings, and the children's concerts were added students' concerts. These, a series begun in 1940-1, were designed for secondary-school students. School music teachers, various members of the TSO including the conductor, and a city-wide student committee (Victor Feldbrill, then a teenager at Harbord Collegiate Institute, was its first president) all contributed educational preparation and lectures which preceded the concerts.

Works by the Canadians Alexander Brott, Robert Farnon, Robert Fleming, Allard de Ridder, Arnold Walter, and Healey Willan were presented during the 1940s, and in 1947, with the sponsorship of CAPAC, MacMillan led the orchestra in its first live concert of Canadian music. (One of von Kunits' radio broadcasts with the orchestra in 1930 had had an all-Canadian program.) Repertoire innovations continued to be made only with caution, however. Symphonies by Harris and Copland were heard, but US contemporary music in a broad sense, surprisingly, was neglected. Canadian soloists regularly shared guest billing with such international luminaries as Heifetz, Myra Hess, Schwarzkopf, Arrau, or Rubinstein. Although Stravinsky had appeared as guest conductor of his own Firebird and Petrushka as early as 1937, other guest conductors were not numerous: Enesco, Kindler, Monteux, Munch, Sevitzky, and Stokowski are a few from the 1940s.

In 1951, at the height of the orchestra's popularity, it was engaged to give its first US concert, in Detroit. The Joe McCarthy "witch hunts" then were having their terrorizing effects on immigration to the USA, and six TSO players were refused entry. They were replaced for the concert, and the engagement went ahead. For the following season, further US concerts had been booked (New York, Boston, Philadelphia), and in order to fulfil them the management decided not to renew the contracts of the six players. This response to an unjustified smear led to a general outcry in the community. The incident of the "Symphony Six" (Ruth Ross, Dirk Keetbaas, William Kuinka, Abe Mannheim, John Moskalyk, and Steven Staryk) became a controversial and divisive one, causing several board resignations. MacMillan's stature (he had taken a "no-comment" position) and the prestige of the orchestra both suffered. At length, MacMillan announced he would resign as conductor at the end of his 25th season, 1955-6. His successor, Walter Susskind, chose a Canadian, Glenn Gould, as soloist for his inaugural concert and was acclaimed later in the same season for an outstanding performance of Berlioz' Damnation of Faust with James Milligan as Mephistopheles. Although (as MacMillan had since 1942) Susskind combined the conductorship of the TSO with that of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, his true flair was operatic, and concert performances of operas were added to the schedules. He also appeared as soloist-conductor in piano concertos by Mozart and Ravel. Though Czech-born and -trained, Susskind had spent a large part of his early career in Great Britain, and British music was more prominent than Czech in his repertoire. Among newer works, he conducted Toronto's first live Sacre du printemps, and introduced pieces by Webern, Schoenberg, and Berio. During his years as musical director, many leading guest conductors appeared - among them Barbirolli, Beecham, Krips, Leinsdorf, Sargent, and Steinberg.

It was also during the Susskind years that the orchestra came through one of its most severe crises. The Toronto cultural scene was changing and concert fare designed for the middle-class anglophile failed to satisfy the new audience. Moreover, the wealthy guarantors - the Massey family, Cox, Gooderham, Lady Kemp, Mrs Edmund Boyd - who in former days could be counted on to help out with deficits, were dying away, and no replacements were to be found. The Women's Committee's giant rummage sale - an annual civic event 1954-89 in Toronto - helped fund-raising, but needs and costs were mounting alarmingly. The public granting agencies were just beginning their at first tentative and uncertain patterns of aid. Players' morale was low because of discouraging wage-negotiation results and a continuing feeling of being regarded as on a lower social rung. Because of a dispute between the players' committee and their union executive, a particularly acrimonious union election took place in 1960. A year later the TSO had to delay the start of its subscription season, cancelling the first two concerts, because of the lack of an agreement over players' contracts. J.W. Elton, the orchestra's manager since 1934 (having taken over from his father, H.J. Elton, manager since 1924), resigned in 1961, and his place was taken by Walter Homburger, already at that period one of the country's most experienced arts administrators.

The orchestra's first appearance in Carnegie Hall, New York, 3 Dec 1963 under Susskind, with Lois Marshall as soloist, was a marked success and gave a timely boost to morale. The early 1960s nevertheless were an uneasy period for the orchestra's members. By 1965-6 the season had increased from the 26 weeks in MacMillan's best post-war years to only 30 weeks. The CBC Symphony Orchestra - all but 20 of whose members also played in the TSO - disbanded in 1964, causing further anxiety. Although some members were engaged by Heinz Unger's spring York Concert Society series, the Promenade Symphony Concerts which provided supplementary employment from the 1930s to the 1950s were a thing of the past. Orchestral performance was a precarious career in Toronto, and the goal of year-round contracts was still some seasons away.


When in 1965 Susskind resigned after a 10-year association with the orchestra, fortunes already were starting to turn. A new co-operative agreement with the Canadian Opera Company meant late-summer and early-fall employment - an arrangement which was to last until 1976. Subscriptions surged dramatically with the appointment of Seiji Ozawa (b Manchuria of Japanese parents 1 Sep 1935) as conductor.

Ozawa's tenure lent a fresh flavour to orchestra music in Toronto. Dynamic in style, sometimes daring in taste, he introduced music by such composers as Ives (Symphony No. 4, in the difficult single-conductor version) and Messiaen (Turangalîla, later recorded). Early in his conductorship the civic nature of the institution was symbolized by its performance at the opening ceremonies of Toronto's new City Hall. A tour in 1966 to Great Britain (Commonwealth Festival) and France was followed in 1969 by a more extensive one to Ozawa's own country, Japan. From this, and from the conductor's emphasis on contemporary Japanese works, especially those of Takemitsu, may be traced a marked influence on Toronto's musical tastes, notably in percussion performance and in composition. In Canada's centennial year, 1967, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra became the Toronto Symphony. In honour of the centenary the orchestra introduced specially commissioned pieces by Otto Joachim and Luigi Nono. Ozawa's Toronto sojourn, though brief, had a tonic effect on orchestra and public. At his departure he was named musical director emeritus.

Whereas Ozawa had led the TSO at an early, even still formative, point of his brilliant career, his successor was a distinguished European conductor of exceptionally broad experience. Karel Ančerl (b Tucapy, Czechoslovakia, 11 Apr 1908, d Toronto 3 Jul 1973) assumed the Toronto post in 1969. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia had occurred the previous year while Ančerl was in North America, preventing him from continuing his regular engagement in Prague.

Ančerl's impact on the orchestra represented a serious challenge to its standards, and one which it met with distinction. A strong technician with a sharp ear, he had an almost scholarly rehearsal manner and an individual rapport which soon won players' respect. In repertoire his concerts were in the conservative mainstream (though by now this included Stravinsky and Bartók), with a new emphasis on Czech works (Janáček, Martinů, Suk) previously seldom heard in Toronto. A 1970 Beethoven-bicentennial festival of six concerts at O'Keefe Centre (slightly larger in seating capacity than Massey Hall) proved one of the organization's all-time successes, both artistically and financially. A Brahms festival the following year fared similarly.

It was during Ančerl's regime, in the summer of 1971, that the orchestra began to give summer concerts at the lakefront outdoor Ontario Place Forum. At one of the early events Ozawa, returning as guest conductor, drew an audience of over 12,000. Ančerl's own programs were uncompromising in quality, drew large crowds, and were credited with creating new friends for the orchestra among Torontonians who had never attended the Massey Hall concerts.

The following year - 13 Jan 1972 - a return to the pop concerts series was initiated by Victor Feldbrill, who remained associated with this phase of the orchestra's schedule throughout the 1970s. Feldbrill's connection with the TS has been in fact a unique one. Beginning as a teenage fan and student-committee president, he was a section violinist in the 1950s, assistant conductor 1956-7, conductor of the youth concerts starting in 1969, and conductor of many of the concerts in other TS series from 1972 on. In 1973 he suddenly was thrust into further responsibility. Ančerl, known to be seriously ailing at the time of his appointment, died shortly after celebrating his 65th birthday in Toronto, July 1973. During the following two seasons Feldbrill, as resident conductor, assisted with program planning and the choice of a succession of guest conductors, also himself conducting many concerts. One immediate crisis was the already contracted European tour of 1974 which Ančerl was to have directed. Kazimierz Kord was engaged as guest conductor, and the tour went ahead, with visits to centres in England, Belgium, West Germany, and Austria.

A new artistic director and principal conductor took up duties in the fall of 1975. Andrew Davis (b Ashridge, Hertfordshire, England, 2 Feb 1944) was approximately the same age Seiji Ozawa had been at the time of his appointment. Equally vibrant in personality, he had a more versatile repertoire and a cooler and perhaps tidier approach to performance. His concerts in the first few seasons broadened Toronto's exposure to orchestral music by presenting Schoenberg and Berg works previously unplayed in Toronto, the entire cycle of Stravinsky ballets, a Borodin cycle (later recorded), and the cycle of the Mahler symphonies. Also included was a strong emphasis on English composers - Elgar in particular, but also Britten and Tippett. The Canadian premiere of Tippett's Fourth Symphony (1979) and the North American premiere of his Triple Concerto (1980) were highlights. Davis's several appearances as soloist-conductor (piano, harpsichord) also enhanced the programs, and, more than any TS music director since MacMillan, Davis strengthened long established ties with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir by emphasizing choral-orchestral repertoire.

The TS between 1960 and 1980 commissioned and performed works by John Hawkins, Otto Joachim, Lothar Klein, Oskar Morawetz, R. Murray Schafer, Harry Somers, and others, and performed pieces by many other Canadian composers. Harry Freedman was associated with the orchestra for 25 years, 24 of them as oboist and english hornist and the 25th (1970-1) as composer-in-residence. His Graphic I was premiered by the TS under Ančerl in October 1971.

In 1974 the TS organized the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, with Feldbrill as its first conductor and leading TS players as section coaches (see Youth orchestras).

Three conductors held the intermittent post of assistant conductor during the 1960s: Boris Brott 1963-4, Niklaus Wyss 1966-7, and Kazuyoshi Akiyama 1968-9; Wilson Swift was an apprentice conductor 1965-6. Davis created intermittent appointments for other apprentices during his directorship: holders were Ermanno Florio 1978-9, John Kim Bell 1980-1, and Eric Hull 1984-6. Concertmasters from the MacMillan years through 1980 were Elie Spivak 1931-48, Hyman Goodman 1948-67, Gerard Kantarjian 1967-70, Albert Pratz 1970-9, and Moshe Murvitz. Murvitz was succeeded in 1982 by Steven Staryk, a popular appointment marking his return to Toronto after notable successes abroad. In 1988 Jacques Israelievitch took over the position. TS program annotators have been Ettore Mazzoleni 1932-48, Marcus Adeney 1948-66, John Beckwith 1966-70, Kenneth Winters 1970-2, Godfrey Ridout 1972-84, and Robin Elliott 1984-9, followed by Alan Gasser in 1989. Richard Warren became TS archivist in 1977.

By degrees, beginning in the mid-1960s, the board of directors was enlarged and made more representative of facets of the community such as business, education, religion, communications media, and the arts. The continuing vital activities of the Women's Committee and a Junior Women's Committee (founded in 1955) provided not only reliable additional sources of fund-raising each year but also a long-standing and impressive program of educational support for the TS. In 1990-1 these programs included Symphony Preludes and Symphony Seminars, in-school chamber music performances for elementary and high school students respectively; Symphony Street, children's concerts performed in community public libraries and shopping malls; and Symphony Close-Ups, one-hour, in-school performances for high-school students, given by TS principal players or visiting guest artists. In addition concert series were presented at Roy Thomson Hall on Saturdays for families, and on weekdays for students. Many programs were offered in both French and English. An estimated 130,000 students, ages 3 to 22, were reached each year by the TS education programs. Community outreach programs were part of the activities of another volunteer support group: The Associates of the TS, set up in 1972, sponsored an annual series of chamber music concerts, featuring TS members, and also Grass Roots Concerts in retirement homes and correctional institutions.

Under Davis's direction the TS resumed recording in a more comprehensive way than ever before, the contract with a major international label (Columbia) ensuring wide distribution. Concerts were given in New York and at Washington's Kennedy Center in 1977. A memorable event was the three-week tour of China and Japan early in 1978, with two Canadian soloists, Maureen Forrester and Louis Lortie. This was one of the most elaborate cultural exportations the country had ever undertaken. A film documentary was made by the CBC. During the visit of the Peking Opera to Toronto on its 1980 tour, many of the orchestra members were able to renew musical contacts they had made while in China. Other notable TS tours were those to Quebec and the four Atlantic provinces in 1976 and to the three westernmost provinces and California in 1979.


The most significant event of the Davis years was the move to a new performing venue, planned as "the New Massey Hall" but unveiled in the fall of 1982 as Roy Thomson Hall. The experience of an improved facility predictably provided new excitement for both players and audiences. Memorable occasions of the 1980s included performances of Mahler's 8th Symphony in 1983 and again in 1988, a concert presentation of Strauss's opera Daphne in 1986, and the Canadian premiere of Tippett's The Mask of Time in 1987. Canadian composers were increasingly featured, often with TS-commissioned pieces. Both Freedman's Concerto for Orchestra and John Weinzweig's Divertimento No. 9 were composed for, and introduced during, the first season of Roy Thomson Hall concerts, and in later seasons new works by Steven Gellman, Anne Lauber, Raymond Luedeke (a member of the TS woodwind section, like Freedman in former years), Godfrey Ridout, Michael C. Baker, Alexina Louie, Glenn Buhr, Michael Colgrass, and Schafer were programmed for the first time.

The move to the new hall made possible two innovative series. The Evening Overtures were short programs of works for small ensembles, played by various orchestra members during the hour before a subscription concert. From six concerts in 1982-3 this series had expanded to ten by 1990-1. The TS summer series was now divided between the popular outdoor concerts at the Ontario Place Forum and indoor events at the air-conditioned Roy Thomson Hall.

A spectacular evening in March 1987 marked Walter Homburger's retirement as manager. Entitled "The Great Gathering," this gala televised concert, conducted by Ozawa and Davis with an outstanding lineup of guest celebrities (Forrester, Lortie, Perahia, Stern, Rostropovich, Rampal, and others) was an impressive tribute to Homburger's widely-respected achievements in arts administration. His successor was the former assistant manager, J. Wray Armstrong.

The tours begun in the mid-1970s continued and expanded in the 1980s and early 1990s. The TS appeared in New York's Carnegie Hall every season 1978-86 and returned 25 Jan 1991 to participate in that hall's centennial celebrations. Under Davis, it toured England and 6 countries in continental Europe in 1983; the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Germany, the Low Countries, and Scandinavia in 1986; and Canada's northern reaches in 1987. The Rhombus Media film Music in the Midnight Sun recorded the latter unique event, and tour contacts were sustained in return teaching visits by the violinist Andrea Hansen, among other members.

After the 1987-8 season Davis relinquished the post of music director, which he had occupied for longer than anyone since MacMillan, and was named conductor laureate. (He was subsequently appointed conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London.) The TS tours of the Pacific Rim (Vancouver, San Francisco, four cities in Australia, Singapore, Taipei, three cities in Japan) in 1990 and of several European countries in 1991 were led by his successor, the German conductor Günther Herbig (b Usti-nad-Labem, Czechoslovakia, 30 Nov 1931).

Herbig, a regular TS guest conductor 1983-8, served as artistic advisor in the 1988-9 season, was music director designate for the 1989-90 season, and became music director in the fall of 1990. His style was marked by a more rigidly disciplined manner than that of the effervescent Davis, and his programs stressed a symphonist previously seldom championed in Toronto, Anton Bruckner. For the opening concert of the 1989-90 season he led the TS and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in Beethoven's 9th Symphony, preceding it with a commissioned premiere, István Anhalt's Sonance•Resonance, conceived as an orchestral meditation on the Beethoven work.

In early 1990 the TS advertised for a composer-in-residence, who would not only write new pieces but advise the music director on contemporary-music program policies and help rehearse new repertoire. The appointment went for a 2-year term to the Montreal composer-conductor Walter Boudreau.

By the early 1990s the makeup of the orchestra had changed. Most veterans of the MacMillan era had reached retirement, and the roster showed an influx of new members from abroad primarily the US, a longtime source, but also the former Soviet Union and the Far East. At the same time, close to one-third were Canadian-born and -trained. In their 1991-2 contract, players earned a minimum $1,150 per week. By 1990, 23 of the 101 orchestra members were women. A photo from von Kunits' fifth season (1926-7) shows only one woman, the harpist Heloise Macklem. In a 1909 program conducted by Welsman, 11 out of 61 players were women.

Six weeks after the start of the 1990-1 season, the music community was surprised by the news that Herbig would step down at the end of the 1991-2 season. (In July 1991 it was announced, however, that his term would be extended to August 1993.) In April 1991 the resignation of Armstrong signalled a second major change. Having largely escaped the waves of crisis that plagued other Canadian orchestras (Winnipeg, Vancouver, the National Arts Centre Orchestra) in the 1980s, the TS seemed no longer immune.

Despite prudent conservative management, there was a budgetary deficit of close to $1 million, and subscriptions, down 8 per cent in 1989-90, rose again only slightly the following season. (The annual budget had grown to $19 million by 1990-1.) The public granting agencies, pressed themselves, could not be relied on for increased aid. Large businesses had come to replace the individual wealthy guarantors of former generations, and much of the TS's fundraising energies centred on its corporate-sponsorship program. The foreign recording contracts of the Davis regime had vanished, and Toronto journalists began pointing to the recording successes of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra with the sort of sarcasm usually reserved for rival sports teams. Moreover, small but lively competing ventures were closer at hand, in the city's newer specialist orchestras - particularly Tafelmusik for period instrument performances of baroque and classical repertoires, and the Esprit Orchestra for new works.

If the budget had quadrupled in a decade, so had admission prices: individual tickets to a subscription concert now cost from $19 to $50. Above all, like its fellow orchestral organizations throughout North America, the TS faced the enormous challenge of defining a viable role among its various functions - encourager of current creativity, museum-like preserver of the classics, new-audience builder, and purveyor of quality entertainment to both discerning and populist listeners.


Although the 1990s saw celebrations of the TS's 70th (with Ontario Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander in attendance) and 75th anniversaries, this decade represented one of the darkest in the orchestra's history. In the fall of 1991, the board forecast a deficit of $3.5 million. Max Tapper, appointed managing director in November 1991, proposed a 15 per cent across-the-board pay cut for both musicians and management, which the musicians reluctantly accepted.

The orchestra continued to provide varied and interesting programming despite a developing financial crisis. Opening night of their 70th anniversary season (1991-2) featured Maureen Forrester, André Laplante, The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and members of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra performing Beethoven's Fantasia for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra, Brahms's Alto Rhapsody, and composer-in-residence (1990-3) Walter Boudreau's Tradirunt me in manus impiorium II, a TS commission. In 1992 Jukka-Pekka Saraste made his debut with the TS. A student of the renowned Finnish conductor-teacher Jorma Panula, Saraste became music director in the fall of 1994. An immediate rapport between the young charismatic conductor and the musicians gave hope for a bright future for the orchestra, now known as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO). During Saraste's tenure (1994-2001), he conducted the entire orchestral repertoire of Sibelius and recorded seven discs with the TSO on the Finlandia and CBC labels. In December 1993, a commemorative concert for the 100th anniversary of Sir Ernest MacMillan's birth brought Andrew Davis back to the podium conducting MacMillan's Overture and performing his organ solo, Cortège académique.

By the end of the 1993-4 season the cumulative deficit was over $3 million, and by 1995-6 had reached $3.6 million. Despite this, management agreed to modest pay increases for the players from 1996 through 1998. Subscriptions continued to decline while single ticket sales rose, a response by the audience to the recession of the 1990s. Granting agencies also were cutting back, reducing grants to the TSO by 13.9 per cent in 1995 and over 20 per cent in 1996. One of the unfortunate results was that the Canada Council's Canadian content requirement lost its force as its share of the total TSO budget diminished.

In April 1995 Tapper resigned as managing director, the TSO carrying on without a permanent manager until 1998 with the appointment of Catherine Cahill. Her short tenure ended in early 1999. Artistically, however, the orchestra carried on despite administrative turmoil. Gary Kulesha became composer-advisor in 1995. The 75th anniversary of the TSO (1996-7 season) was marked by a series of concerts conducted by past music directors and resident conductors, including Ozawa, Davis, Herbig, and Feldbrill, in addition to Saraste, while guest artists long associated with the orchestra also appeared, including Maureen Forrester, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Gary Relyea, and others. An anniversary concert in mid-September saw the TSO return to Massey Hall, where a video by Norman Campbell of the orchestra's milestones was screened and a performance of A Summer Idyll was given by principal cellist (1932-40) Leo Smith. In November 1996 the Fund for the Future endowment was established, reaching $6 million by 1998. In this season the TSO also participated in the Made in Canada and Northern Encounters festivals.

From 1997 mini-tours were undertaken, including to venues in the greater Toronto area and to Carnegie Hall with Nexus. In January 1999 the orchestra toured Florida, and preparations were made for a five-country European tour slated for early 2000.

In the fall of 1999 the players went on a two-month strike. As a result, the European tour was drastically scaled back and several regular concerts cancelled. During the strike, the organization came to the chilling realization that Torontonians seemed to care little if the orchestra survived (Bernstein in Andante, 25 Oct 2001).

The 2000-1 season brought some interesting firsts for the orchestra. During the Toronto International Film Festival, Michael Lankester conducted the orchestra in Prokofiev's film score during the screening of Sergei Eisenstein's 1938 silent film Alexander Nevsky at Massey Hall. Andrew Davis conducted Anthony Payne's reconstruction of Edward Elgar's Symphony No. 3. Schoenberg's Gurrelieder was given its TSO premiere with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Victoria Scholars, and soloists Andrea Gruber, soprano, Lilli Paasikivi, mezzo, tenors Ben Heppner and Benjamin Butterfield, baritone Gary Relyea, and narrator Ernst Haefliger. But by the end of the 2000-1 season, the cumulative deficit had reached $7 million. In October 2000, Ed Smith was appointed executive director following his success with the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Saraste stated in an interview (9 Jun 2001), "We started losing our vision for the future when we had to struggle with today's problems." Saraste stepped down in August 2001, and the following month Smith resigned, declaring the orchestra "beyond repair." At the same time the board announced that the organization would run out of money by November. The orchestra's dilemma was felt throughout North America. Norman Lebrecht wrote, "Orchestras in North America are entering the nightmare zone. A crisis in Toronto has triggered shockwaves across the continent" (Daily Telegraph, 13 Sep 2001).

The TSO board was forced to face dire consequences if it did not act decisively. It called upon former Ontario Premier Bob Rae to spearhead a restructuring plan. Early in 2002, Andrew Shaw was appointed president and CEO. The board was reduced from its 60-plus members to 19 and new programs were established. The focus on education and audience-building was a priority, one of the more significant being the tsoundcheck program (established 2001). The program offered young people under 30 reduced-price tickets and volunteer opportunities. The organization also realized the program's potential as a fund-raising tool that would help establish future sources of support.

Although Saraste's resignation took effect in the summer of 2001, he agreed to conduct the orchestra for four weeks in the following season, along with a number of guest conductors, including Andrew Davis. In September 2002 Davis conducted the TSO with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Toronto Children's Chorus and soloists Measha Brueggergosman, Nathan Berg, and James Ehnes in the inaugural concert of the revamped Roy Thomson Hall. In addition, a highly successful fund-raising concert established in January 2003 - Sonic Boom - with Blue Rodeo and Josh Groban, brought in much-needed cash each year. In January 2003 Peter Oundjian was named music director designate (2003-4) and music director (fall 2004). In 2004-5 he conducted in each of the orchestra's series - Masterworks, Casual Concerts, Light Classics, Signature Series (celebrating Czech composers Dvořák and Janáček), CBC Radio Two Live (inaugurated 2003), Three at the Weston, Pops, and Young People's Concerts - in addition to inaugurating two festivals: Mozart@249 [250, etc] each January, and New Creations for contemporary music each spring.

In 2005 the TSO appeared on the way to recovery from its financial and managerial malaise. Like most civic monuments, the institution had weathered many changes in nearly a century, and its fans expressed confidence it would continue to adapt and to thrive. A documentary film, Five Days in September: The Rebirth of an Orchestra (2004) emphasized this sense of renewal and hope. The film was screened at the Sudbury and Vancouver International Film Festivals, and won the award for best documentary feature at the Palm Springs International Film Festival (2006).

Between 2006 and 2008 the TSO reported annual surpluses even while significantly increasing spending on concert production. In 2008, $9 million came from ticket sales and $9.6 million from donations. Government endowments and private donations also increased substantially, eg, the TSO received $3.5 million from former chairperson Henry Thomas Beck.

In the 2007-8 season the TSO launched the TSO Live record label. Their first recording on that label was Portraits, released in 2008. Concertmaster Jacques Israelievitch stepped down in June 2008.


Ernest MacMillan as Conductor
Adaskin Serenade concertante - Morel Esquisse - Fleming Shadow on the Prairie. 1956. RCI 129/(Adaskin)5-ACM-23

Coulthard Ballade (A Winter's Tale) - MacMillan Two Sketches - Weinzweig Interlude in an Artist's Life. (1946). CBC IS Canadian Album No. 2 (4 78s)/(Weinzweig)5-ACM 1/(Coulthard)6-ACM 10

Elgar Pomp and Circumstance Marches, Opus 39, no. 1-4. 1942. 2-RCA Victor 8226, 8227 (78s)

Holst The Planets: 4 movements 1943 4-RCA Victor 11-8412-8415 (78s)/Camden 204

Jacob A William Byrd Suite - Haydn [Dittersdorf] Serenade (Andante cantabile from Quartet, Opus 3, no. 5). 1942. 2-RCA Victor 8725-8726

McMullin Rocky Mountain Suite (Sketch No. 2) - Rathburn Images of Childhood - Freedman Symphonic Suite. 1950. RCI 19

Milhaud Suite française - Britten Kermesse canadienne - Benjamin Red River Jig. 1950. RCI 18

Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 3. William Kapell piano. 1948. International Piano Archives IPA-507

Ridout - Morawetz - Somers - Rathburn - Weinzweig - Vallerand. 1951. RCI 41/(Vallerand)3-ACM 19

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5. 1953. Beaver LP-1001/Victor Bluebird LBC-1093/RCA LBC-1068/Camden 374

See also Discographies for Lois Marshall; Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.

Geoffrey Waddington as Conductor

Adaskin Ballet Symphony - Brott Violin Concerto - Dolin Scherzo - Freedman Nocturne. Dembeck violin. 1952. RCI 71/(Adaskin)5-ACM 23/(Freedman)6-ACM-8

Walter Susskind as Conductor

Matton Concerto pour deux pianos - Morawetz Piano Concerto No. 1. Bouchard and Morisset pfs, Kuerti piano. 1965. Cap SW-6123/(Matton) CRI SD-317

Pierné The Children's Crusade. Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. 1960. 2-Beaver LPS 003

See also Discography for Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.

Seiji Ozawa as Conductor

Berlioz Symphonie fantastique - MacMillan Two Sketches for Strings - Freedman Images - Mercure Triptyque - Morel L'Étoile noire. 1966. 2-Col M2S-756/(MacMillan, Freedman, Mercure, Morel) Col MS-6962 and CBS 32-11-0038/(Berlioz) CBS 32-11-0035 and Odyssey Y-31923

Messiaen Turangalîla - Takemitsu November Steps. 1967. 2-RCA LSC-7051/2-RCA Red Seal (France) ARL2-1143/(excerpt)RCA SPCS-33-60

Takemitsu Asterism; Requiem; Green (November Steps II); The Dorian Horizon. 1968. RCA LSC-3099

Jean Deslauriers as Conductor

Morawetz Symphony No. 2 - Turner Three Episodes - Pépin Guernica. 1965. CBC SM-4./(Morawetz) CBC SM-104/(Pépin) 4-ACM 5/(Turner) 7-ACM 15

Hermann Scherchen as Conductor

Mahler Symphony No. 7. 1965. Seven Seas KICC-2077 (CD)

Vladimir Golschmann as Conductor

R. Strauss Burleske. Gould piano. 1967.(1989). Nuova Era 2310 (CD)

Lawrence Leonard as Conductor

Morawetz From the Diary of Anne Frank. Marshall soprano. 1970? RCI 601

Victor Feldbrill as Conductor

Beecroft Improvvisazioni concertanti No. 1 - Freedman Tangents - Ridout Fall Fair. Fiore fl. 1972. Audat 477-4001

Weinzweig Concerto for Piano and Orchestra - Symonds The Nameless Hour. P. Helmer piano, F. Stone flhn. 1969. CBC SM-34/CBC SM-104

Ridout Orchestral Works. Dann viola, Kolomyjec soprano. 1990. Centrediscs CMC-CD 3890

Kazuyoshi Akiyama as Conductor

Respighi The Fountains of Rome. 1972. CBC SM-218

Stravinsky The Firebird. 1980. CBC SM-5004

Karel Ančerl as Conductor

Beethoven Symphony No. 6. 1972. CBC SM-150

Pépin Guernica. 1972. Audat 477-4001

Martinů Symphony No. 5. 1971. CBC SM-218

Willan Symphony No 2. 1970. CBC SM-133/5-ACM 11

Boris Brott as Conductor

Prokofiev Peter and the Wolf - Poulenc The Story of Babar. Rich Little narrator. (1980). CBC CH-001

James De Preist as Conductor

Ravel Boléro - Berlioz Royal Hunt and Storm/Chasse Royale et Orage - Debussy Ibéria. 1980. CBC SM-5016

Mario Bernardi as Conductor

Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No 1 Opus. 1 - Dohnányi Variations on a Nursery Song Opus. 25. Ozolins piano. 1985. CBC SM-5052/(with Litoff Scherzo) CBC SMCD-5052

Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 - Willan Concerto in C Minor. Ozolins piano. 1988. CBC SMCD-5108

Andrew Davis as Conductor

Beethoven Piano Concertos; Fantasia for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra; King Stephen Overture. Kuerti piano. 1984. 3-CBC SMCD-5027-3

Bizet L'Arlésienne Suites 1 and 2; Jeux d'enfants. (1981) CBS Master IM-36713/CBS Odyssey YT-39504 (cass)/CBS Master WMDK-45649/(Suite No. 2) CBS CRIAT-3 (cass)

Borodin The Three Symphonies; Overture and Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor. Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. 1976. 2-CBS Master M2-34587/(Symphonies No. 1 and 2) Odyssey YT-42347(cass)/(Symphony No. 3; Overture and Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor) Odyssey YT-42348 (cass)/(Polovtsian Dances) CBS CRIAT-3 (cass)

Brahms Symphony No. 4. 1976. CBC SM-327

- Symphony No. 2. 1977. CBC SM-336

- Symphony No. 1. 1978. CBC SM-353

Chaconne: Colgrass - Bloch - Britten. Golani viola. 1988. CBC SM-3-5087/(with Hindemith) CBC SM-2-5087 (CD)

Dvořák Slavonic Dances Opus. 46/ Danses Slaves Opus. 46. 1979. CBC SM-5012

Dvořák Symphony No 9 Opus. 95 'From the New World'. 1977. CBC SM-5007

Handel Messiah. Battle soprano, Quivar mezzo, Aler tenor, Ramey bass, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Iseler chorus conductor. 1986. 2-EMI Angel DS-49027/(highlights) EMI CDC-7-49407-2 (CD)

Holst The Planets, Opus. 32. Toronto Children's Chorus. 1986. EMI Angel DS-37362/EMI EL-27-0429-1/EMI Angel CDC-7-47417-2 (CD)

Janáček Suite from The Cunning Little Vixen; Taras Bulba. 1977. Col M-35117/CBS Master 76818/CBS MT-35117 (cass)

Rossini-Respighi. La Boutique fantasque. 1979. CBS Master IM-35842/(selections) CBS Odyssey YT-39504 (cass)/(selections) CBS CRIAT-3 (cass)/(selections) CBS CBSCD-42629

Shostakovich Violin Concerto No 1, Opus. 99. Staryk violin. 1984. CBC SM-5037

Sibelius Symphony No 2, Opus. 43. (1983). CBS Master IM-37801

Strauss Ein Heldenleben, Opus. 40. Staryk violin. 1983. CBC SM-5036

- Rosenkavalier Suite - Bizet Carmen Suite - Massenet Scènes pittoresques. 1978. CBC SM-5003

- Salome (selections); Symphonic Fragment from The Love of Danae; Four Last Songs. Marton soprano. 1985. CBS Master IM-42019/(Four Last Songs) CBS Master MDK -44910 (CD)/(Salome selections) Pro Arte CDD-33 and CBS MDK-45650 (CD)

Stravinsky The Rite of Spring/Le Sacre du Printemps. 1982. CBC SM-5019

Symphonic Spectaculars - Grands Moments Symphoniques: Wagner - MacMillan Overture - Chabrier - et al. 1987. CBC SM-5068/(one additional work) CBC SMCD-5068

Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker. Toronto Children's Chorus. 1978. 2-Col Master M2 35196/CBS Master M2YK-45619 (CD)/(selections) CBS CRIAT-3 (cass)

- The Nutcracker Suites No. 1 and 2. Toronto Children's Chorus. (1983). CBS Master MX-38975/CBS Odyssey YT-44509/(selections) McClelland and Stewart 25-32 (V. Tennant narrator)

Günther Herbig as Conductor

Beethoven - Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica") - Romance No. 1 & 2 for Violin and Orchestra. Israelievitch, Jacques, violin. 1992. Analekta AN 2 8201

Jukka-Pekka Saraste as Conductor

Moussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition - Night on Bald Mountain - Prelude to Khovanschina - Scherzo in B flat - March: The Capture of Kars. 1996. Finlandia 2-14911

Scriabin - Prometheus - Rachmaninoff - Piano Concerto No. 4 - Stravinsky - Concerto for Piano and Winds. Alexei Lubimov, piano 1997. Finlandia 2-17277

Prokofiev - Romeo and Juliet Suite. 1997. Finlandia 2-19050

Bartok - The Wooden Prince Suite - Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste - Dance Suite. 1998. Finlandia 2-21029

Henri Dutilleux - Symphony No. 2 - Métaboles - Timbres, espace, mouvement. 1999. Finlandia 2-25324

Jean Sibelius - Night Ride and Sunrise - Lemminkäinen Suite. 2000. Finlandia 2-27890

Redemption: Music of Peter Paul Koprowski - Concerto for Flute and Orchestra - Concerto for Accordion and Orchestra - Concerto for Viola and Orchestra. Robert Aitken flute, Joseph Petric free-bass accordion, Rivka Golani viola 2001. CBC SMCD-5206

Peter Oundjian as Conductor

Portraits. Oundjian conductor. 2008. TSO Live TSO-0108

Bruckner Symphony No. 4. Oundjian conductor. 2008. TSO Live TSO-0608

Mahler Symphony No. 4. Oundjian conductor. 2009. TSO Live

Shostakovitch 7. Oundjian conductor. 2009. TSO Live

Further Reading

External Links