A cultural institution better than three-quarters of a century in the making, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (= TSO) is Canada's foremost symphonic ensemble. Performing more than 125 concerts at Roy Thomson Hall each year, the Orchestra has a full at-home schedule. At the same time, its international presence is strong, built by a history of touring that includes its triumphant Florida Tour in January 1999, and reinforced by acclaimed recordings available in music stores around the world.
The Orchestra was founded in 1922, by a group of Toronto musicians and Viennese-born conductor Luigi von Kunits. The New Symphony Orchestra, as it was then called, gave its first performance in April 1923, at Massey Hall. The name Toronto Symphony Orchestra was adopted four years later.
Von Kunits served as music director until his death in 1931. Sir Ernest MacMillan, appointed his replacement that same year, would become the TSO's longest-standing music director, presiding until 1956. During Ernest MacMillan's 25 seasons on the podium, the TSO soared in stature and scope, introducing Toronto audiences to contemporary composers such as Gustav Holst, Sibelius and Igor Stravinsky, who, in 1937, conducted the TSO in performances of his own music. Walter Susskind, who followed Ernest MacMillan, was himself succeeded in 1965 by Seiji Ozawa. Now music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa was the TSO's youngest artistic leader. He served for four years, until the arrival of Karel Ancerl in 1969. In 1973, Victor Feldbrill took over, in the post of resident conductor, until 1978. Sir Andrew Davis, now Conductor Laureate, served as music director from 1975 to 1988; and Gunther Herbig, a conductor noted for his interpretation of Johannes Brahms, as well as for his controlled, disciplined style of direction, served from 1989 to 1994.
Herbig's successor, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, who served as Music Director from 1994 to 200. Under Jukka-Pekka Saraste's artistic leadership, the TSO is set to greet the new millennium with a vision that looks intriguingly ahead to trends for the future while remaining open to influences from the past. The 1999-2000 season's concert schedule comprises orchestral standards, including works by Mozart, Sergei Rachmaninov and all nine symphonies by Beethoven; powerful works written in this century by Sibelius, I. Stravinsky and Philip Glass; plus world premieres by Derek Holman, Gary Kulesha and Éric Morin. Pops, Light Classics and Young People's Concerts round out the offerings. The current TSO Music Director is Peter Oundjian, who was appointed to the post in January 2003 and formally became music director with the 2004-2005 season. In February 2007, Oundjian extended his contract with the TSO to 2012.
Dedicated to securing the future of the symphonic genre and to developing Canadian talent, the TSO appointed Gary Kulesha as its first Composer Advisor in 1995. Kulesha assisted Jukka-Pekka Saraste with the programming and long-term planning of Canadian contemporary music. Another TSO initiative is the Massey Hall New Music Festival, a week-long celebration involving several of the city's music presenters. Festival concerts feature both new and established works by composers from Canada and around the world. Through the 25-year-old Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, and its Youth and Education programmes, the Symphony continues to nourish the next generation of Canadian composers, musicians and concert-goers.
Throughout its more than 80-year history, the TSO has also welcomed some of the greatest international artists, including instrumentalists Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax, sopranos Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman, dancer Karen Kain and actor Christopher Plummer. Renowned composers Henri Dutilleux, R. Murray Schafer and the late Sir Michael Tippett, among many others, have attended or participated in the Orchestra's presentations of their music.
Each year, more than 400,000 patrons visit the TSO at home in Roy Thomson Hall, and an additional five million Canadians tune in to frequent concert broadcasts on the CBC Radio networks. The 2005 documentary film Five Days in September: The Rebirth of an Orchestra (Canada, 2005) recorded the first days of the TSO's inaugural season with Oundjian as its new music director.
International tours have taken the TSO's performances to destinations such as New York's Carnegie Hall, Florida, Japan, Australia, Europe and the Canadian North. In addition, the TSO's sound is reaching classical music listeners around the world on a number of recordings. Recent releases on the Finlandia Records label include the Juno-nominated Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; S. Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 4 with soloist Alexei Lubimov; and Béla Bartók: Dance Suite.