Toronto Symphony Orchestra

This article is about the currently active orchestra of this name. For the orchestra active from 1906-1918, see Toronto Symphony Orchestra (Welsman).
Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO)

Music Director Peter Oundjian posing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Roy Thomson Hall before a concert on January 18, 2012.
Former name New Symphony Orchestra
Founded 1922
Music director Peter Oundjian
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra logo

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) is a Canadian orchestra based in Toronto, Ontario. Founded in 1922, the TSO gave regular concerts at Massey Hall until 1982, and since then has performed at Roy Thomson Hall. The TSO also manages the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra (TSYO). Peter Oundjian became the TSO's music director in 2003.


The TSO was founded in 1922 as the New Symphony Orchestra, and gave its first concert at Massey Hall in April 1923 with 58 musicians. The first conductor was Luigi von Kunits, and that season there were twenty concerts, as well as a performance at a spring festival.[1]

In the summer of 1924, the symphony performed at the Canadian National Exhibition. Shortly thereafter, the TSO began holding children's concerts.[1] The orchestra changed its name to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1927. In 1929, the TSO made its radio debut with a one-hour broadcast on CBC Radio from the Arcadian Court of Simpson's department store.[1]

After von Kunits' death in 1931, conductor and composer Ernest MacMillan served as music director for 25 years.[1]

Peter Oundjian conducts Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, June 2014

The orchestra had made headlines for its hiring practices in 1951, when it declined to renew the contracts of musicians, thereafter known as the Symphony Six who had been denied entry to the United States on suspicion of communist activities, during the McCarthy Era.

Andrew Davis was the TSO's music director from 1975 to 1988, and then was given the title of conductor laureate with the TSO.[2]

The orchestra had financial and audience size problems in the 1990s, and in 1992 TSO musicians had accepted a 16% pay cut because of a threat of bankruptcy to the orchestra, with a promise from management to make up the loss in subsequent contract negotiations. By 1999, this pay restoration had not happened, which led to an 11-week musicians' strike that autumn.[3] Relations between the musicians and management deteriorated, and the music director at the time, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, offered to serve as mediator in the situation. In addition, there was a lack of public sympathy to the orchestra musicians' situation.[4]

By 2001, the orchestra had debt of $7 million (Canadian), and both executive director Ed Smith and music director Saraste had left the ensemble.[5]

Peter Oundjian was appointed as music director in January 2003 and became music director with the 2004–2005 season.[6] 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.[7] Oundjian is currently contracted as the TSO's music director through the 2017-2018 season.[8]

By the 2006–2007 season, the subscriber base had increased to about 25,000, and the audience average capacity also increased to 84%.[9] In November 2008, the orchestra reported its third consecutive year of budget surpluses, with average audience attendance of 88% (excluding concerts for schoolchildren), although the orchestra still retains overall debt of $8.9 million (Canadian).[10]

In April 2015, controversy ensued after the TSO cancelled the appearance of Valentina Lisitsa, citing Twitter postings by her in relation to the conflict in Ukraine which were seen as conducive to 'public incitement of hatred' under the Criminal Code of Canada.[11]

Music directors


  1. 1 2 3 4 Vyhnak, Carola. "Birth of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra". Toronto Star, 14 June 2015, page A12.
  2. William Littler for the Toronto Star. May 8, 2015. The TSO’s Englishman in Toronto
  3. "Toronto Symphony negotiations hit sour note". CBC News. 25 September 1999. Retrieved 2008-11-08.
  4. Warren, Richard, It Begins With The Oboe. University of Toronto Press (Toronto, 2002; ISBN 978-0-8020-3588-2), pp. 209–211.
  5. Tamara Bernstein (25 October 2001). "Toronto Symphony Teeters on the Edge of Ruin". Archived from the original on November 17, 2002. Retrieved 2008-11-02.
  6. John Terauds (8 February 2007). "Conductor puts mark on TSO through '12". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2008-11-02.
  7. Jason Buchanan for the New York Times. Review: Five Days in September: The Rebirth of an Orchestra (2005) Page accessed July 7, 2015
  8. Arthur Kaptainis (2016-02-05). "Two more seasons for TSO's Peter Oundjian". National Post. Retrieved 2016-03-20.
  9. John Terauds (3 February 2007). "TSO's new season". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2008-11-02.
  10. John Terauds (20 November 2008). "TSO salutes its third surplus in row". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2008-11-21.
  11. "Toronto symphony bans Ukrainian-born pianist over 'provocative' tweets denouncing Kyiv's 'neo-Nazis'". 7 April 2015. Retrieved 2016-03-20.
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