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Gustavo Gimeno

The TSO’s new director is looking up to the downbeat


MAR 07, 2023 | ISSUE 7

Gustavo Gimeno by Ella Mazur
Gustavo Gimeno conducts the TSO - Photo by Jag Gundu
Gustavo Gimeno conducts Firebird - Photo by Stuart Lowe

In the music world, the role of the conductor is not to be underestimated. From the velvet seats to the orchestra pit, eyes and  ears  are  tightly  attuned to their every move. The spirit, energy, and atmosphere of a piece can live and die with its conductor, who must walk the tightrope of tension and release while allowing musicians freedom within the structures of the sheet music. It is a highly delicate art, bringing moving parts together in harmony, and world-renowned conductor Gustavo Gimeno has mastered it, not only on stage, but in every role he has played during his fascinating musical career.

Gimeno routinely leads the finest ensembles in venues  around  the  world,  and  when  he  is not in the studio, he serves as Music Director of

the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, and of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO). Since his tenure with the TSO began in 2020, Gimeno has committed his time and energy in equal measure to developing exciting new programs, designed to resonate with people from all walks of life.

The TSO will be celebrating its centenary in 2022. In conversation with smART Magazine, Gimeno discusses the prioritization of newer artists in the TSO’s programming, and his vision to roundly represent the cultural richness of Toronto by a blending of the “old and new.”

sM | What are some of the features in programming that you’d like to implement to expand the orchestra’s global appeal? And what creative opportunities does this city present that you perhaps won’t find elsewhere?

GG — While we can’t yet discuss the exact details of our programming, I believe that next season’s artistic schedule will speak for itself. We have been planning within the confines of existing restrictions, and in a sense have been programming our 2022/23 season hypothetically, imagining how the structure would work best. I feel familiar with the history of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and I know how active the orchestra has been in commissioning new works, so those elements have been incorporated  into both the 2021/22 and 2022/23 seasons.

Programming core repertoire and well-known works for our audience is obviously important, but I also believe that we are living in a time where integration and togetherness are especially interesting and significant. Within many of the programs, the chosen pieces contrast strongly with each other in terms of style, era, and aesthetics. I think including fresh, new voices is really important, not only new music but also music by living composers who have perhaps had their work premiered by the TSO. By fusing innovation with core works of the classical symphonic repertoire, we are varying the programming, which is a challenge for us—for me, but also for the musicians! However, we knew that this was the journey we wanted to  take our audience on. I’m aware of the fact that orchestras in Europe are funded in a different way, which in certain situations can make the process of blending established works with newer artists more stable. But that’s part of why it was important for us to combine these newer voices with the music and musicians that people know so well. I find that Torontonians have a sophisticated and adventurous appreciation for music, and Toronto is such a culturally vivid city. My belief is that we have a responsibility in two directions, both to honour what people know and love and to challenge ourselves and our audiences.

Finding a position in Ontario and in Toronto, being a part of those communities, is crucial for us; however, touring and playing globally is also very important, and we are looking to find a place in the wider world of performance. Clearly, everyone is still navigating the difficulties associated with the pandemic, but our minds are now working towards the future. We fully expect to perform outside of Toronto, and outside of Canada; touring and finding new destinations is one of the central challenges and goals for our future.

Gustavo Gimeno and the Toronto Symphony - Photo by Jag Gundu

sM | With the upcoming vacancy in the CEO’s chair, what are some of the priorities and qualities that you’re hoping the incoming leader brings to the position?

GG — One thing I have discovered in the last few years is just how many talented people exist within the TSO, not only in the orchestra itself but in the artistic and administrative teams. It’s so motivating to feel this support, to feel that I’m in the right place and working within a solid structure. It’s clearly disappointing that the current CEO, Matthew Loden, is stepping away from the TSO because I have enjoyed working with Matthew hugely, despite the unexpected difficulties we’ve faced as a team. We went through an extraordinary phase together, one which neither of us could have anticipated, as you can imagine. But I am truly grateful for everything he has done at the TSO and, looking forward, I believe we have new opportunities ahead of us. I am viewing it as an opportunity for change. As I always say, never look too much into the past, only do so to gather information and to reflect. It’s very much part of my nature to look forward instead of backward, and this is a chance to look forward.

The fact that the orchestra has such a strong reputation as an organization is a real positive and should greatly benefit the TSO in its search for a new CEO. I believe that the history and the quality of the TSO  is  incredibly  appealing,  and  the  search committee is already seeking out candidates. Logic dictates that they will need to have strong skills in both business and finance, but I also strongly believe that the top priority should be maintaining the artistic excellence of the orchestra. The search committee is already working on it, and soon we will be moving  into the next phase and chapter of our search. I am confident that we will have a new CEO sooner rather than later! I am hugely thankful to Matthew Loden, and I enjoyed working with him very much; but reality is where it is, and we are looking forward, with confidence, to the future.