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Mark Williams, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's new chief executive officer. Williams replaces Matthew Loden, who announced his resignation last July.Russell Lee/Handout

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has appointed Mark Williams as its new chief executive officer. The American comes to the city’s century-old institution from the Cleveland Orchestra, unofficially one of the “big five” orchestras of the United States.

“It feels like to me one of those moments when the universe is clearly pointing you in the direction you should go,” Williams told The Globe and Mail. “In so many ways, I feel the energy of the TSO reflects the energy of Toronto.”

Williams is currently chief artistic and operations officer at the Cleveland Orchestra, overseeing artistic planning, programming, touring and day-to-day orchestra operations. Describing the move to Toronto as a “step forward,” the 42-year-old Williams replaces Matthew Loden at the top of the TSO’s organizational chart.

Loden, appointed CEO in 2018, surprised the Canadian orchestral community last July when he announced his resignation. Citing personal reasons for his departure, Loden returned to his Houston hometown, where he is dean of Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.

Williams leaves a Cleveland Orchestra that is performing its season at the city’s Severance Hall with no capacity restrictions. In Toronto, after returning to in-person performances with its new music director Gustavo Gimeno on the conductor’s podium at Roy Thomson Hall on Nov. 10, 2021, the TSO has cancelled its concerts through Jan. 26, in accordance with provincial regulations related to COVID-19.

“We’re going to have flare-ups with the coronavirus, and we’ll have to deal with it,” said Williams. “But it doesn’t need to be a wholesale return to the way it was in March, 2020.”

The Cincinnati native studied horn performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music and Case Western Reserve University. He began his career in artist management, holding posts at Columbia Artists Management and IMG Artists, working with Cecilia Bartoli, Alan Gilbert, Susan Graham, Dawn Upshaw and others. Before his nine-year tenure at the Cleveland Orchestra, Williams served as artistic administrator of the San Francisco Symphony from 2009 to 2012.

His new position with the TSO reunites him with the Spanish conductor Gimeno. “I hired him for his U.S. debut in 2015,” said Williams. ”I could see then that he had boundless talent.”

Coming with Williams to Toronto will be his husband and their pet whippet, Brightley. Where Cleveland has the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Toronto is home to the Hockey Hall of Fame. “I’m looking forward to learning about hockey,” Williams said, “but I was just telling a friend last night that I might take up curling.”

Williams assumes his position with the TSO in April, the same month as the orchestra’s 100-year anniversary celebration that brings together current music director Gimeno and former TSO leaders Peter Oundjian, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Gunther Herbig, and Andrew Davis.

The night of the maestros is scheduled for April 9, health regulations permitting. Williams and other arts leaders will be faced with the job of convincing virus-spooked audiences to return to theatres and concert halls.

“I think the wind is at our backs in that respect,” Williams said. “When the world shut down, people sought art. I think this is a real moment for performing arts institutions to capitalize on that, and to remind people that in our darkest hours, it is what we do that you wanted.”

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