Skip to main content

Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s president and CEO Jeff Melanson is seen in this Sept. 11, 2012 file photo.Jeff McIntosh/The Globe and Mail

Jeff Melanson has resigned as president and CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra – a decision the board says was arrived at mutually.

The high-profile resignation comes in the wake of allegations of personal and professional impropriety by Mr. Melanson, outlined in a court document by his estranged wife.

"This is what is best for the TSO," Mr. Melanson wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail on Wednesday.

The decision followed a board meeting that stretched over two days, and a process described as "thoughtful and considered" by TSO board chair Richard Phillips.

"There are various other things that Jeff has to focus on outside of the TSO that made it perhaps more difficult for him to do as good a job as he would have wanted to as the CEO of the TSO," Mr. Phillips said. "But he is the first to say that."

Mr. Melanson "offered his resignation given other personal matters and the board really accepted that resignation as the best path forward for the TSO," said Sonia Baxendale, a TSO board member who has been named interim CEO.

The resignation follows allegations contained in a court document filed by Mr. Melanson's estranged wife, Eleanor McCain. Ms. McCain alleges that Mr. Melanson married her and took the TSO job to escape serious problems at the Banff Centre, where he was president and CEO – and, according to the document, faced allegations of sexual harassment as well as an inability to deliver on an ambitious redevelopment plan for the arts and conference centre.

The document, filed March 2 by Ms. McCain – a singer, arts patron and daughter of the late billionaire Wallace McCain – alleges inappropriate behaviour by Mr. Melanson at the TSO and the Banff Centre, as well as at the National Ballet School, where he served as executive director and co-CEO until making the move to Banff. She is seeking annulment of the marriage, which, according to the document, was ended by Mr. Melanson abruptly by e-mail in January, 2015 – nine months after they wed.

The allegations have not been tested in court.

Relating to the TSO, the document alleges Mr. Melanson hired the woman he is dating for a position there and that she was later terminated when the board learned she had been brought to the organization by Mr. Melanson, "which was totally inappropriate."

Neither Mr. Phillips nor Ms. Baxendale would comment on that specific allegation.

Nor would Mr. Phillips comment when asked if there was anything in the 34-page court filing that worried the TSO board. "I think I'll leave that to his personal life." He said there were no complaints about Mr. Melanson at the TSO.

"The discussions at the board," he added, "it really wasn't as sort of gossipy as it might appear from the outside. … I think we did good governance at the TSO and the decision was taken really based on … what's in the best interests of the TSO going forward."

Fundraising is an important part of the job and The Globe asked Ms. Baxendale and Mr. Phillips if Mr. Melanson's ability to do so was compromised in light of the allegations, and whether that was a consideration in the departure.

"I think all of this publicity and these things are a distraction and I couldn't be specific about that, but I suspect that would have an impact," Ms. Baxendale said.

Mr. Phillips wouldn't speak specifically to that either, but said fundraising at a not-for-profit organization is always a challenge, "so you're always looking to make sure you can put your best foot forward with fundraising."

Mr. Melanson joined the TSO in 2014 after leaving the Banff Centre about halfway into a five-year contract, because he said he wanted to be with his children from his first marriage and his fiancée, Ms. McCain, in Toronto.

Highlights of his truncated tenure include the recent awarding of $7.5-million from the federal government for the TSO's Canada Mosaic project, an initiative for Canada's sesquicentennial. Mr. Melanson also stirred up controversy during his reign when he cancelled the appearance of Ukrainian pianist Valentina Lisitsa because of political comments on Twitter.

His resignation took effect Tuesday. The TSO board meeting, which also dealt with other business, commenced last week and concluded Monday, when the decision was finally made.

Mr. Phillips said the parting was amicable and that the board does not regret hiring Mr. Melanson. In fact, he said, it was "grateful" for the good things he had done.

"The TSO really was happy with a lot of the directions that Jeff went in," Mr. Phillips said, adding that the symphony plans to continue to build on Mr. Melanson's strategic vision. "He really did take the TSO to a new level."

A succession committee is being formed to search for the TSO's next leader. Ms. Baxendale is a former CIBC executive who sits on four other boards. When asked about morale, she said the people who make up the TSO are a resilient group.

"Change is always difficult and there's been a lot of publicity around this. I think that they're comforted [that] decisions have been made and they have a clear message in terms of the path forward. But there's no doubt that this is challenging for people."

In his e-mail, Mr. Melanson declined to comment further about his resignation – or future plans. When The Globe spoke with him earlier this month about Ms. McCain's allegations, he called them "grossly inaccurate" and "incredibly undignified." He said he would not discuss the specific allegations. "I will be responding in due course, but that will be through the courts and not through the press."

In a separate development, plans for Mr. Melanson to publish a book this year are off. He had signed a deal with HarperCollins to publish a social science book called Click, which as of Wednesday was still listed on Amazon with a publication date of Sept. 20, 2016. But that book contract was dissolved several months ago "by mutual decision between the author and publisher," according to Iris Tupholme, vice-president and executive publisher at HarperCollins in Canada.

Mr. Melanson's literary agent, Michael Levine, stressed that the cancellation of the book deal has nothing to do with the recent controversy.

"The timing for the book was wrong and that could be revisited at a later date. He decided some months ago."

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe