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Toronto Symphony Orchestra plays it safe during a time of transition

The large proportion of traditional works gives the TSO's 2018/19 lineup an air of comforting familiarity

Jeremy Denk takes on the dual roles of pianist and conductor in an all-Mozart concert.

With the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's 2018-2019 season, the organization is playing it safe.

The musical lineup is light on headlining items that can be called "groundbreaking" or even "new." The conservative season is perhaps a reflection of the TSO's current period of leadership transition. The orchestra, currently under interim CEO Gary Hanson, has been without a permanent CEO since Jeff Melanson's abrupt departure in 2016. Music director Peter Oundjian will finish his 14-year tenure at the end of the current season, to be succeeded by Sir Andrew Davis as interim artistic director; starting with his conducting of the opening-night concert at Roy Thomson Hall on Sept. 20, Davis will hold the post until 2020, when the TSO hopes to have found a new music director.

So, out of a period of flux comes a season dominated by orchestral masterworks. Canadian music is not entirely overshadowed; audiences will hear works by Jacques Hétu, José Evangelista, Abigail Richardson-Schulte, Jocelyn Morlock and Chan Ka Nin. On Jan. 19, 2019, the TSO will head to the Royal Conservatory's Koerner Hall for a concert dedicated to contemporary Canadian music, including two new TSO commissions.

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The large proportion of traditional works may indeed give the TSO's 2018/19 lineup an air of comforting familiarity; and before the louder seekers of new music protest, it's worth marvelling at the season's densely packed collection of oldies-but-goodies.

Canadian Barbara Hannigan leads a program that includes Sibelius’s Luonnotar for Soprano and Orchestra.

The Masterworks series is a crash course in orchestral repertoire, a parade of symphonies by Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Dvorak, Bruckner, Mahler andShostakovich. Exciting soloists return to Roy Thomson Hall, such as Jan Lisiecki for Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 (June 5-8, 2019), Louis Lortie for Saint-Saëns's Piano Concerto No. 4 (May 15-16, 2019) and James Ehnes for Korngold's Violin Concerto (June 19-23, 2019). In their respective all-Mozart concerts, Pinchas Zukerman plays two of the composer's violin concertos and Jeremy Denk takes on the dual roles of pianist and conductor.

Singers take the spotlight, too. Davis will conduct an in-concert performance of Act I of Wagner's Die Walkure with soprano Lise Davidsen, tenor Simon O'Neill and bass Brindley Sherratt (Jan. 31 and Feb. 2, 2019). Maestro Bramwell Tovey conducts Britten's War Requiem (Nov. 8-10, 2018), featuring tenor Toby Spence, soprano Tatiana Pavlovskaya and baritone Russell Braun. Fellow Canadian Barbara Hannigan returns, likely to wow us in her double-duty as singer and conductor, leading a program that includes Sibelius's Luonnotar for Soprano and Orchestra (Feb. 13-14, 2019). Donald Runnicles conducts Orff's arresting Carmina Burana (June 19-23, 2019) and Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux sings in Mahler's Resurrection Symphony (April 17-20, 2019).

The 2018 holiday season will bring the certainty of Handel's Messiah (Dec. 17-23, 2018), this time presented in collaboration with the Canadian Opera Company. COC music director Johannes Debus conducts, and the four soloists – including tenor Andrew Haji and soprano Claire de Sévigné – are all alumni of the COC Ensemble Studio.

The TSO's Pops Series and Young People's Concerts offer some intriguing gems, such as the return of The Second City Guide to the Orchestra, hosted by Colin Mochrie (March 5-7, 2019), and Canadian favourite Fred Penner's collaboration with maestra Mélanie Léonard (March 30, 2019). The orchestra's series of films with live orchestra – a fantastic night out for music lovers and film lovers alike – includes screenings of Casablanca, led by rising conductor Evan Mitchell, and my own personal must-see, Home Alone in Concert (Dec. 6-8, 2018).

Subscriptions for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's 2018/19 season are on sale as of Feb. 27 (

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