For several seasons now, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s leadership has been in one state of flux or another. Now, the period of placeholder management comes to a close with the announcement of the TSO’s new music director, Spanish conductor Gustavo Gimeno.
Currently the music director of the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, Valencia-born Gimeno will begin his five-year contract at the start of the 2020-21 season. His first collaboration with the TSO was this past February, when he came to conduct a program of Beethoven, Dvorak and Ligeti. He recalls a remarkable ease and understanding during his first rehearsal with the TSO: “An immediate connection.”
“Not only are they musically very intelligent,” Gimeno says, “but they have a culture of sound, a culture of playing.”
Gimeno isn’t likely to be a familiar name to many Torontonians and, in a way, the TSO’s audience is left to trust the orchestra’s generous endorsements of its incoming music director – and perhaps his enviable pedigree, having been a protégé of Claudio Abbado and Bernard Haitink. Concertmaster Jonathan Crow calls Gimeno “absolutely the right match for the TSO,” and Catherine Beck, chair of the board of directors says, “Gustavo has all the qualities you could ask for in a modern music director.”
Setting aside any trust issues Torontonian fans may have about the new face set to take the helm of the TSO – and assuming they aren’t mollified by the PR-friendly rave reviews from within – Gimeno has done his homework on what makes Toronto’s one of the world’s great symphony orchestras, including the education and outreach programs that are a part of the, as he puts it, “legacy of Peter Oundjian.”
“Very often, orchestras and cities have lots in common,” Gimeno muses on his future hometown. He calls Toronto “vibrant,” with clear respect for architecture and visual and performing arts. Brief as they were, his first impressions of the TSO’s audience were much like his introduction to the musicians themselves, with “a strong feeling of open-mindedness and curiosity.”
Gimeno is no household name, but he holds clear enthusiasm for his new post. Where Oundjian set in motion a community-based mission for the TSO, Gimeno’s crackling energy is the sort to bring a notable style, a recognizable face to Toronto’s classical music scene. If indeed the TSO continues its trend of educating audiences and fostering Canadian composers, Gimeno’s zest for his craft will be a welcome jolt of enthusiasm within Roy Thomson Hall.
Before his music directorship begins in the 2020-21 season, Gimeno will conduct the TSO on June 29 and 30, 2019, leading a program that includes Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and Sibelius’s Violin Concerto with concertmaster Crow. It’s a meaty program, and an opportunity for Toronto to hear what it’s in for.