Although I’ve been enjoying the Toronto Symphony tour up close, pressing my nose up to the glass of my window on the bus to stare at the world going by, it’s been a kind of workshop in so much more. I’ve had some wonderful conversations:
- With Peter Oundjian, the TSO conductor & music director
- With Adrian Fung, TSO’s VP Innovation (who sat beside me at a concert & again on the bus today)
- With Jeff Melanson, President, CEO, tall guy and role-model.
I need to be careful. Peter’s probably a bigger a role model in our city, and was at the TSO before Jeff arrived. Culture change in an organization takes awhile. Peter may have been earlier in that renewal process, but Jeff is giving it a huge push, while Adrian, a recent arrival, is both a new driver and indeed a sign of the changes at the TSO.
(aside to self, I hope it’s okay with them that I am using their first names, instead of my usual tossing around of surnames, I hardly know them)
I had a chat with Peter this morning. I think I resembled the character Mime in Siegfried, who, when given the chance to ask Wotan a series of questions foolishly opts to show off what he knows rather than to actually seek after knowledge. I wanted to convey my appreciation & admiration and indeed was under instructions from home to get that message across. I hope I succeeded. I broached the subject with him that’s in the headline above, that was at the centre of my intense conversation on the bus today with Adrian. Jeff has partially inspired it, just watching him in action, although I think all three of these men demonstrate this in spades. And I want to add a fourth name for at least a hint at gender balance. I’ve been spending a great deal of time with Francine Labelle, who is Manager of Publicity, and my chief interface with the TSO.
What do all four of these people have in common that might connect to the headline?
It’s a sign of the times that jobs have grown because we are living in an era of generalists. Francine isn’t just a PR person, she is also herself a performer, required to organize & communicate. Adrian may have an MBA but he is also a musician and a lateral thinker. Peter is a violinist, conductor, mentor, public speaker (to name only a few). Jeff too steps up to the microphone, not just telling them what to do but walking that walk right onto the stage.
Convergence may be an overused word but I think we’re still discovering its significance. I have a device that I carry in my pocket that not only sends email, records voices or films people, but also files music indiscriminately, the Beatles and Beethoven treated as equivalents (except possibly for the length of the track / size of the file). Calling these files “content” levels the playing field and removes class / disciplinary biases between different media, different sorts of content.
I was joking with Peter about what I saw in the concert last night, what I glibly called “The Toronto 100”, alluding to the Daytona 500. I swear he didn’t actually accept a bow himself, but gave all the focus to his orchestra. Gone are the days of the autocratic conductor, as obsolete as an autocratic VP or an autocratic CEO. And is it any wonder that one of the most obvious things i saw on the bus was manifest chemistry, the cohesion of a team rather than people brought in merely because of virtuosity. It’s less important to play your instrument well on its own, than to be an ensemble musician.
When Jeff says the TSO seeks to change to make itself the most innovative orchestra in the world, it’s not something you can do by simply shouting at the troops and saying “okay boys, innovate”! Change will manifest itself in everything from the music they play to the programs they offer children in our city and so much more. I’m fortunate to have been the fly on the wall, overhearing some wonderful talk, that i am still seeking to understand.
The organization must change in every respect, modelling inclusiveness and an appetite for creativity. That may sound obvious in an orchestra, but we all know that we’ve seen institutions that become, well institutional. Bureaucratic. Rigid. Political, and not in a good way.
The TSO will announce their new season soon, early in February. They are already doing some brave & bold things. I’ve been loving their series of films with live accompaniment this past autumn. Their adventurous take on the Mozart Requiem directed by Joel Ivany is coming up very soon as part of the Mozart @ 260 Festival, led by Bernard Labadie. Their New Creations Festival is coming up. What will they do in 2016-2017, a season when one might expect a possible commemoration: of the sesquicentennial of Canadian Confederation.
I’m looking forward to finding out more.
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