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The beleagured Toronto Symphony Orchesta was founded in 1922 by a group of Toronto musicians; it was originally led by Viennese-born conductor Luigi von Kunits, and until 1927 was known as the New Symphony Orchestra.

When von Kunits died in 1931, the new music director was Ernest MacMillan, who held the podium for 25 years and made the TSO a vital part of Toronto's cultural scene. MacMillan was succeeded in 1956 by Walter Susskind, who in turn was followed in 1965 by the young Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa, who thrilled the city with his exotic looks, youth, and wild hair; many years later, two women, friends as teenagers, wrote about their infatuation with their neighbour, a famous Japanese conductor, who was obviously Ozawa. In 1969, Karel Ancerl took over; in 1973, Victor Feldbrill; in 1975, Andre Davis; in 1988, Gunther Herbig; and in 1994 Jukka-Pekka Saraste was appointed to the post. Saraste seemed to Toronto to hold the exotic promise of Ozawa at first, but he ended up to be less exciting than his name, and this is his last season with the orchestra. His successor has not yet been named.

The TSO does not have a "proper" symphony hall to play in, and currently performs in Toronto at Roy Thompson Hall, a less-than-ideal acoustic venue. They tour frequently and have played in the Musikverein in Vienna, Carnegie Hall in New York, and other prestigious venues around the world and throughout Canada. They have a discography on Finlandia Records that includes works by Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff, Bartók, and Sibelius, and have played with greats like Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Kathleen Battle, and many others. The TSO can be heard regularly performing classical music on Canada's CBC radio. The TSO has a training program for young musicians and a youth orchestra.

I did also say beleagured. The TSO has for some years been facing a cash shortage caused by declining ticket sales, and recently lost its executive director, who cited a cancer growing within the TSO. The nature of this "cancer" I don't know, but the bottom line is that the TSO came dangerously close to having to declare bankruptcy by November 30 2001 if they had not been able to come up with $1.5 million, a drop in the bucket of their $7 million defecit. The announcement of that impending crisis mobilized an outpouring of vocal support among Torontonians, as such things do; luckily the TSO managed to weather the storm and survive, for the time being at least.

The online home of the TSO is www.tso.on.ca; you can view their concert season there.

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