The Toronto Symphony Orchestra appoints Mark Williams as its new CEO

Mark Williams, Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s new CEO. Williams replaces Matthew Loden, who announced his departure last July.Russell Lee / Toronto Symphony Orchestra

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has appointed Mark Williams as its new CEO. The American comes to the city’s century-old institution from the Cleveland Orchestra, unofficially one of the “big five” orchestras in the United States.

“It feels to me like one of those moments where the universe is clearly pointing you in the direction you need to go,” Williams told The Globe and Mail. “In so many ways, I feel the TSO’s energy reflects Toronto’s energy.”

Williams is currently chief artistic and operations officer at the Cleveland Orchestra, overseeing artistic planning, programming, touring and day-to-day orchestra operations. The 42-year-old Williams describes the move to Toronto as a “step forward”, replacing Matthew Loden at the top of TSO’s organizational plan.

Loden, appointed CEO in 2018, surprised the Canadian orchestra milieu in July last year when he announced his resignation. Referring to personal reasons for his departure, Loden returned to his hometown of Houston, where he is dean of Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.

Williams leaves a Cleveland Orchestra performing during his season at the city’s Severance Hall with no capacity restrictions. In Toronto, after returning for a personal appearance with its new music director Gustavo Gimeno on the conductor’s podium at Roy Thomson Hall on November 10, 2021, the TSO has canceled its concerts through January 26, in accordance with provincial regulations regarding COVID-19.

“We’re going to have the flare-up of coronavirus and we’re going to have to deal with it,” Williams said. “But it does not have to be a wholesale return to the way it was in March 2020.”

The Cincinnati native studied horn performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music and Case Western Reserve University. He began his career in artist management, where he held positions at Columbia Artists Management and IMG Artists and worked with Cecilia Bartoli, Alan Gilbert, Susan Graham, Dawn Upshaw and others. Prior to his nine-year tenure with the Cleveland Orchestra, Williams served as artistic director of the San Francisco Symphony from 2009 to 2012.

His new position at TSO reunites him with Spanish conductor Gimeno. “I hired him for his American debut in 2015,” Williams said. “Then I could see he had a boundless talent.”

With Williams coming to Toronto comes his husband and their pet-whippet, Brightley. Where Cleveland holds the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Toronto is home to the Hockey Hall of Fame. “I’m looking forward to learning about hockey,” Williams said, “but I just told a friend last night that I might want to start curling.”

Williams will take up his position at TSO in April, the same month as the orchestra’s 100th anniversary celebration, which brings together current music director Gimeno and former TSO leaders Peter Oundjian, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Gunther Herbig and Andrew Davis.

The night of the maestroes is scheduled for April 9, if health regulations allow. Williams and other art leaders will be faced with the task of convincing virus-haunted audiences to return to theaters and concert halls.

“I think the wind is in the back in that regard,” Williams said. “When the world closed down, people were looking for art. I think this is a real moment for performing arts institutions to take advantage of it and remind people that in our darkest hours, it’s what we do that you wanted. ”

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