Photo: Jag Gundu
After a spectacular 14 years, Toronto Symphony Music Director Peter Oundjian is stepping down, leaving behind quite the musical legacy. He’s done quite a few interviews already, of course, focussing on the artistic side of things, so I wanted to chat with him about the personal aspects of his tenure here in Toronto. In this written Q+A, Peter told me about coming to Toronto to focus on the orchestra, and how he feels about leaving.
Peter – this is a full-circle moment for us! I announced you when I was the TSO’s publicist, and now I’m on the other side, as media for The New Classical FM, interviewing you about your imminent departure! I have so many mixed feelings about your leaving …
I feel that one should always leave when the feelings are mixed. Once they’re no longer mixed, you’ve waited too long!
Good point. What initially brought your family to Toronto, long before the TSO?
My family came to Canada in order to help my father recover from having fought in the British Army. He needed to find a new environment that didn’t remind him of the trauma of war. When my parents visited Toronto, they fell in love with it – and then I was fortunate to be born here!
A lot of people don’t realize you’re from here, and that one of your first Canadian memories was bailing from a sled before it hit a tree. Fast forward to 2004, when you took up the TSO post …you then spent a significant amount of time in Toronto. Your wife, Nadine, joined you, and your kids, Lara and Peter, spent their youths and teenage years here. Do you and your family feel “culturally” Canadian?
No one has ever observed my family to be culturally anything! Thanks for the suggestion, though! In all seriousness, I think my children feel that being Canadian is certainly a part of their identity; they both have decided to make their homes here (in Toronto and Montreal). As we’re fiercely cheering on my nephew and the Marlies in their quest for the Calder Cup right now, our sports allegiances are definitely Canadian. Another thing, one of the most important aspects of Canadian life is its incredible blend of cultures. In that sense, we probably fit in all right!
A lot of people define ourselves by what we do for a living – you really were the face and voice of the TSO, let alone its Music Director for fourteen years. How will you identify yourself in the future?
I’ll identify myself as the former voice of the TSO…Ha! Life is all about building layers of opportunity to create a unique fabric. While the TSO is certainly a huge part of my life, there are all kinds of projects upcoming that I’m excited about, and probably many that I don’t even know about at this point.
Look forward to hearing what you get up to. Any funny mishaps (apart from what was depicted in the documentary about your start with the TSO, “Five Days in September”) that happened on the TSO stage or backstage you care to share with us?
None that I can think of, but the day is young!
Hm, I’ll have to ask around and do a follow-up story, ha ha. Your fans would like to know what you loved most about your time in Toronto, and what you will miss the most!
In the end, what I loved most was two things: First – the people – and I will not lose touch with them, though I’ll see them less often. The second was shaping the orchestra and caring for the morale of the orchestra day to day. I will miss that tremendously. It’s a job that involves nurturing a lot of wonderful and talented people, who have to do an extremely difficult job, which is to play as one on stage – whether it’s in rehearsal or in concert. That is a very difficult thing to achieve. At its best, it’s extremely satisfying for all of us.
Other things you should know:
Chandos just released “Vaughan Williams”, a beloved composer of Peter’s, from a TSO live concert in November 2017. The recording features the Piano Concerto, Oboe Concerto, Serenade to Music, and “Flos Campi”. Artists are soprano Carla Huhtanen; mezzo Emily D’Angelo; tenor Lawrence Wiliford; baritone Tyler Duncan; oboist Sarah Jeffrey; violist Teng Li; pianist Louis Lortie; and the Elmer Iseler Singers, under the direction of Lydia Adams.
An excerpt from the recording – Serenade to Music:
Your last chance to see him as TSO Music Director:
Peter’s last few weeks at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra are listed below, all happening at Roy Thomson Hall at the corner of King and Simcoe. For more details on Peter’s history with the Orchestra, please click here.
Brahms Symphony 1 / June 13 & 14
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto 3 / June 16
Daniil Trifonov, piano
Ax Plays Mozart / June 20 & 23
Emanuel Ax, piano
Christopher Plummer’s Symphonic Shakespeare / June 26
Christopher Plummer, narrator
Beethoven Symphony 9 / June 28, 29 & 30
And that’s not all!
Peter will be interviewed by Kathleen Kajioka of “Sunday Night with the TSO”. This three-part interview series will air at 8PM on June 10, June 17, and June 24. They’re all in a two-part format; the first half Peter will chat about his upcoming TSO concert, and the second half he will discuss his experiences with the TSO and his life in Toronto.
Thank you, Peter – we’ll miss you!