1950s – Established in 1954 as The Bennington Heights Community Orchestra, with 55 members, Orchestra Toronto has seen an amazing growth in size and musical excellence. Under the direction of Assen Kresteff, its first season — in 1955 — consisted of just one concert. Two years later, Albert Aylward, a 25-year veteran of The Toronto Symphony string section, took up the baton. In 1964, Milton Barnes, a former conductor of the St. Catharines Symphony, became the conductor.
1960s – A Saturday-morning junior string group was formed, and eight East York Symphony members were selected to play in the National Youth Orchestra. The orchestra was incorporated in November 1967 as the East York Symphony and a board of directors was named. Centennial Year also saw the orchestra grow to 63 musicians, and the beginning of a six-season tenure as conductor for Orval Reis, conductor of The University of Toronto Orchestra.
1970s – Orval Reis was followed as music director by Harvey Sachs in 1973-74, Philip Budd, Peter McCoppin and Eugene Kash, a renowned violinist, in 1974-75, David Gray in 1975-77 and Stephen Riches in 1977-78. Clifford Pool, an accomplished teacher, pianist and composer as well as conductor, headed the orchestra from 1977 to ’83.
1980s – David Ford, head of music at North Toronto Collegiate, took the reins from 1983 to 1990. Guest appearances by mezzo-soprano Janet Stubbs, cellist Dorothy Lawson and pianist William Aide helped bring the orchestra into the national music scene.
1990s – David Ford was followed by Douglas Sanford, who served from 1991 to 2002 and raised the calibre of performance to new heights. In 1993, the orchestra played for the Canada CIS Foundation in the presence of Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union. And during the 1995-96 season, the orchestra took part in a joint project with The Royal Conservatory of Music, allowing young musicians studying performance to obtain orchestral experience. In 1998, with a complement of 90 musicians, the orchestra was renamed Orchestra Toronto.
Image by Elaine Ling
2000s – Dr. Errol Gay took over the podium in the 2002- 03 season after being a guest conductor for a several concerts the season before. The music director of orchestras in New York, Texas and North Carolina, he was from 1970 to ’76 a conductor and chorus master with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. A popular guest conductor with orchestras throughout Canada, he was for several seasons assistant musical director of the Charlottetown Festival and music adviser and conductor of the Hart House Orchestra at the University of Toronto. For 24 years, Errol Gay was associate principal librarian of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In 2010, he retired at the end of six illustrious years with Orchestra Toronto.
Image by Elaine Ling
2010 – Danielle Lisboa joined the orchestra as apprentice conductor in the fall of 2009, soon was appointed assistant conductor and in the spring of 2010 was chosen to succeed Errol Gay as music director. She designed each season’s programs, selects guest artists, prepares the musicians for performance and conducts all of the concerts. As well, she presented a talk before each concert that introduces the music to be performed.
2013 – Kevin Mallon was appointed Music Director after Lisboa left Toronto to pursue a teaching position in Edmonton. He was appointed after an exhaustive search involving over 60 candidates.
2018 – Following Kevin Mallon’s departure, Michael Newnham was appointed Interim Music Director.
Maestro Newnham was appointed OT’s permanent music director in 2019.
Orchestra Toronto’s musicians are primarily volunteers who pay a membership fee to rehearse and perform. Only the conductor’s and principal chairs’ are paid positions.
Orchestra Toronto, which plays a full range of repertoire, has grown to more than 80 players and has become Canada’s largest and most admired community orchestra.
Orchestra Toronto is recognized as one of the best volunteer-based orchestras in Canada — an important resource for dedicated, motivated amateur musicians to rehearse and perform orchestral repertoire for our community. It is committed to providing affordable family entertainment and music education while celebrating its past and looking forward to future accomplishments.