Toronto Symphony ticket tips

Individual tickets for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s 2017–18 season go on sale on Thursday morning. Here’s what I’d buy, or consider buying, if I were living in Toronto. First, some context.

It’s an open secret that the next couple of seasons are a moment of drama for the TSO, whose artistic director Peter Oundjian has announced his departure. This will be Oundjian’s last season as the TSO’s main conductor and programmer. Andrew Davis will then step in for two seasons to lead the orchestra on an interim basis while the TSO lines up a new artistic director. This tells us two things: The TSO doesn’t know who’ll replace Oundjian, and it’s inclined to take its time.

Which means every guest conductor in 2017–18 and 18–19 must be considered a potential candidate to become the TSO’s next music director. (That’s not a guarantee: the orchestra could pick from among recent guest conductors, rather than those in the near future. Or it could sneak somebody into Toronto for rehearsals but not a public concert. All these alternatives have been tried before. The biggest obstacle to an orderly process is that musicians’ tour schedules are often booked two years or more into the future. Shifting them around can be like steering an aircraft carrier.)

Mostly I’d use this season as a chance to scout potential new music directors. Meanwhile Oundjian isn’t going anywhere, and for his final season he’s given himself some of the choicest programs. In September he’ll conduct the Brahms German Requiem (huge, choirs, gorgeous) and a new triple concerto by Alexina Louie for three of the country’s best violin soloists.

In March Oundjian conducts an entire program of 21st-century music, including John Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Toronto’s Gary Kulesha.

One guest conductor who surely isn’t a candidate for any Toronto gig is the great Finnish maestro Osmo Vanska, who just extended his contract with the Minnesota Orchestra. So what. I’d still go to his May concert featuring Yefim Bronfman, who is a beast, playing Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto. Vanska’s as prestigious a conductor as any Toronto will hear from next year.

Now the talent scouting. We’re lucky in Ottawa that Juraj Valcuha, a Slovak who looks a bit like Leonardo DiCaprio, has guest conducted a few times in recent years. Refined and precise, Valcuha is a crowd favourite who’s reputed to have a bright future somewhere. He’ll conduct Strauss, mostly, in January.

I’d never heard of Gustavo Gimeno, who’ll conduct Beethoven and Dvorak with the brilliant German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser in February, but he brings movie-star good looks and a hell of a resumé: only five years ago he was a string player in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw Orchestra. Within a couple of years he was conducting the orchestra on tour. I’d go to this concert just to hear Moser, who’s one of my favourite soloists, but Gimeno looks like a serious candidate for the big job.

Tania Miller just ended a long stint running the Victoria Symphony; she’ll conduct a great big new piece on Remembrance Day themes in November. Donald Runnicles is Scottish, a little older than some of the other visitors, hugely experienced, and coming to conduct Mahler, a clear sign that he wants to make an impression. Everyone knows Juano Mena, a big and jovial Spaniard, will get a major music-director gig somewhere soon; he’ll team up with the great pianist Marc-André Hamelin in October.

Finally there’s John Storgärds, who’s the principal guest conductor of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa and about whom I can’t say enough good things. He’s leading Holst’s The Planets in January, and for this one, I’m making the trip from Ottawa. The Toronto search committee will be well aware that the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, which is also looking for a new music director, will be taking a close look at Storgårds later in the season. No pressure.