Video: Toronto Symphony endangers its musicians

Video: Toronto Symphony endangers its musicians


norman lebrecht

December 10, 2015

A reckless moment at a variety concert.

The musicians are furious, and rightly so.


toronto symphony

A response from the TSO: We put the safety of all artists first and foremost. Cirque has an excellent safety track record. And today a safety review was also conducted post incident and their performance was altered to ensure no future potential risk to the audience, musicians, performers or instruments.’


  • Alex Olegnowicz says:

    Dear Mr. Lebrecht:
    I quite enjoy your columns and respect your opinions, although several times I may not agree with you. On this particular writing, your headline is simply misleading. Cirque de la Symphonie has done performances with many orchestras around the world, and many more scheduled. Their track record is excellent.

    Further more, I know Jeff Melanson and his senior staff at the TSO and from my experience, he has done nothing but work tirelessly to make Toronto’s Symphony a top class orchestra. As recently as this past weekend, his and Maestro Oundjian’s praise for the Toronto’s musicians during the All of Tchaikovsky concert was overwhelming.

    I can not see or imagine they would ever put the artists that make up our orchestra in any danger. Accidents do happen, but to suggest that the TSO endangered it’s musicians is deceitful.

    Like many others, I look forward to reading daily you columns.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Thank you, Alex. Not deceitful: the evidence is on camera.
      Would you, as a musician in that orchestra, feel comfortable in that situation?

      • Alex Olegnowicz says:

        You are right in that I wouldn’t be comfortable. Positively not. The way the show is set up has to be re-evaluated, definitely.
        But I certainly don’t agree with the headline that the TSO would endanger the musicians. I would think that all checks were conducted, Cirque know what they are doing and the personnel at Roy Thompson Hall are at the top of their game.
        Although accidents do happen and this as to be looked into, and there is no justification for the mishap, but TSO’s management does not endanger their artists.
        A matter of perspective.

        • Henry Aaron says:

          Alex is right. This is a troupe that has played all over the place, with an excellent track record. It brings in a different audience, and partly what every orchestra is trying to do is just get people in the doors that first time.
          The headline is outa line.
          Glad no one was hurt.

          • Boris says:

            This is ridiculous. Accidents happening is PRECISELY why something like this should not be allowed. There is a Del Gesu, an Amati and a Tecchler amongst the orchestra principals, on loan from from generous benefactors. Not to mention countless other valuable string instruments where this person was hovering above. If this circus clown landed on one of those, I guarantee it would’ve been much larger deal. TSO management should not put the musicians safety and the safety of the instruments at risk like this. There is no net, no guarantee that this person would fall onto the orchestra, or even the audience, which is peppered with seniors in the front few rows. If one wants to see the circus, go see Barnum and Bailey or, if cash is tight, wander down to city hall and watch our councillors split hairs about nonsense for free.

          • Max Grimm says:

            You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. If accidents are the basis for disallowing such performances, one would have to do away with opera and ballet as well. As “CDH” points out, accidents happen there too and over the years, there have undoubtedly been more dancers, singers and actors causing injury to themselves and musicians and damage/destruction to their instruments by falling off stage and into the pit. And while there are safety-nets strung up over some orchestra pits, the majority of pits in the big houses around the world do not have safety-nets installed.

  • Alvaro says:

    THIS IS classical music.

    What were they playing? That Beethoven concerto for circus and orchestra? Or perhaps was it Mahler’s “der lieder von der Cirkus”

    As long as it sells tickets, some administrators will present “their grandma playing Jeopardy at the symphony….”.

  • CDH says:

    I have seen a ballet dancer fall into the pit during a performance, with injuries both to her and the musician she landed on. Would you blame the TSO if it was their pit?

    This was an accident. While I am no fan of Cirque de la Symphonie, they have a pretty good safety record.

  • May says:

    First of all, glad that no one was hurt, including the acrobat. As for mishaps, they can happen, and there is no reason for an unnecessary reactionary headline. An orchestra string player is much more likely to be hurt by a conductor’s baton suddenly flying at him.

    • CDH says:

      Bu for some reason the TSO is on the enemies list. I thought it was over Lisitsa, but there seems to have been a strategic withdrawal on that front. Maybe it’s Jeff Melanson, who is certainly capable of getting backs up — but this is not down to him.

      It is not “deceitful” that it happened. It IS deceitful to suggest it was anything other than an accident. Cirque is booked almost nightly throughout North America and for all I know internationally. This kind of spite is getting very childish.

  • Brian says:

    Accidents happen – but I would be pretty furious playing in that section. There is no need to have circus performers in such proximity to the orchestra and risking extremely expensive instruments, just to have the latest ‘gimmick’ symphony show on stage. The ‘dumbing down’ of orchestra shows has been going on for years unfortunately. Many Canadian managements can’t survive a season without a dozen or so ‘spectacle’ shows to ‘pay the bills’. I sincerely hope the new Liberal government can revamp music education and exposure to fine Arts, before symphonies are completely reduced to backing up acrobatic dogs, and a whole series of the latest video games – orchestrated. !

    • V.Lind says:

      Not just Canadian — I check out what American orchestras are doing, having worked for a couple, and pretty well all of them present Pops seasons too.

      I personally detest them, but they have a huge following. The problem is that if orchestras were sufficiently funded to play strictly classical music, a very large audience segment — which has been created in part to prop up struggling orchestras — would be deprived of their pleasure. They would soon find alternatives, something not open to classical fans when an institution like Opera Lyra goes down, as there are Broadway tours and loads of rentals of the Mamma Mia/ALW variety.

      But I also know some orchestra musicians who declare in all sincerity that they enjoy some of the Pops concerts as it gives them a chance to let their hair down a bit or to play stuff they personally enjoy.

      You could give them the alternative of the pit for something like Cirque. Bet they wouldn’t take it.

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    Woaw, something finally happened at the TSO.

  • Anon! A Moose! says:

    Video no longer available due to copyright claim by TSO.

    I call BS. Anyone download it? Care to re-post it?

    Copyright was never intended as a cover-your-a**-from-embarrasment, but sure gets used that way.

  • Eric says:

    Well, posting the video would be an obvious copyright violation since all concerts are presented with stated restrictions on photography, video, etc. If Cirque de la Symphonie or TSO didn’t post it themselves, it is copyright violation plain and simple. I don’t know why that is a debate among some of you. If it also serves in their best interest to remove the video from a public relations standpoint, that only bolsters the argument on their part for disallowing unauthorized electronic media in the first place. There can be nothing done about conspiracy theories that arise later, as those are inevitable.

    This was clearly an accident. There is no other explanation.

    HOWEVER, the musicians and their instruments are clearly endangered to a greater extent in putting on these concerts and CBA’s of orchestras likely contain little or no language specific to aerial acrobatics going over their heads. Since such concerts are commonplace now, either CBA language should be addressed during contract negotiations, or a net provided by Cirque de la Symphonie to protect orchestra musicians and audience…preferably both.

    The title of the article is certainly overly inflammatory, but some of the above comments are simply from a strongly anti-management standpoint and are thereby clouded in judgement on this specific incident.

    Seems like a simple matter to fix. Glad this incident didn’t injure anyone or damage an instrument. Even happier that its discussion may lead to needed changes. End of story.