Back office: Toronto grabs Cleveland star

Back office: Toronto grabs Cleveland star


norman lebrecht

January 12, 2022

The new chief exec of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is to be Mark Williams, presently Chief Artistic and Operations Officer at the Cleveland Orchestra. Mark has been right-hand man to music director Franz Welser-Möst, adding a seasonal opera prodution and regular new-music performances to the Cleveland output. He crosses the US-Canada border in April.

He says: ‘From the first meeting with the orchestra, board, and staff members of the search committee, I felt palpable chemistry and knew that leading this incredible organization would be an extraordinary opportunity. This is an orchestra with immense musical gifts, big ambitions, limitless energy, and a desire to connect with its community through music. I look forward to forging deep and long-lasting relationships with Torontonians, and getting to know the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s dedicated patrons, subscribers, and donors. I have been privileged to work with Gustavo Gimeno for many years as a guest conductor at The Cleveland Orchestra, and I feel confident that our strong partnership will achieve his artistic vision for Toronto’s great orchestra. My husband Joseph and I are eager to call Toronto, one of the world’s greatest cities, home.’

Toronto has not managed to keep a chief exec for more than a couple of years this past decade.



  • Sam's Hot Car Lot says:

    In orchestral terms, Toronto is junior league compared with Cleveland. There must have been considerable money involved in luring Williams away from Cleveland.

    It should also be noted that Toronto is one of the wokest cities on earth and the Toronto elite are willing to spend money to prove their woke bona fides.

    • Ms. Maria Radford says:

      If I was a POC I’d want to get out of Cleveland-open carry state. And Florida…

    • V.Lind says:

      Doesn’t seem to have much trouble attracting top musicians, though. Take a look at its list of conductors.

      I’ve lived in a lot of cities. Toronto is right up there. That usually counts for something. Beats the hell out of Cleveland on that count.

    • True North says:

      What does “wokeness” have to do with the story at hand? Explain, please.

    • MacroV says:

      He’s going to a bigger job at a slightly smaller orchestra; that’s totally normal. But seriously, the Toronto Symphony is a superb orchestra and Toronto is a much nicer place to live than Cleveland. Anybody would make that move.

      • Barry Guerrero says:

        I don’t know – the last I went through Toronto, I was horrified by how rapidly it had expanded. It’s HUGE now. It seemed much less charming to me than it used to be. Oh, sure – The Beaches area is fine.

        • V.Lind says:

          One of the great things about Toronto is that it is as big or as small as you want it to be. Because of its excellent public transport system I like to use many parts of the city. But for those who prefer something smaller, it can be possible to live and work in one small community.

          And, for the odd treat, go into the downtown area once or twice a year for the ballet or opera or symphony — or a baseball or football or basketball game.

          The deep suburbs can be a bit if a chore, if you do not work there but prefer to live there — but that is the same in any fair-sized city.

          “Is there life north of Steeles?” was a constant refrain of my younger years — and I personally cannot attest to it.(I don’t feel the need to use THAT much of the city!). But I agree that the Beaches is great — though it was even better when it had a racetrack.

    • dalet says:

      I wouldn’t be caught dead after dark in Cleveland, or rather, I would be dead after dark in Cleveland.

      Prestige of the orchestra will only get you so far, at some point, you have to think about quality of life for you and your family for until you retire (then you get on the first available flight out of Cleveland, which is what all current and prior music directors of Cleveland did, fly in and fly out). And forget your house, it will have lost half of its value anyway, just abandon it to the crack dealers.

  • Hal Habbs says:

    I think the photo of two water bottles tells the entire story.

  • drummerman says:

    I certainly mean no disrespect to this gentleman, whom I do not know personally, but his bio indicates that he has never been a CEO before. We wish him well.

    • Amos says:

      In business, the normal progression is to go from being the COO to the CEO. In this instance, it makes even more sense given that he is going from a larger organization to a smaller one.

    • Another "inexperienced" CEO says:

      So interesting you keep bringing up this “lack of experience” time and again for new CEOs and EDs. The industry is plagued by Boards time and again hiring “safe” — a white man, likely who has the experience of a checkered track record — yielding lackluster results over and over. Mark is and has been a star in the industry for 15+ years. Good on him for taking this next step. Our industry needs more leaders like him.

    • D says:

      Please check your biases. No one is born a CEO, and Mark Williams’s years in the C-Suite as the Number Two in the chain of command of the Cleveland Orchestra administration presumably prepared him fairly well to undertake the top job at (as has been pointed out above) a somewhat less prestigious orchestra. As many headhunters will tell you, when searching for a new CEO of a mid-range arts org, look at the ambitious Number Twos of bigger institutions. Your condescending sarcasm is unwarranted.

  • Jemimah Moe says:

    Seems to me SD readers are always whinging that today’s music execs have no knowledge of Music; now the TSO hires a conservatory grad who has spent years learning ropes with two prestigious orchestras and it’s still not good enough. This guy has a crackerjack reputation within the business and has been solicited by numerous other institutions. Oh – and yeah, he happens to be Black – not that anyone on THIS site would have a problem with that, right…?

  • phf655 says:

    He’s not the CEO in Cleveland, but holds a high position in the administration. Although not mentioned, he is black. He has 20 years of experience in Classical Music Management, and a degree in Horn from the Cleveland Conservatory, according to his linkedin page. He becomes CEO in a much larger city, but of an orchestra with much less artistic importance, on a worldwide scale.
    Cleveland’s metropolitan area is about a third the size of Toronto’s, but is 20% black, as opposed to Toronto’s 8%. The Toronto Metropolitan Area is around half ‘visible minority’, and has a vast immigrant population. That is not the case in Cleveland, whose economy has stagnated for a long time.
    I have no statistics to offer, but the conventional wisdom is that Canadian salaries are lower, but the cost of living is higher. I find this a puzzling career move.

  • CA says:

    He apparently only added “chief operations officer” to his Cleveland duties in July 2021. Prior to that it’s been artistic administration.

  • Music fan says:

    Mark has been a tremendous asset in Cleveland. Their loss is Toronto’s gain.

    Speaking of Cleveland, there seems to have been no mention that orchestra management has cancelled the scheduled two week residency in Miami this year out of concern for COVID rates down there. Florida Governor DeathSantis’ continued resistance to vaccines and face masks is putting the kibosh down there.