Video: From the Armchair to the Podium: Peter Oundjian

Recently named conductor emeritus of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Peter Oundjian has been hailed as a masterful and dynamic presence in the conducting world.

By: Feb. 02, 2024

Amidst the hustle and bustle of concerts, The Toronto Symphony Orchestra took a moment to catch up with a visiting long-term member of the TSO family, Conductor Emeritus Peter Oundjian.

In-between rehearsals for the Oundjian Conducts Rachmaninoff program, he joined Noteworthy in the Music Director’s studio for an armchair chat. In a conversation flitting across topics, Oundjian talks about his curatorial process, his long-standing relationship with the TSO’s artistic team, the special place that George Weston Hall holds for him, the feeling of coming back to Toronto, and how he manages to hold on to his baton in the heat of conducting-battle.

Oundjian has developed a multi-faceted portfolio as a conductor, violinist, professor, and artistic advisor. He has been celebrated for his musicality, an eye towards collaboration, innovative programming, and an engaging personality.

Oundjian’s 14-year tenure as music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has been marked by a reimagining of the TSO’s programming, international stature, audience development, touring, and a number of outstanding recordings. Credited for his long association with the Orchestra, Oundjian helped establish the TSO as one of the world’s top ensembles and served as a major creative force for the city of Toronto. Oundjian led the orchestra on several international tours, including to Europe and the US, and he conducted the first performance by a North American orchestra at Reykjavik’s Harpa Hall in 2014. Oundjian and the TSO’s recording of Vaughan Williams’s Orchestral Works won a JUNO Award for Best Classical Album: Large Ensemble in 2019.

From 2012–2018, Oundjian served as Music Director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, during which time he implemented the kind of collaborative programming that has become a staple of his directorship. Oundjian led the RSNO on several international tours, including North America, China, and a European festival tour with performances at the Bregenz Festival, the Dresden Festival, as well as in Innsbruck, Bergamo, Ljubljana, and others. His final appearance with the orchestra as their Music Director was at the 2018 BBC Proms where he conducted Britten’s epic War Requiem.

Highlights of past seasons include appearances with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Detroit, Atlanta, Saint Louis, Baltimore, Indianapolis, and New Zealand Symphony Orchestras, with visits to Cincinnati and Milwaukee planned for winter 2020. In January 2019 he transitioned from artistic advisor to music director for the Colorado Music Festival, commencing a five-year tenure.

Oundjian has been a visiting professor at Yale University’s School of Music since 1981, and in 2013 was awarded the school’s Sanford Medal for Distinguished Service to Music. A dedicated educator, Oundjian conducted the Yale and Juilliard Symphony Orchestras and the New World Symphony during the 2018/19 season.

An outstanding violinist, Oundjian spent 14 years as the first violinist for the renowned Tokyo String Quartet before he turned his energy towards conducting.