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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Q&A | 30 Questions for Alexander Neef

By Michael Vincent on June 2, 2015

COC general director Alexander Neef in the R. Fraser Elliott Hall at Toronto's Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Photo: Bo Huanga
COC general director Alexander Neef in the R. Fraser Elliott Hall at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (Photo: Bo Huang)

Every so often, MT poses 60 questions to a local or visiting artist in Toronto who has made our classical music community that much more interesting. They pick and choose. The minimum response is 20 answers. A kind of Rorschach personality test, if you will.

Since being appointed General Director of the Canadian Opera Company in 2008, Alexander Neef has made a significant impact on the cultural fabric of Toronto. Building upon the foundation that Richard Bradshaw had laid before him, Neef continues to bring opera lovers to the edge of their seats with groundbreaking productions.

His career has seen engagements with the Salzburg Festival, the RuhrTriennale in Germany, Opéra national de Paris and New York City Opera.  His keen eye for talent served him well as Director of Casting for Opéra national de Paris from August 2004 to September 2008. He was also a collaborator with the late Gerard Mortier and was instrumental in the production of over 80 operas.


What are three things about Toronto that make you want to live here?

The opera, the people, and the energy of the city.

Name the musical equivalent to junk food.

Bad, unnecessary new recordings of standard repertoire.

Default drink/cocktail of choice? 

Single malt Scotch.

Name your favourite concert hall/venue in Toronto.

The Four Seasons Centre, and Koerner Hall.

Name your favourite concert hall/venue anywhere.

Carnegie Hall, and Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. 

Your favourite sound?

The human voice.

Your favourite smells?

I think it is just one smell: Summer rain.

First thing that comes to your mind when you think about Toronto?

The CN Tower.

The historical personalities, both good and bad, that fascinate you the most?

Napoléon and Beethoven.

If you could board a plane this afternoon, where would it be taking you?


The three books that you read that made an impact on you in your formative years?

Friedrich Hölderlin’s “Hyperion,” Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” and Franz Werfel’s “Verdi.”

Where was the last place you travelled to for work or pleasure?

It was for work and it was New York.

What is your biggest phobia?

Losing my hearing.

What did you major in as an undergraduate?

I majored in Modern History and the Napoleonic Era.

Your three favourite films?

Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” for sure, Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” and Luchino Visconti’s “The Leopard.”

Your major character flaw?


What is the best thing about your work?

It’s not work. 

What is the worst thing about your work?

It’s not work.

What are you listening to as you answer these questions? 

Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony.

What musical instrument do you secretly long to play?

The cello. 

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Carpe diem.

Have you ever fired a gun? If so, what were the circumstances?


Your least favourite word would be?


The thing that makes you the happiest?

To see my loved ones happy.

The thing that makes you the angriest?


The first album that made you love music?

It was a music cassette in the day, Colin Davis conducting the Royal Philharmonic in Mozart Overtures.

Three pieces, songs, or arias that you could listen to on repeat for an hour?

It’s going to be more than three. It’s any movement of the Mozart piano concertos – anything between number 20 and 27. I guess that would make it 8 times 3 — 24 pieces of music.

The one place that you have the least interest in ever visiting?

Las Vegas.

The first three things that you do every morning?

Workout, shower, and breakfast.

The piece of music you want played at your funeral?

The slow movement of Schubert’s Quartet No. 13 in A minor.


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Michael Vincent
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Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. He has worked as a senior editor for over fifteen years and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.
Michael Vincent
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