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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Q&A | 23 Questions for Alex Pauk

By Michael Vincent on October 26, 2015

Alex Pauk, composer, conductor, educator and entrepreneur, and founder of the Esprit Orchestra. (Photo: Denise Grant)
Alex Pauk, composer, conductor, educator and entrepreneur, and founder of the Esprit Orchestra. (Photo: Denise Grant)

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.

Can you imagine what the classical music landscape would be like if our living composers could not find orchestras willing or able to play their works? Neither can composer, conductor, and founder of the Esprit Orchestra Alex Pauk. In 1983, he set out to form a 65-member group specializing in encouraging composers from across Canada to create the next stylistic and formative leaps in classical music. After thirty years, Alex Pauk’s Esprit Orchestra is now canonised as Canada’s foremost contemporary music orchestra.


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

The wide range of ethnicities that are so apparent everywhere you go in the city. The great restaurants that have sprung up due to the above-mentioned ethnic mix in Toronto. The cherry blossoms in High Park in the Spring.

What are three things that Toronto doesn’t have but should?

A train to the airport that is not expensive, stops in more than two places and has connections to the subway via pedestrian tunnels. Great public art (and more of it – but only if it’s great). More medium-size concert halls.

Name the musical equivalent to junk food.

Bad elevator and shopping mall arrangements of great tunes.

Default drink/cocktail of choice?

Scotch – with or without the rocks.

Name your favourite concert hall/venue in Toronto.

Koerner Hall by far. Not only are the acoustics superb, but the musicians are comfortable on stage, the audience is comfortable in the space and it is most pleasing visually.

Your role models?

My mentor was the late Parisian composer/conductor Marius Constant who, through his friendship and sharing of widely varied artistic experiences, encouraged and inspired me. He showed me the path for sustaining a life as both a composer and conductor that encompasses many forms of music as well as connects to other art forms.

Your favourite sound?

The sound of the wind as it affects things in natural settings – massive numbers of leaves rustling, ocean waves and water being blown about, etc.

Your least favourite sound?

Loud modern-day electronic warning signals.

What are the three things you’d like to change about Toronto?

Build more subways. Redesign the waterfront without condo towers – more parkland at water’s edge. Find a way to get rid of dangerous drivers.

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?

“The Royal Road to Romance” by Richard Haliburton; “The Teachings of Don Juan” by Carlos Castaneda – plus other Castaneda books like “The Art of Dreaming”; “Gifts of Unknown Things” by Lyall Watson

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

China – Beijing and Nanning for work (and pleasure) and Pingyao (for pleasure).

Where did you go to school?

Toronto – Brant Street Public School (Kindergarten), Queen Victoria Public School (in Parkdale), Swansea Public School, Humberside Collegiate Institute, University of Toronto Faculty of Music.

What did you major in as an undergraduate?

Music Education.

The different career path that you could have gone on?

Automobile design or architecture.

Your ancestry?


Your three favourite films?

“81/2” (Fellini); “Don’t Look Now” (Nicolas Roeg); “Wild Tales” (Damian Szifron).

What are you the most proud of?

Being inducted into the Order of Canada.

What is the best thing about your work?

The satisfaction of being “in the zone” when I achieve a fantastic performance. Also, having composers let me know how grateful they are that premieres of their works with Esprit have uplifted them.

What is the worst thing about your work?


The thing that makes you the happiest?

Comfortable family time with nothing to do other than enjoy each other’s company.

The thing that makes you the angriest?

Mean, vindictive, fascistic, lying, corrupt politicians getting their way.

Three things of no monetary value that you own and will keep dearly until you die?

A photo album given to me by my Grandmother with a wooden cover carved and painted with intricate traditional Ukrainian patterns. A beaded headband and a carved necklace piece given to me as gifts during performance collaborations with First Nations musicians. An ever-expanding recipe collection that I’ll someday edit into a fine-tuned version that I’ll leave as a present for my kids.


Catch Alex Pauk and the Esprit Orchestra perform their second concert of the season: Play, featuring composers Andrew Norman, Thomas Adès, John Rea at Koerner Hall on November 15, 2015, at 8:00 p.m.


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Michael Vincent
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Michael Vincent
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