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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Q&A | 40 Questions For William Norris

By Michael Vincent on November 10, 2015

William Norris (Photo: Joe Plommer)
William Norris (Photo: Joe Plommer)

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.

Tafelmusik has been under the leadership of new Managing Director William Norris for just over a month now. Mr. Norris was known as a creative visionary and specializes in developing new audiences, and after a ten-year stint as Communications & Creative Programming Director with England’s Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, he now calls Toronto home. His new role at Tafelmusik promises a fresh approach for Canada’s leading Baroque orchestra and choir. We caught up with him and asked a few questions designed to shed some light on Toronto’s newest early music impresario.


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

Being by the lake; Lots of interesting independent shops (including dangerously good cake and pastry shops); Its incredible diversity.

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

More subway lines; A nice urban park instead of the Gardiner Expressway; John Lewis (A classy and employee-owned British department store).

Name the musical equivalent to junk food.

Dance music. It’s great when you really want it and it hits the spot, but overindulging makes you feel a bit sick.

Default drink/cocktail of choice?

Gin and Tonic or a Campari Soda.

Name your favourite concert hall/venue in Toronto

Obviously – the Jeanne Lamon Hall at Trinity St Paul’s.

Name your favourite concert hall/venue anywhere

The Helsinki Music Centre. Great acoustics, the audience wraps around the stage nicely and it has windows so you can see in even if you’re not attending a concert. An honorable mention too to the Royal Festival Hall London. Imperfect acoustically but I love the 50’s architecture and it’s a very democratic space

Your favourite smells?

Tomato and geranium plants.

Your least favourite smells?

Airline fuel. Coriander.

The dumbest thing that you’ve ever done to your hair?

Lose it. Admittedly not my choice.

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

The winter weather, the fact street cars come in 2’s or 3’s and then not at all for ages, and lastly the distance from London. I admit the first and last may be hard to fix.

Your first three record store purchases

Puccini “La Boheme”, Paul Simon’s “Graceland”, and Eurythmics “Greatest Hits.” Sadly none are in Tafelmusik’s repertoire.

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

Anywhere I have good friends.

The strangest place you’ve ever been to?

Hmm. Possibly Gibraltar. A tiny bit of the UK at the Southern tip of Spain. It’s so small that a road runs across the airport’s runway and they have to close the road to allow a plane to land.

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

Pleasure: a train trip around Scotland. Work & pleasure: a farewell tour with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (my previous employer) to Eisenstadt, Austria (where Haydn lived and worked).

What is your biggest phobia?

Heights. So no, I’ve not been up the CN tower yet.

Where did you go to school?

I’m presuming this is school in the North American sense as in University? If so, Exeter and Warwick universities.

What did you major in as an undergraduate?


The strangest talent that you possess?

I’m very good at getting a mental map of new cities in my head shortly after arriving. Comes in handy sometimes.

The different career path that you could have gone on?

Urban design / town planning.

Your most regrettable purchase ever?

A smurf house I persuaded my Mum to buy me when I was little. As she had warned me, I never used it.

What was the luckiest moment in your life?

Getting accepted into university despite not quite getting the entry requirements. And landing my first job with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

What are you the most proud of?

Establishing The Night Shift (the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s late-night concert series) and seeing a young audience really get into classical music – and have a great time doing so.

What are you the least proud of?

Printing 10,000 flyers with the wrong day of the week on them.

What is the best thing about your work?

Working with artistic and committed people who are full of exciting ideas and seeing packed concerts full of people loving the music.

What is the worst thing about your work?

Sometimes unsociable hours – for example tours that start with a 6 a.m. check-in.

The relatively normal piece of clothing that you believe you’d look the most ridiculous in?

A T-Shirt. I think I look like a tortoise without a shell.

The talent that you wish you possessed?

The ability to draw.

What are you listening to as you answer these questions?

Erm, “Survivor” by Helena Paparizou. It’s a slightly cheesy Eurovision-style number. I presume the Eurovision Song Contest isn’t big here?

What musical instrument do you secretly long to play?

It’s not even secret. The cello. I love the way it almost becomes part of you, it’s very physical. Almost sexy. Especially the baroque cello which is usually held between the legs.

What is the game that you’re best at?

Monopoly. And no, I don’t steal from the bank like my aunt always says.

What is the one animal that scares you the most?


If you had a motto, what would it be?

Everything will be fine. Closely followed by ‘it’s a small period instrument orchestra, no one’s going to die’ (stolen from an ex-boss).

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

Yes, clay pigeon shooting while in Scotland.

Scariest situation you’ve ever been in?

Possibly making three attempted landings at Madeira airport – one of the worlds shortest runways and built into the sea.

Your favourite word?


Your least favourite word?

World-class. Moving forward. Push-back. Any management speak.

The thing that makes you the happiest?

Family and friends.

The thing that makes you the angriest?

Inconsiderate people.

Your first memory?

Being in my buggy, with the feel of the strange plastic material it was made out of and the rhythm of the paving slabs as we went over them.

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

“Left to my own devices” by the Pet Shop Boys; Brahms Symphony No.1; Handel Empio diro, to Sei from “Julius Caesar” (though there are many other Handel arias I could have chosen). Plus pretty much anything by Purcell.

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


The first three things that you do every morning?

Check my phone, have some tea, realise I’m already running late.

The best way to die?

Surrounded by people you love.


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Michael Vincent
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