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ABOVE: Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser conducts the TSO (Photo: Jag Gundu)

Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser Is Breaking Down Barriers …And Feeling Thorgeous!

We talk to the TSO’s Barrett Principal Education Conductor and Community Ambassador about presenting music in new and exciting ways, including his upcoming performance with Drag Race’s Thorgy Thor…

Canadian orchestral conductor Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser is looking forward to a particularly meaningful Pride this summer. As part of Toronto’s 2023 Pride festivities, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) will present Thorgy Thor and the Thorchestra at Roy Thomson Hall on Sunday, June 11. It’s a major cultural event, and something that the Calgary-born conductor personally created with Drag Race’s legendary “Queen of Classical Music,” Thorgy Thor. 

Thorgy, of course, is set to bring her outrageous fashion sense, razor-sharp wit, and violin to Toronto’s stage in the thrilling theatrical show. But it goes much deeper than song, dance and hilarious shenanigans. The can’t-miss symphonic spectacular is part of Bartholomew-Poyser’s mission to break down institutional walls and create live orchestral shows that are for everyone.

We sat down with Bartholomew-Poyser – who is also the star of the acclaimed CBC documentary Disrupter Conductor– to talk about his life and work, as well as creating the upcoming show that aims to bring together multiple generations across the rainbow.

Let’s kick things off and talk about Thorgy Thor and the Thorchestra. What should the audience expect?
You should expect a lot of surprises, first of all. It’s really not a traditional show! It mixes the best of Brooklyn drag with the best the TSO has to offer. Fans of Thorgy will leave the show feeling that they really got to see a lot of Thorgy, both being a renowned drag queen and a professional classical musician.

Is it true that it is the first orchestral drag queen show in Canada?
To my knowledge it was! There have since been others – notably with Tynomi Banks – but it is fair to say it was the first of its kind in Canada!

When did you first meet Thorgy Thor?
I met Thorgy a few years before the pandemic. I first met her in New York when I went to plan the show with her. I was a bit starstruck. It turned out that my favourite coffee shop in Greenpoint was not far from where she lived, so we met there. I remember being really impressed by the amount of imagination and the level of detail she worked with. It was a great first meet.

What was the process like putting the production together and working with Thorgy?
It was quite a lot of fun, and definitely a whirlwind! Thorgy has tons of ideas, so it was mostly a matter of picking the ones we thought would work best. On the orchestral side, I had a pretty clear picture of where things could go and what could be added to broaden the show. Thorgy is an orchestral musician, so this made it super easy. And did I mention fun? 

ABOVE: Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser and Thorgy Thor (Photo: Max Attwood)

Tell us about your role with and connection to the TSO.
I’m the TSO’s Barrett Principal Education Conductor and Community Ambassador. I’m a lead on the team that curates the education and community engagement aspects of our work in Toronto’s music scene. It’s basically about making thoughtful musical connections between the TSO and the people in our community!

Your performance is happening during Toronto’s Pride Month. What does “Pride” mean to you?
“Pride” for me means “No Fear, No Shame.” It means we celebrate and make unity in the community. I say “make,” because unity is not a given, and is something we have to work on, having the courage to have difficult conversations that lead to more meaningful relationships. It takes effort and maintenance. Pride is both a celebration and a result of that work. I love that there is a specific time for us to be together. 

What was your coming out like for you?
Coming out was pretty difficult and took a long time. I think things are slowly getting better for people who are figuring things out. 

I know that bringing live orchestral music to audiences that traditionally might not have access to it is pretty important to you. How are some of the other ways you are doing this?
It’s not just about bringing music to new communities, but bringing the music in new ways. I’ve experimented a lot with audience interaction, mini-documentaries and pre-concert prep, as ways to bring what’s happening on stage more powerfully to the audience members. But to answer your question, it’s been a lot of fun working with music of the 2SLGBTQ+ community as well as music of the Caribbean diaspora. 

What is your advice to people who are looking to you as a role model?
Get to work. 

Who do you consider a role model?
John Barbirolli. He was both an exacting conductor and a consummate human being.

What do you want people to know about you that they might not already know?
I have my pilot’s licence and am a huge aviation nerd. 

Last question. What’s next for you?
In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be developing more programs for the TSO and the GTA, and I’m looking forward to seeing what sort of creative stuff I’ll come up with, haha! I have a lot of travel and conducting in the US this summer, which will be extraordinary. My Carnegie Hall debut is in a month [May 22, 2023], and this summer I debut with the Baltimore Symphony, and will perform with the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl doing an all Tchaikovsky program. It’s really exciting. Then, after some time off, I’ll be ready to go for the fall!


COME CELEBRATE PRIDE WITH THE TSO! 

Thorgy Thor and the Thorchestra comes to Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto on Sunday, June 11, 2023. For more information or for tickets, visit www.tso.ca/pride. Make sure you’re looking great and feeling Thorgeous!

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