“To be honest, I didn’t know who Drake was”: The conductor of the TSO on their recent collab with Toronto’s biggest hype man

“To be honest, I didn’t know who Drake was”: The conductor of the TSO on their recent collab with Toronto’s biggest hype man

Gustavo Gimeno dishes on how the top-secret project came together, playing himself on camera and whether Drake can hold a candle to Verdi

Drake standing next to the conductor of the TSO during the filming of his teaser video
Photos courtesy of the TSO

Until last month, Toronto’s most enthusiastic booster was taking an extended hiatus from music to focus on his health. Then came news of a brand new EP, Scary Hours 3, a surprise drop that was announced via a teaser on Instagram. In it, Drake drives across the city, arrives at Roy Thomson Hall and sits down for a private concert performed by none other than the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. “There was a lot of mystery around the project,” says Gustavo Gimeno, the TSO’s musical director and possibly the only person in the city who hadn’t heard of Drake before this latest collab. Here, he tells us about the top secret project, meeting Toronto’s musical hype man and who (between Drake and Verdi) is the greatest composer of all time. 

Like most Drake watchers, I was under the impression that he was taking a one-year break from music. When did you learn otherwise?
I first learned about what was happening a little over a month ago—the actual shoot was on October 20, and we found out about it just a few days beforehand. I think it was a case of someone on his team knowing somebody at the TSO, so that’s how it came together. In the classical music world, we usually plan things years in advance. Like, right now, we’re talking about programming for 2026. So right away this had a different energy. Most of the preparation was logistics—finding out which musicians were required, what we needed to rehearse, that sort of thing.

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Did you know at the beginning what music you would be performing?
We were given some idea of what the repertoire might be—some options, so we were able to have a practice session. This was all happening on the same day as the shoot, though, so I did worry about being underprepared. But, ultimately, the music we were working with is music we know well, and all of the mystery really kept us on our toes in a positive way.

Did you know that your performance was going to be part of a teaser for Drake’s new music?
Not really. We knew it was for a special project, but we didn’t know if it would be in a music video or something else. We were all very pleased with the end result, where our performance and the music plays such a key role. Drake really incorporated the meaning of the piece, which is Verdi’s “La forza del destino.” It starts with these very strong, repetitive notes coming from the brass section—it’s like destiny calling. And then the hummm, hummm with the strings makes you feel anxiety, the searching for something. This is the artistry of the greatest composer in history, who can do so much in just a few opening notes.

You’re referring to Verdi? Or Drake?
Ha—I guess I should say Verdi is one of the greatest composers, certainly among the most important figures in the history of classical music and opera. But Drake is also a great artist, an icon all over the world for his music and representing Toronto. To be totally honest, I didn’t know who Drake was when I first learned about the project. I only moved to Toronto from Luxembourg in 2020. I quickly found out, though, especially after I asked my daughter and she told me what a big deal he is. I know that a lot of people in the classical field are very impressed by his music.

The video makes it look like Drake is showing up at Roy Thomson Hall for a private concert. Is that what actually happened?
We only performed one piece of music for the shoot, so not quite a full concert. But I do know that, on the same day, there was a private concert for Drake and his friends—a celebration for his birthday, I think, but I don’t have any details.

Drake walking into Roy Thompson Hall carrying a glass of wine
A still of Drake from the teaser video for Scary Hours 3

Is Drake a big classical music fan?
In our brief interaction, he told me how excited he was—that it was a dream come true to be doing this together and to be bringing attention to the TSO as a Toronto institution.

Did you have to give your team any special instructions?
I think we know what is expected of us in terms of our performance and professionalism, so that’s what we did. We took this collaboration as seriously as any other performance, so in that sense it was just another day at work. At the same time, you could feel a spark that came from that extra layer of having not just me, the conductor, but a director who was shooting our performance. And then, obviously, there was Drake in the audience.

You were excellent in the role of TSO conductor
Thank you. I was only really acting for those first few seconds, when I am turned to the audience and was looking at Drake. Once I turned to my musicians, I could just do what I always do.

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Your spot was Drake’s way of announcing new music that came out last week. Have you had a chance to listen?
I haven’t. I did get a chance to listen to some of Drake’s music on the day of the shoot, just to get a sense of what it was like. I am interested in the new work, but admittedly I don’t know a lot about that type of music.

So what do you normally listen to when you’re off the clock?
Well, here’s the thing—in my work life, I am always hearing music, so when I have time to myself, I don’t listen to anything. For me, silence is rare. That’s the thing that I enjoy.

You’re still relatively new to Toronto and the TSO. What’s unique about our audiences?
People in Toronto are very enthusiastic. The applause after a good concert is really amazing here. There’s also an open-mindedness and curiosity beyond the expected programming. Audiences here enjoy supporting living composers and Canadian talents just as much as the classical greats. Plus, we really focus on appealing to a broad audience, including people who may not think of themselves as symphony goers. For example, we have our TSOUNDCHECK program that provides discounted tickets to younger people, and we’ve collaborated with CAMH on a program to bring music to First Nations and Métis patients.

I guess a Drake collab is not a bad way to reach new audiences either.
Definitely. We posted the teaser to our Instagram account, and I think it was one our most liked posts ever.

Now you just need a private Drake concert to get you up to speed.
Ha. I would love that.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.