Music

Victor Feldbrill, conductor and champion of Canadian composers, has died at 96

Conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony from '58 to '68, he also worked closely with Glenn Gould.

Conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony from '58 to '68, he also worked closely with Glenn Gould

Victor Feldbrill leads the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra during a TV broadcast on June 8, 1960. (CBC Still Photo Collection/Page Toles)

Victor Feldbrill, principal conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra from 1958-68, founder of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra and tireless champion of music by Canadian composers, died on June 17 at the age of 96.

"During his first season as conductor, the WSO more than doubled its annual performances," reads a statement on the WSO's Facebook page. "He was the first WSO music director to bring in guest conductors and he brought in an incredible list of visiting soloists — violinists Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern and David Oistrakh, pianist Claudio Arrau and cellists Leonard Rose and Jacqueline du Pré."

Following his decade at the WSO, Feldbrill returned to his hometown of Toronto where he was resident conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1973-78. At the outset of his career, he had been a section violinist in the TSO and had made his conducting debut with the organization at 18.

He was the first conductor in residence at the University of Toronto, holding that position from 1968-82. He was also a faculty member of the Tokyo National University of Art and Music.

"Saddened to hear about Victor Feldbrill's passing," tweeted Johannes Debus, music director of the Canadian Opera Company. "A dear colleague and fine Mensch, full of generosity and ever youthful spirit! Taught me a lot about music as well as where to find the best smoked meat in TO. What an honour to have met this eminent man and musician!"

Feldbrill firmly believed in performing the music of his time and of his compatriots. His discography includes orchestral works by John Weinzweig, Norma Beecroft, Barbara Pentland, Harry Somers and Godfrey Ridout.

Feldbrill studied alongside Glenn Gould at the University of Toronto and would later share the concert stage with his former classmate. "This was a huge talent," Feldbrill told the Winnipeg Free Press in 2012. "He was just one of those brilliant and riveting performers that you really do see maybe once in a generation."

Together, Gould and Feldbrill recorded Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1959.

In 1962, when Gould played the same work with the New York Philharmonic, conductor Leonard Bernstein famously preceded the performance with a disclaimer, stating he did not share Gould's vision of the piece. In this interview, Feldbrill explained that it was all more or less a publicity stunt.

In addition to his roles with the WSO and TSO, Feldbrill was a guest conductor with every major orchestra in Canada. His life is the subject of Victor Feldbrill: Canadian Conductor Extraordinaire, a biography by Walter Pitman.

Feldbrill had been active as a conductor as recently as 2017, when he led the WSO on the occasion of its 70th anniversary. He was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 1985 and was awarded the Order of Ontario in 1999.

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