Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday April 7, 2022
A lament for Hamilton’s maestro
With the tragic death Tuesday of Boris Brott, 78, Canada has lost one of its outstanding orchestral and operatic conductors.
Born in Montreal to violinist-composer-conductor Alexander Brott and cellist Lotte Brott in 1944, Brott debuted as a violin soloist with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra at age five. Seven years later, he studied conducting with Pierre Monteux at his academy in Maine. It was Monteux who gave Brott his first conducting job as his assistant with the London Symphony Orchestra and on his European tours.
After studies with Igor Markevitch, Brott won top prize at the 1958 Pan-American Conducting Competition in Mexico. One year later, Brott, then a 15-year-old student at Montreal’s West Hill High School, founded the Philharmonic Youth Orchestra of Montreal.
After winning third prize at the 1962 Liverpool Competition, he served as Walter Susskind’s assistant at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1963 to 1965. Brott then became active in England, conducting the Northern Sinfonia at Newcastle upon Tyne from 1964 to 1968, and was principal conductor of the Royal Ballet Covent Garden’s touring company from 1964 to 1967.
In 1968, he was awarded first prize at the prestigious Dimitri Mitropoulos International Music Competition in New York and later that year was consequently named assistant to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s charismatic and flashy music director, Leonard Bernstein.
Brott came to Hamilton in 1969 as artistic director and conductor of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra (HPO). Over the years, he led the HPO from an amateur ensemble to a professional orchestra that at its peak had a 42-week season and some 16,000 subscribers.
Together with members of the community, Brott also spearheaded the construction of the 2,200 seat Hamilton Place, now FirstOntario Concert Hall.
After having made his opera conducting debut with “La fille du régiment” at the Canadian Opera Company in 1977, Brott was one of the movers and shakers who helped to found Opera Hamilton, conducting performances of “La traviata” in 1980 and “Tosca” in 1981.
During the late 1970s and 1980s, Brott was one of Canada’s busiest conductors. In addition to his duties in Hamilton, he held positions with the CBC Winnipeg Orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia and the Ontario Place Pops Orchestra, among others.
Unfortunately, things turned sour for Brott at the HPO and the two parted ways around 1990. In 1989, Brott founded the Hamilton-based professional training orchestra, the National Academy Orchestra (NAO) of Canada, which served as the orchestra-in-residence for his eponymous music festival, Canada’s largest orchestral festival. Today, many of the NAO’s over 1,000 alumni hold positions in orchestras across North America and beyond. He also established BrottOpera, which staged operatic productions in the Hamilton area.
In the 2000s, Brott also took over the McGill Chamber Orchestra, which had been founded in 1939 by his parents. Renamed the Orchestre Classique de Montréal, Brott was to have co-conducted a “Forever Handel” concert with this ensemble on April 28.
Internationally, Brott was the first music director of the New West Symphony in Thousand Oaks, California, in 1995 and also guest conducted throughout Italy. A career highlight came in 2000 when he conducted Bernstein’s “Mass” in Vatican City before an audience which included Pope John Paul II.
Brott’s many awards include an Officer of the Order of Canada (1986), Order of Ontario (2006), and City of Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Arts Award (2007).
Though Brott had conducted countless works over his career, to many the most essential of these was Handel’s “Messiah,” which he performed in Israel and led annually for many years in Hamilton and Montreal.
For Brott, it was always go big or go home. His chutzpah, his ability to make things happen and to figuratively move heaven and earth if necessary, are irreplaceable. Canada will not see anyone like him and we are all the poorer for his loss.
Brott is survived by his brother, Denis, of Montreal, his wife, Ardyth, of Hamilton, two sons and a daughter and their families.
May his memory be a blessing. (Hamilton Spectator)