ON THE RECORD: Today’s Reminiscences of Jewish Canadian Musicians of Note

By DAVID EISENSTADT 

VICTOR FELDBRILL – Conductor, Violinist (Apr. 4, 1924 – June 17, 2020)

The music world said goodbye to a Canadian champion today.

Conductor extraordinaire and classically-trained violinist Victor Feldbrill died in Toronto yesterday at the age of 96.

Victor Feldbrill
Victor Feldbrill

A Harbord Collegiate alumnus, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants Helen (Lederman) and Nathan Feldbrill, he was destined to pick up a baton and lead orchestras around the world, starting in high school.

For future conductors, it was all about leadership. “Authority comes from being prepared,” he once told the Toronto Star’s classical music columnist Bill Littler.

During his high school years, the young violinist also conducted student orchestras, and after sharing his ambition with Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) conductor Sir Ernest MacMillan, Feldbrill enrolled in Ettore Mazzoleni’s conducting class at the then Toronto Conservatory of Music. He succeeded his music theory teacher John Weinzweig as the University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s conductor in 1942-‘43.

His TSO conducting debut took place on March 30, 1943.

Stationed in London during the Second World War with the Royal Canadian Navy, he played violin in the Navy Show while continuing his violin, harmony, composition and conducting studies for two years at the Royal Academy, but returned to his fiancée Zelda in Canada, ultimately holding concertmaster and assistant conductor positions from 1945-‘49 with the Royal Conservatory of Music Symphony Orchestra and Opera Company.

He was TSO’s first violin from 1949-56 and freelanced as a violinist and conductor for a variety of CBC-TV and radio programs.

The maestro had a special interest in young musicians and during the 1950s, he conducted for Ontario School Broadcasts and National School Broadcasts.

Always honing his skills, he became TSO’s assistant conductor in 1956-‘57 and took the reins of the Winnipeg Symphony in 1958. His stable leadership over the next 10 years helped give Canada, for the first time, a symphonic ensemble with a serious commitment to Canadian music.

Feldbrill never regretted building his career in his home country.

Victor Feldbrill - Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
Victor Feldbrill leading the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

There were guest appearances over the years with symphony orchestras across Canada, the UK, China, Italy, the Philippines and the Soviet Union, followed by a short-term teaching engagement which led to a professorship and principal conductorship of Tokyo National University’s Geidi Philharmonic.

For several years, he conducted nine of Tokyo’s ten symphony orchestras.

Throughout his career, he included, when possible, one Canadian work in every concert he conducted. A highlight in his 50th year of conducting for the TSO was leading the premiere of Srul Irving Glick’s The Reawakening.

Victor Feldbrill, TSO Canadian Mosaic Concert October 2017

A recipient of many accolades and honours, including the first Roy Thomson Award in 1985, Feldbrill was made an Officer of the Order of Canada that year and named to the Order of Ontario in 1999. Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club recognized his body of work, bestowing upon him the Sir Ernest MacMillan Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Toronto Musicians’ Association.


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is founding partner of tcgpr and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.