Walter Homburger, Former Glenn Gould Manager and TSO Managing Director, Dead at 95
At the age of 95, classical music impresario and one-time manager of eccentric Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, Walter Homburger, has passed. For 25 years he also served as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's managing director, attracting high profile classical musicians to Canadian stages.
By Nick Krewen
Walter Homburger, the man who discovered and managed globally renowned Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould and served as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's managing director for 25 years, died on July 25.
He was 95.
A lion of the Canadian classical music scene, Homburger managed such prominent artists as Gould, Victor Braun, musician-actor Jan Rubes, and Grammy-and-Juno Award winner James Ehnes. As a concert promoter, he was behind the North American debuts of pianists Paul Badura-Skoda and Friedrich Gulda, and the Canadian premieres of Lotte Lehmann, Emil Gilels, Mary Martin, Solomon, Jan Rubes, Teresa Berganza, Titto Gobbi. Musicians like Luciano Pavarotti, pianist comedian Victor Borge, Van Cliburn, Victoria de los Angeles, comic Shelley Berman, Dame Joan Sutherland, Joyce Grenfell and the Robert Shaw Chorale also played Toronto for the first time under Homburger's watch.
Other stellar classical superstars that he brought to Canada included Itzhak Perlman, Andrés Segovia, Rudolf Serkin, Isaac Stern, Pinchas Zukerman. I Musici, the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna Boys Choir. And he occasionally ventured outside the classical world, bringing legendary jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong to Canadian stages.
From 1951 to 1955 he was the manager of the National Ballet of Canada, and in 1962, he assumed the mantle of managing director for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, a position he would keep until his 1987 retirement. During his tenure, Homburger secured the services of Seiji Ozawa, Karel Ančerl, and Sir Andrew Davis as TSO Music Directors, named Victor Feldbrill as Resident Conductor and took the Symphony on tour around the world, most notably to China in 1978, thus helping cement the TSO's world reputation.
Born in Karlsruhe, Germany in 1924, Homburger emigrated to Canada in 1940 and became a naturalized citizen in 1942. Oddly enough, one of his first jobs wasn't in music - but porcine midwifery: he helped deliver pigs on an Aurora farm.
Homburger formed the International Artists Concert Agency and first foray into concert promotion was a disaster. He borrowed money to guarantee soprano Lotte Lehman a $3750 haul for three German leider recitals at Toronto's Eaton Auditorium in 1947, and lost $1K. But his backers felt he had a future and covered his deficit. Their trust was rewarded when three months later Homburger recouped his losses with a sellout by Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz.
Along the way he discovered and managed Canadian classical artists like Louis Lortie, Victor Braun, Jan Rubes and - in 1993 - James Ehnes.
But his most famous client was Gould.
He told composer and author Colin Eatock that he first heard Gould perform Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto at the Kiwanis Music Festival.
"And when this kid came out and played the Fourth Beethoven Concerto, I said to myself, 'This can’t be possible,'" Homburger recalled.
"I went backstage and met Glenn, and said I’d love to meet his parents. Soon afterward, I went to the Goulds’ home at 32 Southwood Drive, in the Beaches, and told his parents that I wanted to manage their son. This was in 1946, and at that time I was 22 years old. My theory was that if I was right and Glenn was as good as I thought he was, then he would get a great career going. People would find out who his manager was and send me a telegram or give me a phone call."
Gould's parents agreed, and Homburger helped arrange the Columbia Records contract that made the pianist a global sensation with the recording of Bach: The Goldberg Variations.
Homburger was also responsible for arranging Gould to play in the Soviet Union in 1957, the first Western artist to visit post-WWII.
"I felt it would give Glenn some good publicity," Homburger told Eatock. "As it turned out, he was the first Western artist to visit the Soviet Union after the war. But it was the McCarthy era, and I was very concerned about Glenn not being able to get into the United States, after visiting Russia. So I had some correspondence with the Canadian government – with Lester Pearson, who was at that time our External Affairs minister. The government was behind the idea, and they helped me with contacts in Russia. I asked them to please let their colleagues in the USA know that they are in favour of Glenn going to Russia so that he wouldn’t be banned from the United States."
Gould performed in Moscow and Leningrad and also gave lectures during the tour, which made him a household name in Russia.
Homburger said that the manager-client relationship with Gould ended in 1964, after the pianist no longer performed in public, deciding to focus on recording instead.
But Homburger would go on to do great things, especially for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, for which he was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1984. When he retired in 1987, a star-studded benefit concert called "The Great Gathering" was held at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall, broadcast on both CBC Radio and TV, and netted more than $2.3m for the Toronto Symphony Foundation.
Homburger was also awarded the Queen's Jubilee Medal in 2002 and the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2010.
CP reported that Ottawa's National Arts Centre is holding its flag at half-mast to mourn the passing of the man who "was a driving force in the development of orchestras and classical music in Canada."
He is survived by Emmy, his wife of 58 years, son Michael, daughter Lisa and four grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at TSO.CA/Tribute or 416-598-5311 and to the Walter Homburger Scholarship with the University of Toronto Faculty of Music at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-978-0811..
To read a quote from Sir Andrew Davis about the death of Walter Homburger, please click here.