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2022 in music: We lost Boris Brott and Gord Lewis

2022 in music: We lost Boris Brott and Gord Lewis

Where have you gone 2022?

It seems like only yesterday we were singing “Auld Lang Syne,” physically distanced due to the pandemic, to usher you in. Looking back, you were the best of years and you were the worst of years, musically speaking that is.

Let’s get the worst part over with first.

In 2022, we lost two of our musical giants. They came from opposite ends of the musical spectrum, but their tragic deaths sent shockwaves through a stunned community.

On April 5, conductor Boris Brott, 78, was killed in a hit and run near his downtown Hamilton home. Throughout his long, international career, the extroverted Montreal-born Brott was a transformer. He understood music as an art form, and he understood music as a business. That combination coupled with no small amount of chutzpah made him a sought-after orchestra builder and music director here in Hamilton with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra from 1969 until that relationship soured in 1990 and with the National Academy Orchestra of Canada and his eponymous music festival which he founded in 1987, as well as in Montreal, Thunder Bay, Nova Scotia, California and elsewhere. His impact on generations of musicians, audiences and students is immeasurable. He was also a family man, a brother, husband, father and grandfather who will be deeply missed.

Teenage head guitarist Gord Lewis was found dead in his Hamilton apartment on Aug.  7.

On Aug. 7, Gord Lewis, 65, guitarist for the renowned punk rock band, Teenage Head, was found dead in his downtown Hamilton apartment. Last week, Lewis’s son, Jonathan Vader Lewis, was found not criminally responsible for his death.

“One chord and you knew it was Gord,” reminisced former Spec music editor Graham Rockingham who delivered a eulogy at Lewis’s Celebration of Life — and was that ever a celebration — in FirstOntario Concert Hall on Nov. 5.

“It was Gord’s boyhood dream to have a band of brothers who would joke and play music together as they toured the country,” added Rockingham. “Few of us got to fulfill our childhood dreams, but Gord did. I’m sure I never heard him say a bad word about anyone. That’s the way Gord was. A sweet, gentleman.”

May their memory be a blessing.

Not that 2022 began with a fond memory. It looked like déjà vu all over again when the HPO postponed their Jan. 29 concerts after the province moved into a modified Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopen in early January. It wasn’t until March 19 that the HPO re-assembled, Gemma New, the HPO’s San Diego-based music director, finally able to return after a two-year pandemic-induced absence to lead a “Gemma conducts Mendelssohn” program. With attendance at FirstOntario Concert Hall limited to 700, the sold-out audience and those watching online were treated to guest soloist Yi-Jia Susanne Hou whose performance of Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto” was full of grace and vigor, her diamond technique sparkling in a flawless cadenza. That evening, HPO principal timpanist Jean Norman Iadeluca was honored for his 50 years with the orchestra.

HPO music director Gemma New returned after a two-year absence to accompany soloist Yi-Jia Susanne Hou in Mendelssohn's

One of the highpoints at the Ontario Registered Music Teachers’ Association Hamilton/Halton branch’s April 3 June Caskey Memorial Concert was cellist Rachel Mercer’s ravishing reading of the “Andante” from Rachmaninoff’s “Sonata” op. 19 with pianist Angela Park before a jam-packed audience in the First Unitarian Church of Hamilton.

On May 10, the Brott Music Festival announced Alain Trudel as interim artistic director. At the BMF’s June 30 opening concert under Trudel, you only needed to hear the precise crispness of the woodwinds’ initial entry in Louis Applebaum’s “Place Setting” to know that Brott, prior to his death, had selected the right person as his successor. Likewise, the BMF’s traditional December performances of Handel’s “Messiah” were entrusted to former BMF apprentice conductor Evan Mitchell who handily upheld Brott’s high standards and then some.

Another standout from the HPO’s 2022 highlight reel was their June 1 collaboration with Estonia’s Collegium Musicale in a program of contemporary Estonian choral works at The Cotton Factory. Jaw-dropping choral perfection.

Also noteworthy were the baritone Russell Braun’s two local appearances. His July 10 Chamber Music Hamilton concert included a highly moving account of Vaughan Williams’s “On Wenlock Edge” while his Oct. 23 Hamilton Conservatory recital included a heartfelt account of Schumann’s “Dichterliebe.”

For Baroque enthusiasts, the Nov. 5 performance of Schütz’s “Musikalische Exequien” by the Nota Bene Players & Singers and Dan Taylor’s Theater of Early Music under Howard Dyck in Dundas’s St. Paul’s United Church was incredible.

Ditto for star soprano Measha Brueggergosman-Lee’s party piece, “Goin’ up yonder,” her a cappella encore at her Dec. 7 concerts with Sabatino Vacca’s Southern Ontario Lyric Opera. Sistah, you got soul!

Lastly, Gemma New’s spirited performance of a heavily abridged “Messiah” with Alex Cann’s re-energized Bach Elgar Choir, the HPO and four soloists won over the audience in Central Presbyterian Church on Dec. 16. Pity New dropped a bombshell in November, announcing her June 2024 departure from the HPO.

And that’s a wrap. Goodbye 2022, hello 2023. Happy New Year, everyone.