By Penny Johnson, Contributing Author
At Ottawa’s Rideau Hall on April 30, 2010, Their Excellencies the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, and Mr. Jean-Daniel Lafond, presented the prestigious Governor General’s Performing Arts Award (GGPAA) for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.
This year, two of the recipients, Walter Homburger (classical music) and Robin Phillips (theatre), had connections to Glenn Gould. Other recipients included Bryan Adams (popular music), Françoise Faucher (theatre), Edouard Lock (dance) and Buffy Sainte-Marie (popular music). An additional two awards were presented, including The Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Voluntarism in the Performing Arts (Mohammed and Yulanda Faris, 2010 recipients) and The National Arts Centre Award (Yannick Nézet-Séguin, 2010 recipient).
“Canada’s foremost distinction for excellence in the performing arts,” the GGPAA were created in 1992 under the patronage of the Right Honourable Ramon John Hnatyshyn (1934-2002), then Governor General of Canada. Every year the Lifetime Artistic Achievement award is given for the categories of theatre, dance, classical music, popular music, film and broadcasting. With nominations received from the general public, recipients of the GGPAA receive a $25,000 cash prize contributed by the Canada Council for the Arts, and a commemorative medallion struck by the Royal Canadian Mint. “The awards recognize a stellar array of artists and arts volunteers for their outstanding lifetime contribution to Canada’s cultural life.” Glenn Gould Prize Laureates, Oscar Peterson and R. Murray Schafer are also recipients of the GGPAA, which they received in 1992 and 2009 respectively.
Born in Germany in 1924, Walter Homburger moved to Canada in 1940 where he quickly established himself in the musical life of Toronto, founding his own concert agency, International Artists in 1947. It was during this time that Homburger became the manager of Glenn Gould, after he heard the teenager play Beethoven’s G-major concerto at the 1946 Kiwanis festival. In his book, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould, Kevin Bazzana writes: “On March 13, 1947, Homburger signed Gould for a single concert, his October 20 debut, and the experience was obviously mutually satisfying: for the remainder of his concert career, Gould never had another manager. Homburger was a canny and resourceful manager, and a sympathetic shepherd of Gould’s career.” In 1962, the Toronto Daily Star reported that “as Gould’s manager, [Homburger] became the first person to handle the world-wide career of a concert artist from Canada, something experienced New Yorkers told him was impossible.”
As head of International Artists, Homburger set up an annual recital series which showcased the talents of Louis Armstrong, Victor Borge, Van Cliburn, Duke Ellington, Kathleen Ferrier, Vladimir Horowitz, Luciano Pavarotti, Itzhak Perlman, Andrés Segovia, Isaac Stern, Joan Sutherland, and Pinchas Zukerman. Since then, Homburger went on to promote other extraordinary artists such as Victor Braun, Jan Rubes, Louis Lortie, and James Ehnes. He has also served for an impressive twenty-five years as managing director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Homburger is a Member of the Order of Canada (1984), and is the recipient of the Queen’s Jubilee Medal (2002), the Canadian Music Council Medal (1987), and was the first Canadian to receive the Louis Sudler Award (1984) from the American Symphony Orchestra League.
The connection of director, Robin Phillips to Glenn Gould comes from their work on the film, The Wars. Co-produced in 1982 (123 min.) by the National Film Board of Canada, Nielsen-Ferns (co-producers of Glenn Gould’s Toronto) and Polyphon, in West Germany, Phillips directed the film and Gould wrote the musical score. Based on the novel by Canadian writer, Timothy Findley, the NFB outlines a description of The Wars with the following:
“Robert Ross lives a protected adolescence in a well-off Toronto suburb. Secretive and withdrawn, he shares his thoughts only with his sister Rowena, who is mentally retarded. He feels compassion for his weak and conventional father. He avoids any confrontation with his mother, a dominating woman whose despondency at having given birth to a handicapped child has turned to bitterness. Rowena occupies a central position in Robert's existence of daydreams and make-believe. When she dies, Robert clashes openly with his family, and decides to take himself in hand. It's 1914. He enrolls in the Canadian army, and, after training in Alberta and Montréal, he finds himself in England and France. The war becomes another way for him to resolve his conflicts, his dramas, his passions--his wars.”
According to Bazzana, “Gould loved the book – its anti-war message, its themes of compassion and redemption, its sensitivity to the suffering of animals – and was deeply impressed by Phillip’s rough cut.” Gould came onto the project through his connection with producer, Richard Nielsen, whom he was already a friend of. Nielsen had suggested Gould to Phillips, given that the director wanted an intimate, classical score.
Bazzana goes on to explain how Gould chose to arrange existing music for the score, and that it includes piano performances, “some taken from Gould’s CBS recordings, other instrumental numbers, including Gould’s ‘first professional exposure to the harmonica,’ and vocal numbers for which he supervised the recording in the spring of 1982, working with adult and children’s choirs and some individual choirboys at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a local Anglican church.” The Largo from Strauss’s piano piece Op. 3/No. 3 and Brahms’s Intermezzo in E-flat Major, Op. 117/No. 1 play a prominent role in the film which did not get released until just after Gould died.
Born in England in 1942, Phillips studied acting and worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, before moving to Canada in 1974. In his six seasons as artistic director (1975-80) of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Phillips directed thirty-five productions featuring such outstanding artists as Martha Henry, William Hutt, Brian Bedford, Maggie Smith, Jessica Tandy, and Colm Feore. His directing credits also include Long Day’s Journey Into Night, starring Jessica Lange (London’s West End), The Marriage of Figaro (Canadian Opera Company), and the Broadway musical, Jekyll and Hyde. Phillips is an Officer of the Order of Canada (2005) and holds an honorary degree from the University of Western Ontario (1983).