Boris Brott brings a fabulous energy to everything he does, whether it’s introducing the multitudes to music, or speaking at a Glenfiddich corporate event. Watching him onstage, you find yourself swept up in the magic of the music and the moment, and smiling, with goosebumps all up and down your arms, you want more, always more. Imagine how thrilled we were, when such an august personage as Boris Brott, honored us by donating his car to us, here at Kars4Kids.
We gathered our courage to approach this famous Canadian and reached out for an interview. And what do you know? Brott turned out to be as generous with his time as he was with his car, answering all our many questions in full:
Kars4Kids: What did you play at your first concert at the age of five?
Boris Brott: It was a concerto written by my father, violinist/composer/conductor Alexander Brott. Wilfrid Pelletier was once asked in an onstage interview, “What was it like to play the premiere of a work by your father?”
My reply to the same question: “Not easy, as the moment I learned something, he’d change the notes.”
Kars4Kids: You started out as a violinist and ended up conducting. What made you decide to become a conductor? What is it about conducting that spoke to you?
Boris Brott: I grew up at rehearsals of the Montreal Orchestra where Dad was the concertmaster and my mother sat on the first desk of cellos. I played with dinky toys in the concert hall aisles! I observed the alchemy of a conductor’s role from close by.
It was Igor Markevitch, a Russian-French conductor, who introduced the idea, and invited me to study with him in Mexico. I was a mere 14 years-old. I spent a year at the Instituto de Bellas Artes and from there on, the die was cast.
Kars4Kids: You’ve worked in Europe, the UK, and the US, yet you came back to Canada. What do you love about Canada?
Boris Brott: Throughout my career, I had one foot in Canada. I had a hand in the development of seven orchestras here, in Hamilton, Regina, Thunder Bay, Kitchener Waterloo, Symphony Nova Scotia, CBC Winnipeg, and the McGill Chamber Orchestra, and now the Orchestre Classique de Montreal, where I have taken over from my father, who founded the orchestra. I also served as assistant conductor of the Toronto Symphony and was principal youth and family conductor of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa.
I love Canada first for its appreciation and support of the arts through a combination of private, business sponsorship, and government support. This is unique in the world. I also love its optimism, its vast geography, and the honesty of its people. I have lived in many parts of the world but home will always be Canada.
Kars4Kids: As an organization involved in mentoring children, we are especially intrigued that you created the National Academy Orchestra of Canada in which music graduates are mentored by professional musicians. Can you tell us a bit about the academy and why mentoring is so important for young musicians?
Boris Brott: I have a personal devotion to mentoring which I believe is the most effective way of transmitting skills and inspiring students. It is interesting to me that in German, “Lehren” means both “to teach” and “to learn.” This is significant, as I feel I have learned most while teaching. The National Academy Orchestra has enjoyed a very special year because of the pandemic, in that we have attracted principal players from the world’s finest orchestras.
We’ve had concertmasters and principal players from Berlin, Vienna, and Los Angeles, as well as the principal orchestras in Canada. We have had soloists of note, e.g. Jame Ehnes, Pinchas Zukerman, Jonathan Crow, Steven Isserlis, to present masterclasses online to our participants. Of course, one of the unique abilities orchestral musicians have to learn is to listen to others while performing themselves. For that, we need to be playing in person and thankfully, we will be getting back to that this summer, see: www.brottmusic.com. Please join us in the safety of your own car.
Kars4Kids: You have won countless awards: you are an Officer of the Order of Canada (OC), and a member of the Order of Ontario (OOnt). As an organization whose proceeds support child education, however, the one we like best is the National Child Day award you received in Ottawa for introducing classical music to over a million schoolchildren over the course of your career. You are famous for your innovative methods in introducing audiences to music. Do you have any tips for parents on introducing their children to music, or on how to cultivate a love of music in children?
Boris Brott: I am glad you brought this up. First, introduction while very young is as vital for music as it is for hockey. Second, make it fun; practicing should be a game. This is why I like the idea of parents and children learning together. Third, practice for very short amounts of time and every day—like tooth brushing. 5-10 minutes is plenty.
Kars4Kids: What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
Boris Brott: Enjoy making music together and listen to all kinds of music. Involve your friends.
Kars4Kids: What current projects keep you busy these days?
Boris Brott: The National Academy Orchestra of Canada is now in its 34th year of operation. Concerts take place largely in the summers in Hamilton. The Orchestre Classique de Montreal is in its 84th season in Montreal. We have a great ensemble of fabulous musicians giving regular concerts in Montreal and surrounding areas, and increasingly broadcasts on the web, see: www.orchestre.ca.
BrottOpera is a flourishing opera company based in Hamilton, with an interesting and eclectic repertoire. This year, for example, we are producing Mozart’s Così fan tutte, The Sound of Music and a new commission by indigenous Anishinaabe Composer Barbara Croall, entitled Hide and Seek. I am eager to get back into the circuit of motivational speaking internationally, as well as returning to conducting opera in Italy.
Kars4Kids: You chose to make a charitable donation of your car, when you could have sold or junked it. Why donation?
Boris Brott: Our Cadillac Sixty Special was in our family for 32 years. It was in mint condition with less than 100,000 km. It was very hard to part with. I thought of my father, and what he would have liked, since it was his car, and he loved it. Donating it allowed the car to continue to give joy to others.
Kars4Kids: Last question: Why did you choose Kars4Kids as the recipient of your donation?
Boris Brott: I confess your charity’s name came up during an internet search. I have since had an opportunity to find out more. Your programs benefit children in so many ways and with no middle person, all the proceeds go to the child involved.