‘Heaviest of hearts’ in Hamilton as ‘musical genius’ Boris Brott confirmed dead in hit and run


Published April 5, 2022 at 6:41 pm

A sombre melody of tributes are pouring in for renowned Hamilton-based conductor Boris Brott, who died hours after being struck by a suspected hit-and-run driver today.

Heartfelt messages from Hamiltonians poured forth shortly after the Brott Music Festival confirmed that Brott was the 78-year-old man who succumbed to injuries in hospital after being hit in the Durand neighbourhood shortly after 10 a.m. on April 5. Brott, a member of the Order of Canada who conducted at Carnegie Hall and in front of Pope John Paul II in Vatican City, was founder and artistic director of the National Academy Orchestra of Canada and the Brott Music Festival in Hamilton. He and his author-attorney wife Ardyth Webster Brott resided in the city.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the sudden and tragic passing of the one and only musical genius and Canadian artistic visionary Boris Brott,” the music festival said in an Instagram post. “He will be sorely missed by all who appreciated his unsurpassed talent and by those who loved him.”

Conducted in the middle of Dofasco

Brott was a Montrealer by birth, but his passion for developing classical music in Canada brought him to Hamilton. From 1969 to ’90 Brott was artistic director and conductor of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, which at one time had 16,000 subscribers.

“I’m heartbroken at the tragic loss of visionary Canadian conductor, Boris Brott,” Ontario New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath, the MPP for Hamilton Centre, stated in a Twitter post. “From the National Academy Orchestra of Canada to Brott Music Festival and beyond, he shared his love of music with #HamOnt and the world.

Brott, by many accounts, brought a showman’s flair to conducting that fuelled his ideas with how to stage performances. For instance, his orchestra in Hamilton once performed in the middle of a blast furnace at what is now ArcelorMittal Dofasco, according to his Wikipedia page.

“(He) was a Canadian treasure and his visionary, musical talent made all Hamiltonians proud,” wrote Sandy Shaw, who is also Hamilton-area member of provincial parliament.

“The Canadian music world is in shock,” noted TV Ontario host Steve Paikin, adding: “I just saw him two days ago.”

‘Perhaps our greatest city arts ambassador’

It is believed that Brott introduced classical music to at least 1 million children by the time he was named to the Order of Canada in 2006.

“If you were Hamilton based kid who was in grade school in the (1980s) it was a given you went to Hamilton Place to see Boris Brott conducting the orchestra,” wrote sports media personality Steve Clark, who is a play-by-play commentator for McMaster Marauders varsity athletics and the Niagara IceDogs hockey team.

During the mid-aughts, Brott was also feted in Hamilton. Respondents to reader poll in the Spectator newspaper voted him as one of the five greatest Hamiltonians of all time.

“Extremely saddened to learn this day of the tragic and senseless loss of perhaps our greatest city arts ambassador,” Ward 2 City Councillor Jason Farr wrote. “For more than half a century Boris Brott brought joy and wonder home and abroad.”

Mayoral hopeful Keanin Loomis, a former president and CEO of the city’s chamber of commerce, referred to Brott as a “one-man tourism bureau.”

“More carnage on our street, this time taking the life of an icon who created decades of culture and brought so much acclaim to our city,” Loomis wrote. “RIP Boris Brott, #HamOnt’s one-man tourism bureau. My love goes out to Ardyth.”

As Loomis alluded to, 2022 has brought danger on Hamilton streets into sharp focus. Tuesday was the 95th day of the year and Brott was the seventh pedestrian who has died after being struck by a driver. That works out to one every 13.5 days. That is more than double the rate from 2021, when there was at least 12 such deaths, or one every 30.4 days.

Thomas Peace, a history professor at Huron University College in London, Ont., said Brott’s death is a reminder that roadways need to be safer in many Ontario cities.

“Boris Brott introduced many kids of my generation in Hamilton to classical music. He was a household name in my youth,” Peace wrote. “As a walker (and) bike rider, his death also hits home. Too many people taken too soon on our roadways. We need to make our roads safe for all users.”

Brott was born in Montreal on March 14, 1944, into a musical family where his father was a violinist and composer and his mother was a cellist. He took up the violin like his dad, while his brother Denis Brott became a cellist like their mother. He first conducted at age 15 in 1959, when he founded the Philharmonic Youth Orchestra of Montreal.

Brott is survived by his wife and their three children.

The post from the Brott Music Festival stated that family and staff are asking for privacy in order to process their sudden loss.