Sad news from Canada of the death of Walter Homburger, the man who discovered Glenn Gould and managed his awkward genius. He went on to spot an unknown Klaus Tennstedt in a northern German town and to bring forth one of the most revealing conductors we have seen and heard. Last of all, he spotted the violinist James Ehnes.
For his day job, Walter managed the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for 25 epic years.
A refugee from Nazi Germany who reached Canada in 1940 at the age of 16, he never had the resources to go to music school but he followed his ears to a phenomenal career. He was Gould’s manager for 20 years, from the 1940s to 1960s, taking him to Russia ahead of any other North American artist and establishing his indelible reputation on record.
Engaged by a rickety Toronto Symphony in 1962, he appointed an unknown Seiji Ozawa as music director in 1965, followed by the smouldering Czech Karel Ancerl, the underrated Canadian Victor Feldbrill and the Englishman Andrew Davis. Each was a perfect fit for his time.
While searching for a replacement for Ancerl, who died in 1973 of diabetes, he utilised a spare day in Hamburg to head up to Kiel, where he’s heard rumours about an East German refugee of uncommon gifts. He understood Klaus Tennstedt on sight and arranged his first performances outside Europe.
I knew Walter in his latter years at TSO, when he was moving a disunited musical ensemble into a disastrous new hall. Walter was unflappable in crisis, unassuming in conversation, modest in his personal life. He enjoyed a 58-year marriage to Emmy and was 95 at his death.
His memory is a blessing to us all.
Homburger in 2016 with Gary Hanson, one of his TSO successors; photo (c) Slippedisc