Music Online. Under the Radar
(1924 – 2019)
Welcome to our Sunday music section
“Notable Canadian Jewish Performers.”
By David Eisenstadt
TORONTO, November 13/22 – What do Canadian pianists Glenn Gould and Louis Lortie, violinist James Ehnes, baritone Victor Braun, and singer-actor Jan Rubes have in common? All were managed by Walter Homburger, a savvy non-musician who was raised in a musical home.
What do global music giants Louis Armstrong, Victor Borge, Duke Ellington, Vladimir Horowitz, Luciano Pavarotti, Itzhak Perlman, Andres Segovia, Isaac Stern, Van Cliburn, and Pinchas Zukerman, among others also have in common? They all entertained Canadian audiences during Homburger’s reign as the administrative head of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and his own International Artists Concert Agency.
The Globe & Mail’s Arthur Kaptainis reported, “His dual captaincy of these organizations made Mr. Homburger one of the most powerful music executives in North America.”
Not bad for a Karlsruhe, a German-Jewish-born refugee who became an impresario through sheer hard work and some good luck. Born on January 22, 1924, into a well-respected Jewish banking family, he departed for England before the start of WW II but was interned on the Isle of Man, before coming to Canada in 1940 with over 2,000 refugees fleeing the Nazis. Again he was interned in various camps including the Plains of Abraham, where he volunteered to serve in the armed forces. He never got that overseas posting because the War ended. In Toronto, he completed high school, worked as a farm labourer, and in 1942 became a naturalized Canadian citizen.
Though not a musician, the music business called young Walter who had a knack for seizing on opportunities. In 1947 he borrowed enough money to organize a Toronto concert for German soprano Lotte Lehman. That event proved fruitless, but a subsequent Vladimir Horowitz piano recital successfully launched his company.
Walter Homburger and Glenn Gould
In 1946, he heard 13-year-old Glenn Gould play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 at the Kiwanis Festival. He approached Gould’s parents to represent the young genius and with their permission, a recital was arranged for October 20, 1947. The Canadian Encyclopedia notes that “The relationship was fruitful. Mr. Homburger negotiated a contract with the Columbia Masterworks label that resulted in the landmark 1955 Gould recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.” From 1951 to 55 he also managed the National Ballet of Canada.
In 1957, with the support of then Canada’s Secretary of State Lester B. Pearson, he organized a six-concert Gould tour in Moscow and Leningrad at the height of the Cold War. “The visit made the unknown Canadian a celebrity in a land of great pianists and soothed Canadian-Soviet relations,” Kaptainis reported.
Homburger understood Gould’s idiosyncratic behaviour and ran interference for him on the social front. When Gould quit playing concerts in 1964, which marked the end of their professional relationship. Homburger was reported saying, “I’m very happy I was wrong”, regarding his earlier prediction that Gould’s decision would hurt his record sales.
His portfolio grew including his packaged International Artists series, which became part of his expanded responsibilities as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s (TSO) managing director duties in 1962, a position he held until retiring on March 9, 1987.
Homburger shrewdly guided the growth of the TSO but was frequently criticized by the musical avant-garde despite generating strong attendance in tough economic times.
Celebrating his 50th birthday in 1974, the Walter Homburger (annual) Scholarship was established to recognize a first-year University of Toronto performance student. Another feather in his cap was his management of the first-ever symphony orchestra tour to China in 1978.
He captained the TSO for 25 years coming out of retirement in 1993 to manage the aspiring career of violinist James Ehnes (a personal favourite in the Eisenstadt household). Marking his 75th birthday, Ehnes and Yo Yo Ma performed a recital at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall.
The recipient of many awards, in 1984 he was made a Member of the Order of Canada and was the first Canadian recipient of the Louis Sudler Award from the American Symphony Orchestra League.
In 2005, the International Society For The Performing Arts (ISPA) presented Homburger with an Extraordinary Award marking his six-decade career. He was one of the ISPA’s (originally the Association of Concert Managers) founding members. He received the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals and the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award For Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2010. The Library and Archives Canada hold his archives.
With two sons, he was married for 58 years to Emmy (née Shmid). Homburger died at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Veterans Centre at the age of 95.♦
Credits: wmct.on.ca; pinterest.ca
David Eisenstadt is the author of Under the Radar, 30 Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians. He is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.
A complete list of David Eisenstadt’s articles can be viewed under Music Online in our category section. Do you have comments or questions about this article? Contact David Eisenstadt at
-This is wonderful account of a non-musician with an entrepreneurial bent tied to music. Thank you. – BB, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
-Interesting article about the managing side of Canadian Jewish music leadership. – PM, Tel Aviv, Israel
-I truly enjoyed and appreciated this article. – SS, Thornhill, Ontario, Canada
-I loved learning so many details about Walter Homburger. He was a Toronto institution. – CLM, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
-Wow! Walter contributed so much! As an artist, I never think lightly of all the folks ‘behind’ the scenes that make things happen. Thank you for featuring this very important Canadian. – BK, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
-Musicians are very important of course, but the people behind them, we too often forget. – GB, Montreal, Quebec, Canada