George Enescu and Toronto

He may be under-represented in today’s local recital programs, but during his life George Enescu was well known and welcomed to Toronto.

The George Enescu Festival lands in Canada for the first time this September, with three events in Toronto and one in Montreal. But is the great Romanian composer a familiar name to Canadians?

Aged 55, he visited Toronto

Back in 1937 social media was not as pervasive as today, but thank goodness for the Social Notes section in the Toronto Daily Star!

Nested deep in the 22nd page of a Monday edition, we find that, over a cold January weekend, Georges Enescu (a mix of the French and Romanian spellings of his name; in Paris he was Georges Enesco, while in Bucharest George Enescu) was a guest of the Women’s Musical Club.

Just a few months before Enescu, one Andres Segovia left a lasting impression at the same place. The club, founded 1899, is alive and well today.

Aged 59, he was to be the guest conductor of the TSO

Fast forward to October 1940. An year and a month since the beginning of the war.

Europe is on fire: France is invaded since June, RAF heroics determine Hitler to postpone Britain’s invasion. In the fall of 1940 a British defeat seemed so likely the joint board (USA, Canada and Britain) agreed to give the United States control of the Canadian military if Germany won in Europe. Romania’s allies being occupied (France) or retired from continental Europe (Britain), there was no option but joining Germans. The price was losing a lot of the territory won after WWI, and ushering the fascists into power.

Canada is at war since September 1939 supporting its main ally, Britain. Training centres are bustling with people and activity, including the one in Newmarket, North of Toronto.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra (founded 1922) decides to go on with its programming, as a show of support for the war. J.W. Elton is TSO’s manager since 1934, a job taken from his father, H.J. Elton. By October 1940, Sir Ernest MacMillan (knighted in 1935) was its second musical director, and in his 9th year at the helm (he would go on for another 16 years; died 1973). He had high hopes that genius conductor, composer, violonist George Enescu will be TSO’s guest conductor for the new season.

On 8 October 1940 German troops began crossing into Romania. They soon numbered over 500,000. On October 21st, Enescu sent a cable from his home in Bucharest to TSO’s manager. The coded language actually meant “we’re caught in the grip of a fascist dictatorship, I am stuck”.

**

After his death, Enescu’s best ambassador was Yehudi Menuhin

George Enescu died in 1955 (age 73) in Paris, which he called home after leaving Russian-occupied homeland Romania. He is buried at Pere Lachaise.

New York born Menuhin was largely regarded as one of the best violonists of the 20th century. Enescu was his teacher in Paris in the 1920’s.

Toronto Star, 4 January 1997

**

September 2019: time to re-discover George Enescu in Toronto this September

Toronto-based Tradicious is determined to bring George Enescu to the attention of the 21st century Canadian. And it’s doing it the right way, by placing Enescu in the right context for today’s music consumer: 90-minute multi-composer shows, in attracting venues with topnotch musicians, under the tutelage of prestigious Romanian festival George Enescu.

*** read part two of this story here ***

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