Skip to main content

Renowned conductor Boris Brott, in Hamilton, Ont., on June 28, 2002.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Steve Paikin, anchor of TVOntario’s current affairs program The Agenda with Steve Paikin, remembers the renowned conductor Boris Brott, a fellow Hamiltonian who as a pedestrian was fatally struck by a car this week.

Both my parents were presidents of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, and so was Boris Brott’s mother-in-law, Betty Webster. Boris’s wife, the author and attorney Ardyth Webster Brott, was even a babysitter for my brother and me. I guess our families have been intertwined for almost 60 years.

I just saw Boris and Ardyth at a concert in Hamilton on Sunday afternoon. She had turned 70 and looked fabulous. Boris was 78, and he also looked fabulous. We had a great conversation. I thought it was great that they were both still so engaged.

Boris Brott remembered by his peers as an unforgettable conductor, mentor and visionary

Boris told me to keep doing what I was doing – to not hold back. I’m 61 years old, and he’s giving me career advice. It’s senseless and crazy that he’s gone.

In December, 1973, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra was doing a Christmas concert. They needed a kid to narrate ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas on stage at Hamilton Place with the orchestra.

Boris came over to my house, sat me down and asked me if I would like to do it. I said that I would. I’d just played the lead in a play at school about Christopher Columbus. I suppose he had seen it, which gave him the sense that I could probably handle the reading.

He had brought a recording of the soundtrack that the orchestra would be playing. I listened to it, to know when my lines would happen. I’m not even sure we rehearsed on stage. After it was over, someone took a photograph. There’s Boris applauding and I’m bowing. I’m 13 years old, on stage at Hamilton Place.

Brott and Steve Paikin on the night a 13-year-old Paikin narrated Twas the Night Before Christmas on stage with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, in December, 1973.Handout

He came from a family of musicians. He was blessed to have great genes in that respect. But he also had an innate enthusiasm for what he did. I’m not saying he was a perfect person – he certainly had his creative differences with people along the way, but he loved classical music. He had a messianic zeal for spreading the good word about it.

When Boris took over the Hamilton Philharmonic in 1969 it was a relatively small orchestra in what was then a relatively small city. I’m sure the philharmonic was barely hanging on financially. But through the power of his example and his enthusiasm, you could argue that the orchestra had its best years when he was at the helm.

In addition to being a conductor, Boris was a motivational speaker. Companies hired him to come in, the idea being that his job was to conduct musicians into working together and playing brilliantly. That mission is basically the same as when you’re the CEO of a big company. You’re basically trying to get a whole bunch of people to work together to produce a great product. He would get on stage, and he knew just what to say. And he had such an electric personality.

Talking last weekend, Boris was excited about the stuff he wanted to do coming out of the COVID-19 lockdowns. His speaking gigs had dried up because of COVID. With things opening up, he was looking forward to travelling again.

It is so unjust that he would be taken in such a senseless fashion. He had so much to live for. It’s just not right.

Steve Paikin, as told to Brad Wheeler.