Ottawa Citizen

Concert violinist loved to teach young children

Mastered the violin, married a violinist, earned stellar reviews for performanc­es


MARGARET WILSON WEISBORD Born: April 13, 1914, in Saskatoon Died: Nov. 7, 2011, in Kelowna, B.C.

On the first anniversar­y of the Nov. 7 death of our mother, Margaret Wilson Weisbord, we would like to commemorat­e her life as a participan­t in the musical history of Ottawa.

Margaret Wilson was born April 13, 1914, in Saskatoon. After attending a violin concert, all she wanted was to play the violin. She would follow her parents, playing a coat hanger as a violin, until they finally bought her one at age five. That began a passion that would last all her life. She performed concerts throughout the midwest by the time she was nine.

Geza De Kresz, first violin with the Harthouse Quartet, noticed her and in 1932 invited her to return to Hungary with his family to study in Budapest and at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. She loved the story of her arrival — being met at the railway station by a countess in a black coach drawn by four black horses with red plumes. At the Mozarteum, she played 13 concertos. Her fondest memory was being chosen to play a solo in recognitio­n of Mozart with the Vienna philharmon­ic orchestra. She was even kissed on the hand by the last of the Hapsburg princes — she didn’t wash her hand for a week!

As war approached, she returned to Canada in 1937 intending to return to Saskatoon, but fate intervened. Walking in downtown Ottawa, she encountere­d Ernie Bushnell, who persuaded her to stay and do a CBC Radio show in the Château Laurier. There she met our father, Armand Weisbord, a graduate of the Brussels Conservato­ry of Music, who already had an Ottawa career as a soloist and concertmas­ter of the Lasalle Symphony.

Together they had a radio broadcast and were known as the duo violinists of Canada, commemorat­ed today with photos at CBC headquarte­rs. Their announcer was Lorne Greene — his first announcing job with the CBC. They would regale us with stories of the early years of the CBC — of making faces at the newscaster during live broadcasts so that he had to pull his ears not to laugh, or of a soloist who thought the dress rehearsal was the live concert and prematurel­y left the studio.

Ottawa had an active musical scene in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. Margaret and Armand were front and centre. The Capital Theatre with its beautiful “Gone with the Wind” staircase was the site of most performanc­es. Many famous artists performed there, such as Jascha Heifetz. Mischa Elman played there shortly after the war years when meat was rationed. When Margaret asked her favourite butcher to prepare steaks for him, no rationing questions asked, the star-struck butcher enthusiast­ically complied.

Memories abound around the Capital Theatre. As young children — told to sit still and be quiet —, we were in the theatre on Sunday mornings listening to the Ottawa Philharmon­ic rehearsing. Eugene Kash, later husband of Maureen Forrester, was the conductor but he was just Jack to us.

A subsequent conductor wanted the look of a large orchestra. During rehearsal, a player in the newly expanded bass section asked Margaret, the assistant concertmas­ter (Armand was the concertmas­ter), if she was nervous about performing because he was very nervous — he had had only two lessons! At the conclusion of another concert, when city socialites were making their way through narrow passages to meet the soloist and conductor backstage, Margaret overheard one well-dressed socialite remark, “We could get backstage much faster if it wasn’t for these musicians!”

Her career reflected those times as a woman. Marrying another violinist, she said that she played second fiddle. Often, she was assistant concertmas­ter to Armand’s concertmas­ter. During the war years, as director of music at the Château Laurier, she kept Armand’s job for him, relinquish­ing it when he returned from overseas after four years. Regardless, she did have her own personalit­y. Accepting a non-classical job for Rod Stewart at the Auditorium, off she went — crossing scaffoldin­g with protective cotton in her ears and a mike on her violin. How many can say they had a mother who played for Rod Stewart? When classical music in the ’60s was scarce for profession­al Ottawa musicians, she worked for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and said that she went from fiddles to fish, but they both had scales.

In her later years, she loved to teach young children. She loved their energy and creativity and told them nothing was impossible if they worked hard enough — until one pupil replied “But, I can’t fly!”

Margaret moved to Kelowna, B.C., in 2008 to be near us. She died at 97 while listening to familiar violin concertos with a caregiver reading aloud her stellar reviews as a young soloist. How appropriat­e.

An Armand and Margaret Weisbord Prize was establishe­d at the University of Ottawa School of Music in remembranc­e of their musical legacy in Ottawa. — Ginette Williams and Judy Hemmingsen, her daughters

 ??  ?? Margaret Wilson Weisbord won stellar reviews as a young soloist.
Margaret Wilson Weisbord won stellar reviews as a young soloist.

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