Skip to content

In Memoriam Eli Kassner 1924-2018

We were deeply saddened by the passing of our founder, great friend and inspiration, Eli Kassner.  Eli passed away August 24, 2018 at the age of 94. We will miss his energy, his inspiration and his creativity but we are forever grateful to him for the gift of his knowledge and passion for the guitar.

As many of you know, Eli arrived in Canada in 1951 as an orphan of the Holocaust, with little money and equally little English. Nevertheless he found work, first in a music store (practicing his guitar in a corner in spare moments), and then as a guitar teacher.

By 1956 he had gathered enough guitar-loving friends to create the Guitar Society of Toronto, and bravely came up with the idea of asking the legendary Andres Segovia to be its honorary president (Segovia accepted).

Eli’s vision and powers of persuasion transformed the classical guitar from a novelty to a serious Canadian concert instrument.

He single-handedly convinced the University of Toronto to become the first Canadian university (and one of the first in North America) to offer a comprehensive course of study in classical guitar. As a teacher and mentor, he shaped the international careers of our most outstanding Canadian and international performers and teachers, and inspired the some of the world’s leading composers to create music that enriches the guitar’s repertoire. Through the seventies and eighties, Eli and his beloved wife Ann brought the cream of the guitar world to Toronto in five international festivals, which are now the model for guitar festivals around the world.

And as many of you also know, Eli and Ann were legendary hosts who loved nothing better than to throw a great party, with plenty of good food, wine and, of course, music. Virtually every guitarist who passed through Toronto enjoyed the hospitality of 9 Gibson Avenue!

We are so proud that Eli’s legacy was nationally recognized in 2016 when he became an Officer of the Order of Canada; he was inducted into the GFA Hall of Fame in 2011, and received an honorary doctorate, and the Queen’s Jubilee Silver Medal.  His incredible life story has been recorded in his biography, Allegro Vivace Con Brio. 

The Canadian music scene, and the lives of many Canadians, are so much richer for his life and work.

Guitar Society of Toronto