Lotte Brott ‑ A Tribute (Part 3)

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Author : (Boris Brott)
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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

Boris Brott, artistic director of the OCM (Orchestre classique de Montréal), died in Hamilton, Ontario on April 5, 2022, a pedestrian fatally struck in a hit-and-run. At the time of his unexpected demise. La Scena Musicale was in the midst of publishing his tribute to Lotte Brott, his cellist mother who, with his father Alexander, co-founded the McGill Chamber Orchestra. In honour of both Boris and his mother, we hereby present the third and final instalment of the tribute series. Read our Tribute to Boris Brott (1944-2022).


When I returned to form part of the McGill Chamber Orchestra’s artistic team in the mid-1980s, Lotte encouraged me to produce two series of Montreal concerts with the McGill Chamber Orchestra. She structured a community committee to assist in marketing these new concepts.  

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The first was a series called “Stained Glass Concerts” which included images from stained-glass installations around the world. My wife Ardyth curated the stained-glass projections and spent many hours at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, researching and finding appropriate stained-glass examples to go with the music. The series was presented in the ballroom of the refurbished Windsor Hotel.  

The second comprised multimedia education concerts sponsored by the Montreal Gazette’s Newspaper in Education department and Quebec milk producer Natrel. The programs centred on the lives of world-famous composers (Beethoven, Haydn, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Mozart and more). Actor Paul Latreille played the dead composers “brought to life” to be interviewed on stage, while the orchestra performed excerpts of compositions as musical illustrations. The Gazette devoted five full pages—one a week—to illustrated program notes which supported class preparation for the concerts. They were a huge success, and we filled the Théâtre Maisonneuve six times to accommodate the 10,000 students who attended each year.   

All of this was groundbreaking and exactly the kind of innovation that Lotte supported wholeheartedly. She arranged for all the moving parts (hall rental, music hiring and purchasing, hired the artists, co-ordinated the marketing), and performed in them herself as a cellist in the orchestra. It’s hard to believe that one person performed all of those tasks!    

In addition to the annual series of eight “connoisseur” concerts (Lotte’s name for them), my mother organized tours for the orchestra to 17 countries on five continents.

Some highlights from these foreign tours were: the USSR (1966); the USA (1959, 1967); Switzerland and France (1973); Mexico (1974); Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary (1978); South America (1981); Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong (1987); Belgium, and the Bermuda Festival (1989).

In the building of an international class ensemble in the McGill Chamber Orchestra, Lotte and Alex were influenced by the work of conductor, philanthropist, and founder of the Basel Kammer Orchestre, Paul Sacher.

For her many contributions to music in Canada and Quebec, Lotte was honoured with a membership in the Order of Canada and a Chevalier in the Ordre National du Québec. 

The going was not always easy—in fact, it was anything but easy—and Lotte’s courage in the face of personal challenge was an inspiration to all who met her.

At the age of 34, she discovered a small lump in her breast. A succession of diagnoses by Montreal’s pre-eminent doctors determined that she needed an immediate operation, which was to be exploratory at first. I remember the weight of decision that fell on my father when, after three hours, the doctors emerged to say it was malignant and a radical mastectomy needed to be performed. As Lotte was still under anesthesia, it was up to Alex to make a life-changing decision for her.

As was her way, she handled the challenge with grace and courage. The surgeon, Dr. Francis McNaughton, was a subscriber to our McGill Chamber Orchestra and aware of her need to be able to play again so he spared the muscles under her arm to make that possible. Immediately after returning from the recovery room—after first asking for makeup, a comb, a mirror and a frilly nightgown—Lotte planned a recital to take place 10 weeks to the day after her surgery. She ignored the pain, had her cello brought to the hospital as soon as possible, and began laboriously climbing the wall with her left hand, inch by inch, so that she could get back to playing. It was both horrifying and inspiring to watch her wrest victory from the jaws of defeat. She gave the recital, played beautifully, and went on to play professionally for another 38 years!

This was to be the first in a series of serious medical setbacks; a second cancer operation took place 20 years later, followed by a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis—which gradually robbed her of physical mobility over some 32 years. These trials only made her stronger emotionally and, if anything, bolstered her courage to deal with a list of operations so long that hours were required to take a complete medical history. 

The initial surgery took place at a time when doctors were not exactly sophisticated in the handling of the massive surgery required. The surgery left her with the lymph ducts in her right arm tied off and they would often become infected, resulting in swelling. One of these infections travelled through her bloodstream and affected her heart muscle and valve and this was what eventually took her from us. 

Her death, in January 1998 when she was almost 75, was much too soon! But Lotte is still with us in spirit, and still an inspiration.

The OCM is celebrating 84 years of constant concert-giving. Our new brand Orchestre classique de Montréal continues to celebrate a can-do philosophy. Lotte and Alex are not easy acts to follow and yet, when I get disappointed or discouraged, I look to her indomitable spirit. 

Our management team, led by Taras Kulish, works closely with me—as did my father and mother—in continuing to keep Orchestre Classique in the forefront of music activity in Montreal.

For all of these reasons, I am thrilled to honour Lotte Brott’s memory as the Orchestre classique’s Woman of Distinction on the 100th anniversary of her birth.

This concludes the three-part tribute to Lotte Brott, written by her son Boris Brott, Artistic Director of the OCM. Previous instalments appeared in the February/March and April/May issues and can be found online.

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

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