On August 23, 2018, Professor Emeritus Eli Kassner passed away. Prof Kassner was a giant in classical guitar studies in Canada. His students went on to perform and teach around the world.
After forming the Guitar Society of Toronto in 1956, Eli began teaching guitar at U of T in 1959. In 1975 he organized Guitar ’75, an international guitar festival at the Faculty of Music. Over 500 attendees converged and led to additional festivals in 1978, 1981, 1984, and 1987.
Prof Kassner also was a huge proponent of commissioning new works for classical guitar. As of late 1980s he and the Guitar Society of Toronto commissioned about 70 new works. As told to Harold Levy in the Eli Kassner 65th Birthday Tribute Program (held in Walter Hall on May 27, 1989), composer Harry Somers outlines his first composition for Eli:
GUITAR CANADA: Did it take very long before you were writing some compositions for the guitar, Harry?
HARRY SOMERS: Well, it took a few years, and it really came about as a result of the instigation of the Guitar Society. They asked me to do a composition for them, so I wrote a sonata for fifty bucks.
G.C.: And what was it called?
H.S.: Well, Eli Kassner called it the Sonata for Fifty Bucks.
G.C. At least the Guitar Society got its money’s worth.
H.S. True, but maybe I should have done fewer movements!
Eli and his wife Ann (who passed away in 2017) were a vital part of our music community and they will be deeply missed.