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Obituary: Classical guitarist Alexander Dunn built UVic's renowned guitar program

Classical guitarist Alexander Dunn, who started in the University of Victoria’s faculty of music in 1991, died unexpectedly Wednesday morning at the age of 68.
Classical guitarist and University of Victoria professor Alexander Dunn died unexpectedly Wednesday morning at the age of 68. HANDOUT

When classical guitarist Alexander Dunn moved to Victoria in 1990, he was a well-decorated performer and instructor with a PhD in Musicology from the University of California.

He continued to accrue designations and awards in the decades that followed, but Dunn remained devoted to his students at the University of Victoria and beyond. Dunn, who started in the University of Victoria’s faculty of music in 1991, died unexpectedly Wednesday morning at the age of 68. He leaves behind a robust legacy at UVic, which included building the school’s guitar program into one of the best in the country.

“This is a loss that will be deeply felt by members of our school and the wider music community,” Alexis Luko, director of UVic’s school of music, said in a statement.

In his early teens, Dunn began playing in duos and groups with his cousin, guitarist Robert Ward, around their native San Diego. Though their backgrounds paralleled each other, Ward recalled during an interview with the Times Colonist on Friday that his cousin had gifts that were almost immeasurable. “Even in high school, he was singled out as having a really unique talent,” Ward recalled.

Ward said he and Dunn performed together in Boston on April 20, and the news of his sudden passing still doesn’t add up. Dunn was fine health and good spirits, and played magnificently. “It was a brilliant performance,” Ward said. “We had a great time playing what was a very difficult program.”

Dunn had a wide range of expertise — his doctoral dissertation was on the theorbo, a member of the lute family of instruments — and remained active as a performer locally, nationally, and internationally. He gave concerts on classical guitar all over the world, including South America, Europe, China, Japan, and Cuba.

He was a protégé of flamenco guitar great Pepe Romero, with whom Dunn toured the U.S. as a fill-in member of the Spaniard’s family band, Los Romeros. “His sight reading and analytical skills are phenomenal,” Romero, 80, said in a post on Dunn’s official website.

“One need only to bring up his name in the guitar world, and you will sense immediately the respect he commands.”

Dunn hosted several fundraising concerts by Romero in Victoria, and was instrumental in arranging for his former instructor and mentor to receive an honorary doctorate from UVic. Romero regards Dunn as one of the finest teachers he has encountered.

“When I think of Alex, I think of a musician’s musician — a man who commands a vast knowledge of the repertoire,” Romero wrote. “He seems to know more about lute and early music than most specialists.”

Despite his busy performance schedule, education was a constant in Dunn’s life. He was president and artistic director of the Victoria Guitar Society, where he also taught as a sessional instructor. Dunn held similar posts at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, and the University of California, Irvine, at the time of his death.

Teaching was never far from his mind. “It’s always nice to come back here after being somewhere crazy,” Dunn said, during a 1999 interview with the Times Colonist. “It’s tough to juggle everything. When I travel, I just have to put the [Victoria] students on hold and pay them attention when I get back.”

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