Victoria concert honours distinguished violinist, teacher

What: A Tribute to Sydney Humphreys

Where: Alix Goolden Performance Hall

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When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Admission: By donation ($10 suggested) with proceeds to Sydney Humphreys Scholarship Fund and the Victoria Conservatory of Music


When Victoria violinist Sydney Humphreys died this year, tributes poured in from all over the world.

A gifted musician and teacher who will be honoured with a classical concert on Saturday, Humphreys had energy and creative spirit that took him far beyond music.

He was an early home-computer aficionado (he purchased a Sinclair ZX80 in 1980). He loved sewing so much, he studied with a professional tailor. He once restored an 1812 Clemente piano.

Chilliwack-born Humphreys, who died on Feb. 16 at the age of 88, played for the Aeolian String Quartet, the Bath Festival Orchestra (with Yehudi Menuhin) and the Purcell String Quartet. He was also concertmaster for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

As well, Humphreys was renowned as a teacher whose students went on to careers with leading ensembles worldwide. He was head of the Victoria Conservatory of Music’s string department for 30 years.

Saturday’s concert, organized by the conservatory, will feature performances by a string ensemble and soloists including Jonathan Crow, Jean McCrae and May Ling Kwok. Former Victoria Symphony Orchestra music director Peter McCoppin will conduct and act as master of ceremonies.

The performers are former colleagues and students. Crow, now concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, wrote of his mentor: “He would never just tell us how he would play a certain phrase, but instead helped us find our own voices, our own ideas, our own way of expressing ourselves.”

Simon MacDonald, concertmaster of the Regina Symphony Orchestra, wrote: “Without a doubt I owe Mr. Humphreys my career as a violinist. His legacy is visible in every major Canadian orchestra, and in the leadership roles of those orchestras.”

His widow, Mary Humphreys, met her future husband in 1960 at London’s Royal Academy of Music where she studied the piano. Sydney was teaching at the academy (which he had attended as a scholarship student) and playing with the Aeolian String Quartet.

“He was a Renaissance man, he did everything,” she said.

Mary recalled her husband became so interested in sewing, he would create stage-wear for when she conducted choir concerts. “He made my jackets and my dresses. I’ve still got them.”

She said during his years in England, Humphreys once played in an orchestra used on a Beatles track (Mary believes it might have been Yellow Submarine). The Beatles, who weren’t in attendance, later added the orchestral backing, which was recorded at Abbey Road Studios.

Mary said Humphreys was popular with students because he was open-minded and respected their opinions. As well, he was an early advocate of taking a holistic approach to playing music.

“It wasn’t just playing the violin as such. It was all the body, as a whole, right from the feet up,” she said.

Toward the end of his life, Humphreys, who died at Glengarry Hospital, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. He is survived by his son, Max, his daughter, Atarah, and his granddaughter, Siena.

Admission to Saturday’s one-hour concert is by donation (suggested minimum $10). The event is general seating.

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