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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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Who directed 13 performances of The Mikado as a prisoner in a civilian internment camp during the First World War?

Answer Ernest MacMillan, whose remarkable career would include dean of the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music and later conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

On March 15, 1827, King's College - the precursor to the University of Toronto - was granted its royal charter by King George IV. Throughout 2002, U of T celebrated 175 years of Great Minds. As part of the celebration, the U of T website featured excerpts from The University of Toronto: A History, written by Martin Friedland, University Professor and Professor Emeritus of Law at U of T.

Ernest MacMillan would have a remarkable career as dean of the music faculty until 1952, when he was succeeded by Boyd Neel. He would also be the permanent conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for twenty-five years as well as of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir for fifteen.

He had been a child prodigy; he had played the organ at Massey Hall at the age of 10. Before the war, he had been assistant organist at Convocation Hall while a history student at the University. In the summer of 1914, he had gone to the Wagner festival in Bayreuth, Germany, but the outbreak of war forced him to spend the next four years in a civilian internment camp.

MacMillan's active musical lifeincluded thirteen performances of The Mikado, the music of which had to be reconstructed from memory .

His biographer, Ezra Schabas, later the principal of the conservatory, has described MacMillan's active musical life in the 4,000-man prison camp, Ruhleben, which included thirteen performances of The Mikado, the music of which had to be reconstructed from memory. MacMillan also received an earned Oxford doctorate for the secular oratorio he composed in the camp - England: An Ode, based on a Swinburne poem. The work was performed by the Mendelssohn Choir at Massey Hall in 1921.

As principal of the conservatory, MacMillan organized a choir to sing with the conservatory orchestra. At the inaugural concert in 1928, he conducted Mozart's Requiem. He also introduced opera at the conservatory: Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at the Regent Theatre in 1928 and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas the following year at Hart House Theatre.

Ernest MacMillan
Ernest MacMillan, in 1926, shortly after his appointment as dean of the faculty of music and head of the Toronto Conservatory of Music.

Opera, however, would be a victim of the depression. In 1929, he organized a rival to the Hart House String Quartet, the Conservatory String Quartet, which included the later Toronto Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Eli Spivak. It will be recalled that during his time in Toronto before the war, the psychiatrist Ernest Jones had complained to Sigmund Freud, "Music is rare here." If he had remained in Toronto, what would he have said now?

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