Jacob Siskind

Jacob (Kohos) Siskind. Critic, broadcaster, b Montreal 9 Jun 1928, d Ottawa 17 Sep 2010. His first piano teachers included Rose Goldblatt and, 1939-44, Alfred La Liberté. At McGill University 1944-9 he studied mathematics, physics, and music.

Siskind, Jacob

Jacob (Kohos) Siskind. Critic, broadcaster, b Montreal 9 Jun 1928, d Ottawa 17 Sep 2010. His first piano teachers included Rose Goldblatt and, 1939-44, Alfred La Liberté. At McGill University 1944-9 he studied mathematics, physics, and music. Among his teachers were Helmut Blume (piano), Maitland Farmer and Kenneth Meek (organ), and Rachel Gilbert (violin). Other teachers included Yvonne Hubert (piano) at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal and privately. He took some private lessons with Benno Moiseiwitsch (piano) in 1953.

Siskind began writing music criticism for the McGill Daily in 1945 and was a reviewer for the Montreal Standard from 1949 until that weekly's demise in 1951. He taught piano privately 1950-65 and also, during those years and later, coached many young performers in preparation for competitions. He returned to McGill University for courses 1953-6 in psychology and English, freelancing meanwhile for the Montreal Star and writing fiction under pseudonyms for US pulp magazines. In 1956 he joined the Montreal Star as theatre editor, and in 1965 he became entertainment editor of the Montreal Gazette. In 1966 he was co-host with Uriel Luft of CTV's weekly show "Arts Calendar and Review." In 1971 he was appointed critic of music, drama, and ballet for the Gazette, and after 1974 he wrote exclusively on music and ballet. He was entertainment editor and senior critic for the short-lived Ottawa Today (1977-8) and on its demise moved to the Ottawa Journal where he was music, drama and dance critic. When the Journal closed in 1980, he joined the Ottawa Citizen as music and dance critic, remaining there until his retirement in June 1993.

Siskind was heard often as a commentator on the CBC programs "Sights and Sounds" (local, Montreal) and the national network's "New Records" and "Arts National." Between 1973 and 1980 he was both writer and commentator for several recorded-music series produced for the CBC with Frances Wainwright, including "Great Keyboard Performances of the 20th Century," "Musically Speaking," and "The Art of the Interpreter." In 1982 he prepared and hosted a 15-program radio series on the piano concertos of Mozart with Menahem Pressler of the Beaux Arts Trio as his guest. In 1988 he was musical and script advisor for the two-hour independently produced documentary, "Ida Haendel: A Voyage of Music" on the life and career of violinist Ida Haendel, aired on CBC TV's "Adrienne Clarkson's Summer Festival" in 1988.

A candid writer and engaging speaker, Siskind expressed views that were at once informed and subjective and often aroused lively discussion. He wrote with unbounded enthusiasm of performers whose work he enjoyed, pianists in particular. Although he showed no great affection for contemporary music, he was generally sympathetic to its performers for their efforts. His appraisal of the music itself tended towards impatience and scepticism. His contributions to the field of music criticism thus ranged from persuasive supportiveness to outright polemic.

In retirement, Siskind continued to encourage young musicians, supporting such charities as Ottawa's Young String Performers Foundation.


Further Reading

  • Jacob Siskind, "Music in Montreal," Canadian Annual Review, ed John Saywell (Toronto 1960)

    Reviews, The Canadian Music Book, 1 and 2, Spring-Summer 1970, Spring-Summer 1971

    "The role of recordings," The Canadian Music Book, 11/12, (Autumn-Winter 1975, Spring-Summer 1976

    Mazey, Steven. "'A consummate pro': Siskind was one of Canada's leading music critics," The Ottawa Citizen, 21 Sep 2010