John Roberts | The Canadian Encyclopedia


John Roberts

John (Peter Lee) Roberts. Administrator, cultural policy adviser, b Sydney, Australia, 21 Oct 1930, naturalized Canadian 1961; MA Canadian studies (Carleton) 1988.

Roberts, John

John (Peter Lee) Roberts. Administrator, cultural policy adviser, b Sydney, Australia, 21 Oct 1930, naturalized Canadian 1961; MA Canadian studies (Carleton) 1988. After studying piano at the New South Wales State Conservatory of Music in Sydney and voice in London he settled in Canada in 1955 and joined the CBC. He was a music producer 1955-7 at CBC Winnipeg, program organizer 1957-65 and supervisor of radio music 1965-71 at CBC Toronto, head of radio music and variety 1971-5 for the English Services Division, and special adviser in music and arts development 1976-7.

At the CBC Roberts redesigned or developed competitions for young composers, amateur choirs, and solo performers and advocated an increase of commissions and broadcast time for music by Canadian composers. His duties also related to music programming for the newly established FM radio network and the fostering of music documentaries. By establishing a recording division he formalized the English radio network's entry into the serious music recording field. He initiated the annual CBC Festivals in major cities across Canada and worked to establish the conditions under which a larger number of CBC broadcast recordings could be made available for purchase by the public. Through his initiative (sometimes in conjunction with his colleagues in TV music), Igor Stravinsky, Michael Tippett, Joan Sutherland, Pierre Boulez, Hermann Scherchen, and others visited Toronto for engagements with the CBC. At this time the CBC also embarked on co-operative ventures in partnership with other government agencies and departments, universities and musical organizations, developing new music programming practices (see Broadcasting).

As a CBC musical official Roberts sat on the jury of the International Beethoven Piano Competition (Brussels 1970) and was a delegate to the International Rostrum of Composers (Paris 1969, 1971, and in an individual capacity 1978). He was an adjudicator in the International rostrum of Young Interpreters (Bratislava 1978) and chairman of the International Vocal Competition (Rio de Janeiro 1979). He expanded the CBC's development of program exchanges with other broadcasting organizations.

Roberts served 1968-71 and 1975-7 as president of the Canadian Music Council. During his presidency the Canada Music Book (1970-6) began publication and Musicanada, using the name of the defunct house organ of the Canadian Music Centre, was established (1976). A system of music awards by the council was established, including the Canadian Music Council Medal, and its program of large-scale 'theme' conferences was expanded. He was president of the CMCentre 1971-3 and was executive director (title changed to director general) of the centre 1977-81. The Centrediscs record label was established during his term of office.

Roberts was the first chairman 1969-70 of the Radio and Commercial Recording Group of the International Music Centre (IMZ), Vienna, an organization of representatives from broadcasting, recording, film, operatic and other organizations. In 1973 he became the first Canadian to be elected to the executive of the International Music Council, which he served 1975-6 as vice-president and 1978-9 as president. When Canada was host in 1975 to the 16th IMC general assembly, Roberts was the chief planner of the concurrent first World Music Week. He was the organizer 1975-7 (and chairman 1975-83) of International Music Day (October 1), chairman of The Arts in Human Settlement (Habitat, 1976, Vancouver), and vice-president in 1976 of the International Institute for Music, Dance and Theatre in the Audio-Visual Media, Vienna. Roberts has been a member of many other boards, among them the Canadian Commission for Unesco, CCA, EMC, the Glenn Gould Foundation, founder and chairman, 1984-, JMC (YMC),president; president 1980-3, the Toronto International Festival (1984, co-founder), 1985 International Bach Piano Competition, NYO, and the Calgary Philharmonic O (1988). He served 1981-3 as a special adviser to the chairman of the CRTC, then as senior adviser, cultural development 1983-7 at the CBC head office in Ottawa. He was appointed dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Calgary in 1987. One of his actions there was to establish the record label Unical.

In addition to music recording, his special interests have been cultural policy and the relationship of the arts and the electronic media. A dedicated, articulate, and successful promoter of music, he has through his executive positions and organizational skills achieved important benefits for Canadian composers and performers at home and abroad. As a writer and peaker he has defended and advanced the causes of music in Canadian and international cultural policy.

In 1972 the CLComp honoured Roberts with a special award for service to Canadian music. He was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1981 and received the Cross of Honour for Science and the Arts from Austria in the same year.


'Communications media,' Aspects of Music in Canada/'Les moyens de diffusion,' Aspects de la musique au Canada

'Stravinsky and the CBC,' CMB, 4, Spring-Summer 1972

'Music on radio and the youth of tomorrow,' 50 Years of Music on Radio (Vienna 1973)/ CMB, 8, Spring-Summer 1974

'First World Music Week in Canada/Première Semaine mondiale de la musique au Canada,' CMB, 10, Spring-Summer 1975

'The golden age of achievement: four aspects of the CBC music programming 1950-1980,' MA thesis, Carleton University 1988

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