Born in Vienna, Austria |
In 1939, and at the age of 15, Eli escaped Vienna leaving behind his family, and his home. Eli would never see them again, as they would fall victims to the Nazis, including his sister who had schizophrenia and was euthanized. Eli was living in an American organized camp being trained to emigrate to then-Palestine. A Jewish emissary from then-Palestine rescued 100 young teenagers, choosing Eli because he could speak Hebrew and could act as an interpreter. The group made their way to Trieste, and subsequently to then-Palestine where Eli lived for three years on a Kibbutz for agricultural training. In 1951 he joined his brother Eddie, whom he hadn’t seen for almost 15 years, in Canada. Eddie had escaped to England, but was deported to Australia, before he made his way to Canada via joining the British Army. Once in Canada Eddie had built up a music publishing business (he bought the copyright to the popular song “Rock around the Clock”). After arriving, Eli lived in Toronto, but couldn’t speak English. His brother had connections, and set him up with his first job, as a sales person at the Whaley Royce, which was the largest music store in Toronto. While working there he practiced the guitar. Mostly self-taught, he soon became a respected instructor. In 1959 by invitation, he joined The Royal Conservatory, and went to Spain to study with Segovia. Following this he became a professor of classical guitar at the U of T’s Faculty of Music, where he still teaches today. Many notable students have studied under him including classical guitarist Liona Boyd and musician Jesse Cook. Eli went on to found the Guitar Society of Toronto. As a multi-dimensional artist, Eli also painted portraits and did filming and photography for the CBC’s “The Nature of Things” specializing in microphotography and microcinema of crystals and chemicals.
Toronto as Home
Eli wanted to be photographed inside of his home’s studio – surrounded by instruments. This is where he continues the Eli Kassner Guitar Academy, which at one point had 20 teachers (now it is just Eli). In 1962 he was teaching a student named Anne, who he fell in love with and subsequently married. For 40 years now, he has been living happily in this house with Anne.
Connection with the Past
In 1939 when he escaped persecution at the hands of the Nazis, the only thing he took was his steel string guitar – a guitar he no longer has. Eli wanted to hold his handmade Ramirez Classical guitar – something he calls “the grand piano of the guitar”. He purchased this one in Madrid, Spain and has had it for 30 years. The guitar has been a constant companion.