Former CEO of Calgary Opera Bob McPhee passes away after long battle with cancer

·2 min read
Former Calgary Opera CEO Bob McPhee has passed away. (Calgary Opera - image credit)
Former Calgary Opera CEO Bob McPhee has passed away. (Calgary Opera - image credit)

Legendary musical director and former CEO of the Calgary Opera Bob McPhee has passed away Saturday after a long battle with cancer, the Calgary Opera said Sunday morning. He was 65.

In a series of tweets, McPhee was described as a highly decorated leader in Canada's arts scene as well as a visionary with great aspirations.

He joined the opera company in 1998 and went on to change the landscape of the arts community for nearly two decades before retiring in 2017.

"As a company, we're grateful to have had his fearless, trailblazing spirit as part of our journey as long as we did, first as a leader and later as a supporter," tweeted Calgary Opera.

During his time at the opera house, the organization wrote on their website that McPhee commissioned six new works for the opera, the production of numerous Canadian premieres, the establishment of a young artist training program and the creation of Canada's first outdoor summer opera festival.

Jackie Pyke, the chair of the board of Calgary Opera, said the community was deeply saddened at the loss of McPhee.

"He was warm and friendly. Everybody loved him," she said. "You know, it was the opera, but it was so much more than that."

Arts community reacts

McPhee was appointed as a member of the Order of Canada in 2013 and was said to be a driving force on Alberta's arts scene.

Principal conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra and former Calgary Opera artistic director Bramwell Tovey worked with McPhee closely.

"He was one of those friends though, that wasn't afraid to look you in the eye and tell you you screwed up, or that you could do things better, or that something wasn't quite right," Tovey said. "Which actually made his friendship even more valuable."

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, where McPhee worked previously as the CEO, tweeted that his work contributed greatly to its rich history.

McPhee was an integral part of the community effort to get the Winspear Centre built when he was CEO of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in the 1990s.

Current Edmonton Symphony Orchestra CEO Annemarie Petrov says the building is only part of her predecessor's legacy.

"What he's done for opera, what he's done for art in Canada, for opera in Canada, for music in Canada is — I don't know that I'll ever see that again in my lifetime," Petrov said.

Petrov said McPhee always had a joke ready and "a reason to help make everybody around him laugh."

Monica Sloan, past chair and longtime board member in Calgary, said McPhee was a trustworthy risk taker.

"Well, I guess you could say we punched above our weight in the musical world at many regards because of Bob," Sloan said.

The Calgary Opera is planning to commemorate McPhee's memory in a meaningful way.