'He loved the audiences': Longtime Regina Symphony Orchestra conductor Victor Sawa dies

Victor Sawa, the longtime conductor of the Regina Symphony Orchestra, celebrated for his dedication to wiping the image of elitism from classical music, has died.

He died peacefully at his home on Wednesday, the orchestra posted on social media, following a long bout with illness.

Sawa was with the orchestra from 1997 to 2016 and was "a true Regina icon," the orchestra said.

"If I have a pet peeve, it's snobbery," Sawa told CBC in 2016, at the end of his tenure as the orchestra's maestro.

To Christian Robinson, the orchestra's concert master, Sawa was first a mentor and then a friend. He knew Sawa him for more than 20 years. When he heard that quote, he laughed.

"That totally captures his spirit in a lot of ways," Robinson said — that classical music isn't "some extremely abstract highfalutin thing, that if you haven't devoted your entire life to studying, it's not for you."

"He really, really did want everyone to experience the love and excitement that he had, himself, for this music and for this art form."

Sawa last conducted in January 2023 with the Golden Age of Hollywood concert. At the time, he told the host of CBC's Saskatchewan Weekend, Shauna Powers, it was great to return to the stage.

He spoke about music as excitedly as a child discovering something new for the first time.

"Your enthusiasm has brought your whole family along on this musical journey, hasn't it?" Powers asked.

"Yeah, it's great. Even the kids, everybody. So, I hope to tonight, too," he said.

He was also known for introducing Symphony Under the Sky, Mozart in the Meadow and the annual RSO Goes to the Oscars Pops concert.

Elizabeth Raum played principal oboe in the orchstra when Sawa was the conductor and recalled the first Mozart in the Meadow as a great success.

She also remembers his on-stage charisma.

"He never came out and just conducted, he came out and addressed the audience," she said.

Victor Sawa says he donates hundreds of dollars that don't make it into his tax filings.
Sawa introduced orchestral concerts including Symphony Under the Sky and the annual RSO Goes the Oscars Pops to Regina. (CBC)

Raum said Sawa had the ability to start the musicians in co-ordination, a skill she says is vital for a conductor.

Both Raum and Robinson, and other musicians who knew him, are mourning the loss.

"Not just a wonderful musician — although he was certainly that — he had just an enormous heart; and he was a wonderful guy, he was just a wonderful human being," Robinson said.

"He loved this place and he loved the people and he loved the audiences and he'll just be terribly missed."