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Maureen Katherine Stewart Forrester (1930-2010) was an internationally acclaimed Canadian contralto and an advocate for the arts. Forrester was born on July 25, 1930 in Montreal, Quebec. She left school at age 13 to work as a secretary, using her earnings to finance vocal lessons with Sally Martin, Frank Rowe, and Bernard Diamant. Forrester made her professional debut with the Montreal Elgar Choir in December 1951. In 1957 Forrester married violinist Eugene Kash, with whom she had five children. The couple divorced in 1974. On June 16, 2010, Forrester died in Toronto.
Throughout her illustrious career Forrester maintained a rigorous schedule, performing as many as 120 concerts a year in countries around the world. She was often accompanied by her long-time collaborator, pianist John Newmark. Celebrated for her interpretations of Mahler, Brahms, Schumann, and Strauss, Forrester’s repertoire also included works by Canadian composers. Over the course of her career Forrester performed with the world’s major orchestras and choirs, including: New York City Opera, Metropolitan Opera, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Paris’ Salle Gaveau, New York Philharmonic, the Casals Festival, the National Film Board, American Opera Society, Canadian Opera Company, San Diego Opera, Edmonton Opera, Opéra de Montréal, and San Francisco Opera.
Forrester’s dedication to music went beyond performing. She often gave voice lessons and served in administrative roles. In the mid-1960s Forrester began to teach music classes: master classes at the Royal Conservatory of Music, 1964-1966; the Philadelphia Music Academy, 1966-71; the University of Toronto, 1971-72; and the University of Alberta, 1985. Additionally, Forrester regularly taught classes while on tour. Between 1973 and 1979, Forrester served on the board for the National Arts Centre. In 1975, she was the founding director of the COMUS Music Theatre Foundation, a company dedicated to the promotion of new musical theatre works and talent. From 1983 to 1988, Forrester served as Chair of Canada Council for the Arts and in 1986, she was named honourary president of the International Year of Canadian Music. From 1986 to 1990 Maureen Forrester served as Chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University. In 1994, Laurier named its new musical performance facility the Maureen Forrester Recital Hall.
In recognition of her talent and service to the arts Forrester received numerous honours including: the Companion of the Order of Canada in 1967; the 1971 Molson Prize; the Canadian Music Council Medal in 1983; the Order of Ontario in 1990; the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award (Lifetime Artist Achievement) in 1995; L’Ordre national du Québec in 2003. In 1990 Forrester was inducted in to the Juno Hall of Fame and in 2000 she received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. Additionally, Forrester received thirty honorary degrees.