Canadian composer Talivaldis Kenins dies at 88

Pioneering Canadian composer Talivaldis Kenins — known for masterful works such as his Second Piano Quartet, Concerto for 14 Instruments and Symphony No. 4 for percussion and ensemble — has died at 88.

Pioneering Canadian composer Talivaldis Kenins — known for masterful works such as his Second Piano Quartet,Concerto for 14 Instruments and Symphony No. 4 for percussion and ensemble — has died at 88.

Kenins, a professor emeritus of the University of Toronto's faculty of music, died in Toronto on Sunday, according to a release from the Canadian Music Centre.

Kenins composed eight symphonies, twelve concertos, three cantatas, an oratorio and many choral works and chamber pieces.

"The clarity of his musical expression and consistency of his craft have resulted in Talivaldis Kenins becoming one of our most commissioned and performed composers," the CMC said in a statement.

Kenins was known for bringing a central European sensibility to Canadian music at a time when it was British-centric, according to Canadian musicologist Paul Rapoport.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, Kenins' style mixed "the romanticism of his nature and the neoclassicism of his French training," but by the 1960s it had evolved to something "more sophisticated," according to the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.

His works include Sinfonia Ad Fugam, which reflects his interest in percussion and Beatae Voces Tenebrae, a meditation on death and eternity. His Symphony No. 7 is set to texts from his father's poetry.

A childhood in Latvia

Kenins was born into a cultured family in Liepaja, Latvia, in 1919. His father was a lawyer, a poet and minister of education and justice, while his mother was a writer and journalist.

He started studying piano at age five and wrote his first compositions at eight.

He continued his piano studies in France while preparing at the Lycée Champollion in Grenoble for a diplomatic career.

He returned to Riga from 1940 to 1944 to study piano and composition at the State Conservatory with Joseph Wihtol.

Kenins was forced from Latvia by the Soviet occupation following the Second World War and returned to France, where he continued studying at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Paris.

As a student, he supported himself by accompanying vocalists and playing in dance bands and theatrical productions.

He graduated in 1950 with three awards for composition and won a scholarship for postgraduate work from the UNESCO International Music Council.

That same year, Herman Scherchen conducted his Septet at the Darmstadt New Music Festival.

Active in Canadian music circles

He married a fellow Latvian, Valda Dreimane, and the couple moved to Canada in 1951. Kenins became a naturalized Canadian in 1956.

He became organist and music director at St. Andrews Latvian Lutheran Church in Toronto and joined the faculty of music at the University of Toronto in 1952.

Kenins taught composition and contrapuntal techniques, while continuing to compose and remain active in professional musical circles. He founded the Latvian Concert Association of Toronto in 1959 and was an active member of the Canadian League of Composers.

Kenins was appointed full professor in 1973 and taught composers such as Edward Laufer, Walter Kemp, Bruce Mather, Imant Raminsh, Arthur Ozolins, Tomas Dusatko, James Rolfe and Ronald Smith.

A four-CD set devoted to Kenins' music was released by RCI in 1989 as part of its anthology of Canadian music and a Centrediscs recording from 2003 featured him as part of the Canadian Composers Portraits series.

Ingrida Zemzare published a biography of Kenins in Latvian and Rapoport is currently working on an English-language book on him.

A funeral will be held at St. Andrew's Latvian Lutheran Church in Toronto on Friday.