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Montreal composer Otto Joachim dies

Otto Joachim, a Montreal-based composer, teacher and musician who played first violin with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, died Friday. He was 99.

Otto Joachim, a Montreal-based composer, teacher and musician who played first violin with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, died Friday. He was 99.

He died of heart failure at Jewish General Hospital.

Joachim was an influential teacher of viola, violin and chamber music at the McGill Conservatory and at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal.

He also founded the Montreal String Quartet, which played and recorded with Glenn Gould, and is noted for its recordings of the pianist's String Quartet and Brahms's Piano Quintet.

Joachim's own contemporary classical compositions were avant-garde and often involved experimentation with electroacoustic instrumentation, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia of Music. Fascinated with gadgetry and technologically adept, he operated an electronic studio where he created works such as Katimavik, a four-track tape commissioned by the Canadian Pavilion at Expo 67.

Joachim used atonal techniques and incorporated elements of chance in his compositions, including Stimulus à Goad in 1973 and Uraufführung, for 13 instruments and live electroacoustic sound, in 1977.

His work was played by the Montreal, Toronto, Boston and Chicago symphonies and he continued composing well into the 1990s.

In 1994, he wrote Stecheldraht, for chamber orchestra and narrator, which deals with the killing of Jewish children in Second World War concentration camps. The stories were drawn from his own conversations with survivors.

His String Quartet, which premiered in 1997, incorporates sounds of Korea drawn from experiences he had in the country during a tour with the Jeunesses Musicales World Orchestra, which he coached.

Born in Germany, Joachim fled Nazi-led Germany in the 1930s and spent 15 years in Singapore and Shanghai before arriving in Montreal in 1949. He was supposed to go on to Brazil, but had a one-month visa to stay in Canada.

He overstayed it, working in an electronics shop while waiting to join the Montreal Musicians' Guild.

He joined the MSO, and rose to prominence within the orchestra under the leadership of Zubin Mehta, who promoted him to first violin. 

He also had an interest in early instruments, founding the Montreal Consort of Ancient Instruments, and in original instruments that he created himself

Joachim received the Prix de musique Calixa-Lavallée from La Société St-Jean-Baptiste in 1990 and was named to the order of Quebec in 1993.  Concordia University has named both a composer's residency and a commission for electronic music after him.