Com­poser re­vi­tal­ized mu­sic in Canada

His ac­tiv­i­ties were as var­ied as those of any mu­si­cian in the world

Montreal Gazette - - Obituaries - ARTHUR KAP­TAI­NIS Gazette Mu­sic Critic akap­tai­nis@sym­pa­tico.ca

Otto Joachim – com­poser, vi­o­list, teacher, elec­tronic mu­sic pi­o­neer, in­stru­ment builder, painter and one of the sharpest wits in mu­si­cal Mon­treal – died late Fri­day at the Jewish Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, less than three months short of his 100th birth­day.

His son Davis Joachim said the cause was heart fail­ure.

One of scores of refugees from Nazi Ger­many who re­vi­tal­ized mu­sic in Canada, this na­tive of Düs­sel­dorf, Ger­many, ar­rived in Mon­treal in 1949 af­ter work­ing for more than 15 years as a mu­si­cian in Singapore and Shang­hai, in­clud­ing a stint at the Raf­fles Ho­tel in the for­mer city.

Out­stay­ing his Cana­dian vis­i­tor visa – his ul­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion was sup­posed to be Brazil – Joachim worked at an elec­tron­ics shop while wait­ing out the manda­tory year of res­i­dence then re­quired by the Mon­treal Mu­si­cians’ Guild. His in­ter­est in gad­getry never left him. It was not un­usual in the 21st cen­tury to find a dis­as­sem­bled com­puter on the din­ing ta­ble of his home in Côte St. Luc.

When he fi­nally se­cured a sec­tion po­si­tion in the Mon­treal Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, Joachim found the er- ratic stan­dards dif­fi­cult to abide.

“The MSO con­sisted of old and young, but few young ones and quite a few tol­er­ated ones,” he re­called last Oc­to­ber, a few days be­fore his 99th birth­day.

“The con­duc­tor was not strong enough to kick them out.”

As prin­ci­pal vi­ola un­der the en­er­getic young mu­sic di­rec­tor Zu­bin Me­hta, how­ever, Joachim be­came one of the pil­lars of the or­ches­tra, along with his cel­list brother, the late Wal­ter Joachim.

He also founded (with Wal­ter and the vi­o­lin­ists Hy­man Bress and Mil­dred Good­man) the Mon­treal String Quar­tet, which per­formed con­tem­po­rary mu­sic (in­clud­ing Joachim’s own First String Quar­tet) as well as stan­dard reper­toire. It made a no­table record­ing of Glenn Gould’s String Quar­tet and, with Gould, Brahms’s Pi­ano Quin­tet.

Joachim’s ac­tiv­i­ties in the 1950s and 1960s were as var­ied as those of any mu­si­cian in the world. As a com­poser, he was un­abashedly atonal and avant-garde, em­ploy­ing se­ri­al­ism and ex­ploit­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of chance in mu­sic. His per­sonal elec­tronic mu­sic stu­dio was the third in Canada.

Yet in the 1950s Joachim also founded the Mon­treal Con­sort of An­cient In­stru­ments, years be­fore early mu­sic was in vogue. Many of the in­stru­ments in this en­sem­ble, in­clud­ing or­gans, were of his own man­u­fac­ture. Like an­other cen­tral Euro­pean Jewish com­poser ex­iled by pol­i­tics, Arnold Schoen­berg, Joachim also cul­ti­vated a pas­time as a painter of ex­pres­sion­is­tic can­vases.

Joachim taught cham­ber mu­sic at both McGill Uni­ver­sity and the Mon­treal Con­ser­va­toire, adding no­to­ri­ously earthy French to his reper­toire of lan­guages.

As a com­poser, he had a no­table suc­cess with Ka­ti­mavik, a work on four-track tape com­mis­sioned by the Cana­dian Pavil­ion at Expo 67.

Around then also he trav­elled to New York for a per­for­mance of his Con­trastes. There he met El­liott Carter, born in 1908 and in re­cent years Joachim’s only elder among liv­ing com­posers of note.

Un­like Carter, Joachim did not mel­low much in his 80s and 90s. In Stachel­draht (Barbed Wire), a 1993 com­mis­sion by the So­ciété de musique con­tem­po­raine du Québec, Joachim con­fronted the Holo­caust in a stark style. His Meta­mor­phoses of 1994, a firmly atonal but brac­ingly clear es­say for or­ches­tra, was pre­mièred by the Orchestre Métropoli­tain un­der Joseph Rescigno and re­vived in 2006 by the MSO un­der Jac­ques Lacombe.

“It’s about 13 min­utes,” the com­poser said about Meta­mor­phoses, “which is long enough for any piece.

“Not that I would say Mahler and Bruck­ner were wrong to write longer pieces. That was their right. I am only a new­comer.”

In re­cent years, his fail­ing eye­sight re­stricted his com­po­si­tion, but not his mu­sic ap­pre­ci­a­tion. Joachim was an avid lis­tener to the ra­dio and record­ings, show­ing a spe­cial in­ter­est last year in the mu­sic of Bach.

“He is not su­per­hu­man: He pro­duced 20 chil­dren He’s pretty hu­man, no? Or he was su­per­hu­man to do that?”

Fu­neral ar­range­ments were not fi­nal­ized at press time.

the Gazette

Otto Joachim, seen the week of his 99th birth­day in his home in Côte St. Luc, was prin­ci­pal vi­ola in the Mon­treal Sym­phony Or­ches­tra. He also founded the Mon­treal String Quar­tet.

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