Udo Kasemets | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Udo Kasemets

Udo Kasemets, composer, educator, writer (b at Tallinn, Estonia 16 Nov 1919, d 19 January 2014).

Udo Kasemets, composer, educator, writer (b at Tallinn, Estonia 16 Nov 1919, d 19 January 2014). Following musical studies in Estonia and Germany, Kasemets immigrated to Canada in 1951, where he established himself as a teacher, conductor and music critic in the Hamilton-Toronto area. In 1971, Mr. Kasemets joined the Faculty of the Department of Experimental Art at the Ontario College of Art where he taught until retiring in 1987, after which he was appointed Visiting Lecturer Emeritus. In 1991 he received an honorary doctorate from York University.

Since his arrival in Canada he has consistently promoted opportunities for persons as performers and audiences to become involved with musical sound and its creation in many ways. By 1957 he had founded the Toronto Bach Society and the next year initiated Musica Viva whose concerts juxtaposed little heard early European compositions of the Medieval/Renaissance periods with contemporary compositions. A champion of the avant-garde and of humanistic values, he organized Toronto's first new music series (1962) and then directed many multi-media events including the first Toronto Festival of Arts and Technology (1968), celebrations of John Cage and Marcel Duchamp, and Counterbomb Renga, a continent-wide chain of poetry and music writing against nuclear weaponry. Since 1960, as a composer he has largely adopted the aesthetic of American composer-philosopher John Cage. Using the I Ching, or, more recently, compositional structures derived from nature's numeric tunings (solar, seasonal, stellar, galactic systems), he explores the relationship between composer, performer, and listener - and the blurring of that relationship - as well as the perception of each in his musical and mixed-media works. Always initiating meditation, Kasemets in some of his creations, such as 4'33" Fractals (2000), achieves a disturbing and mysterious quality. Continuing in his retirement to create compositions and write thought-provoking articles on music, Kasemets has had his music become better known recently through the efforts of the pianist Stephen Clarke and the turntablist, Tobias C. van Veen.