“Assessing the legacy of a musician is tricky any day, but particularly when celebrating the person’s birth centenary, and especially when he was my teacher, colleague and then, friend, over several decades. It’s even more daunting when that person is the prolific composer, pianist, vocal coach, choral conductor, music journalist and educator, and mentor to several generations of Toronto musicians, Udo Kasemets (1919-2014).
Kasemets considered himself a perennial outsider. He also, however, possessed the entrepreneurial chops to stretch the definition of what it meant to be a composer – and somehow to survive doing just that throughout his fascinating, multifaceted and prolific career. For most of his life he was, as he put it, “always trying to get things going.”
The outlines of his biography may provide a few clues to this enigmatic man. Born into a musical Estonian family (his father Anton Kasemets was an organist, influential choral conductor, composer and musicologist), he was educated in Tallinn and, after WWII, in Germany. In 1951 Kasemets immigrated to Canada. He made Hamilton and then Toronto the home where his musical career grew; during his long life he mentored several generations of musicians, me included…”