Canadian Composers Interview Series with Imant Raminsh

In our new blog series, Canadian Composers Interview with ACNMP board member and organist Matthew Boutda, we endeavour to illuminate the artistic process of select working composers from across Canada.

Born in 1943 in Ventspils, Latvia, Imant Raminsh came to Canada in 1948. After completing an ARCT diploma in violin at the Royal Conservatory of Toronto and a Bachelor of Music programme at the University of Toronto, he spent two years at the Akademie “Mozarteum” in Salzburg, Austria, studying composition, violin and conducting, and playing in the professional Camerata Academica orchestra.

He is the founding conductor of the Prince George Symphony, the Youth Symphony of the Okanagan, NOVA Children’s Choir, and AURA Chamber Choir. His compositions have been performed on six continents by such ensembles as the Vancouver, Edmonton, Hamilton, Toronto, Okanagan, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick Symphonies, the Vancouver Chamber Choir, the Tafelmusik Baroque Chamber Choir, the Tokyo Philharmonic Chamber Choir, the Stockholm Chamber Choir, the Finnish Radio Chamber Choir, Ave Sol (Latvian Chamber Choir), and many others. His music has been heard in such world-renowned halls as Carnegie Hall (New York), Tchaikovsky Hall (Moscow), Westminster Abbey, and Notre Dame (Paris).

Imant has also pursued studies in geology and biology, and worked for many summers as a naturalist/interpreter in BC provincial parks. He and his wife, Becky, an architectural designer, poet, and collaborator on some of his choral works, have a lovely bright daughter, Lisa Alexandra Soleil.

He is an officer in the Order of the Three Stars of the Republic of Latvia.

Matthew: Would you mind sharing a few words about your personal and musical background?

Imant: Musically, my first instrument is violin. I have had practice on piano.  My mother was a pianist. She graduated in the 1930s and had a career as a concert pianist when the war broke out.  Music was always a part of our family and all of our siblings studied piano to some degree.  I happened to drift off to the strings and -probably because of my cultural background as a Latvian for whom folk song was very strong- the majority of my works are for solo voice or choir.

Matthew:  What inspired you to composition?

Imant: Music has always been an internal thing for me!  The interest to try and create something original has always been there. I don’t know if there has been something specific, but my earliest compositions are from the age of 5 and, in fact, I still have copies of them. I had always been fascinated by ledger lines, with extensions like firetrucks. I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t doodling or writing. In my late high school years and university years, I started to take myself a little more seriously.  As for learning to compose, largely I have been self-taught. Over the years I have had students come to me because they wanted to learn composition. I have always said to them that composition can be learned but cannot be taught.  Students can be exposed to the variety of techniques, but in terms of the art itself, it is really something that cannot be taught. I have certainly gained much from composers who gave me good advice and I did study composition in Salzburg, but the actual process is very individual within oneself.

Matthew:  What advice do you have for beginners learning how to compose?

Imant:  Just compose. Just do it. Don’t wait for inspiration. You could solicit help from people that you know that are known as composers, but just do it. Young students are fascinated by the romance of composers -how do you get to be a Beethoven or a Bach? But you just do it. You won’t become a Bach or Beethoven, but become who you are with your own voice. What made them great? A lot of hard work. Even Bach talked about the hours he put into developing his craft. What is failure? What is success? Only the one writing can say what he or she has set out to do. Don’t put all your hopes on other people’s evaluation of your work. Just do it.

Matthew: What makes your work different from others?

Imant:  I think you would have to be the one to decide that. Every composer’s work is unique to that composer to some degree. Composers in their early stages write works inspired by great composers. If you think of the great writers, they all still use the same lexicons and just created works which reflect their ideas. For me to judge my work from the point of view of others is difficult.

Matthew: What is your favourite work that you have written?

Imant:  That is kind of like trying to choose what is your favourite child.  It is unfair to ask, but I do have some favourite . . . Songs of the Lights, my opera ‘The Nightingale’.

A number of works by Imant have been selected for inclusion in our Contemporary Showcase Syllabus, including one of his favourites: Songs of the Lights.  Click here to listen to the work for choir.