Henri Temianka, 85, Founder of Calif. Chamber Orchestra, Dies : Music: The conductor, who was an accomplished violinist, gave 4,000 concerts. He was at the heart of the L.A. arts scene.


Henri Temianka, the conductor and founder of the California Chamber Symphony Orchestra, whose virtuosi concerts over five decades created an indelible landmark on the Los Angeles music scene, has died. He was 85.

His son Dan said Sunday that his father died Saturday of the complications of cancer. The conductor and his wife of nearly 50 years, Emmy, lived in a rambling Rancho Park home filled with objets d’ art .

From Temianka’s arrival in Southern California in the early 1940s to his final concert last year, the originator of the innovative series “Let’s Talk Music” was at the heart of the musical and literary scenes here.

Beyond the acclaimed of the musical world, his friends included Thomas Mann, Aldous Huxley and Norman Cousins. He became part of that extraordinary creative colony of emigres that also included Bertolt Brecht, Bruno Walter and Erich Korngold. With his fluency in five languages, Temianka was a moving force among those who had fled the Nazis before World War II.


An accomplished violinist, he was born in Scotland to Jewish-Polish parents. The family moved to Liverpool, England, and then to Holland when he was 5.

Temianka studied at the national conservatories of Berlin and Paris and at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia before gaining international recognition in 1935 by winning the first International Wieniawski Violin Competition in Warsaw. To earn his way through conservatories he played his violin in circuses and amid the potted palms of restaurants.

After the Wieniawski competition, Temianka appeared with the leading symphony orchestras in Europe and the Soviet Union, making his Carnegie Hall debut in 1945. His American debut had come at Town Hall in 1932.

In 1946, Temianka created the Paganini Quartet, whose first recordings for RCA Victor, Beethoven’s “Rasumofsky” Quartets, won several awards. He toured with that ensemble for many years and founded the California Chamber Symphony in 1960. For more than 25 years he led its subscription concerts in Royce Hall.

The indefatigable Temianka also directed the Croissants and Chamber Music series staged Sunday mornings on the patio of the Music Center before regular chamber concerts in the Mark Taper Forum.

“In Beethoven’s time,” he explained, “there were chamber concerts at 8 in the morning.”

Temianka also directed 10 seasons of summer chamber music at the Getty Museum in Malibu.

When not performing or conducting he was a documentarian, producing three music education films. One of them, “From Bach to Rock,” included interviews with such disparate artists as Ray Manzarek of the Doors and jazz drummer Shelley Manne. Another, “Meet the Master,” had Temianka eliciting comments from three musical giants of this century: Gregor Piatigorsky, Rudolf Serkin and Lauritz Melchoir.


He was the author of dozens of publications, among them several books, including “Facing the Music” (his autobiography) and “The Art of Violin Playing.”

When he was not giving the more than 4,000 concerts that made up his career, he was speaking to audiences about the music they had heard or were about to hear. Informed audiences, he said, were the best listeners.

And to support those lectures he was the impresario, raising funds to maintain his various groups.

It was the latter that seemed to take its greatest toll.

In 1990, he pulled back from fund raising, declaring that “I love playing, I love conducting . . . but I’m weary of raising money and being responsible.”

In June, 1991, he left the concert stage--but not the musical arena.

“For the first time . . . I’m going to spend some time looking backward instead of forward,” he told The Times.

As Temianka moved into retirement, the late music-radio personality Carl Princi was asked to assess the conductor’s impact on the Los Angeles music scene.


Princi thought for a moment and then said: “There is no one quite like Henri--he’s one of a kind.”

In addition to his son and his wife, he is survived by another son, David, and two grandchildren. The family asks that contributions in his name be made to the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica.

Services will be private.