Malcolm Hamilton, 70; Harpsichordist, Orchestra Co-Founder, USC Teacher

Times Staff Writer

Malcolm Hamilton, one of Southern California's favorite and most accomplished harpsichordists, died Monday. He was 70.

Hamilton died of congestive heart failure as he was being taken to Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo, according to David Thomas, his partner of 43 years. They lived in Laguna Niguel.

Hamilton was born in Victoria, Canada, in 1932. He attended the University of Washington, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees, and USC, where he studied with Alice Ehlers and received his doctorate. He taught piano and harpsichord at USC for 30 years.

A stickler for scholarship, Hamilton nevertheless decried lifeless performances offered in the name of "authentic" historical period practice.

"I have sat through some harpsichord recitals that were more effective than sleeping pills," Hamilton told former Times music writer Daniel Cariaga. "I hate that. No one has yet been able to document to me that live performances in those days were as lifeless as some of those we hear today are."

No one ever accused the ebullient Hamilton of putting audiences to sleep in his recitals or his appearances with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which he helped found in 1969 and remained with for six years, performing under Neville Marriner and later Gerard Schwarz.

Hamilton's last concert appearance took place last month when he played the solo harpsichord part in Frank Martin's "Petite Symphonie Concertante" with the San Bernardino Symphony led by Carlo Ponti Jr., a former USC piano student of his.

Hamilton recorded on the RCA Victor, Delos, Canterbury, Oryx, Angel and Nonesuch labels and received two Grammy nominations.

Besides Thomas, he is survived by a sister, Heather Bowen of Vancouver, Canada.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. today at St. Margaret of Scotland Episcopal Church in San Juan Capistrano. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Malcolm Hamilton Memorial at the church, 31641 La Novia Ave., San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675.

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