Edward Cansino dies at 63; composer and conductor led eclectic ensemble I Cantori

Edward Cansino, a composer and conductor who led the eclectic vocal and instrumental ensemble I Cantori, has died. He was 63.

Cansino died of cancer Sunday at his home in Altadena, said his wife, Gina Di Massa Cansino.

I Cantori (Italian for “the singers”) provided a showcase for early music, which generally includes compositions covering the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods until 1750, but didn’t stop there.

“Our philosophy was to explore the relationship between new music and old music,” said Jeannine Wagner, director of the Roger Wagner Ensemble who founded I Cantori with Cansino in 1975.


An example of I Cantori’s musical mix was the 1995 CD “A Choir of Angels” with selections from four years’ of concerts beginning in the late 1980s that were recorded in the rotunda at Los Angeles City Hall. Included were some of the earliest compositions written in the Western Hemisphere as well as contemporary works written in Los Angeles.

“The City Hall concerts were a smorgasbord of all the cultures that come and live here,” Cansino told The Times in 1995. “We made a tremendous effort to do music by every possible ethnic group from all sorts of periods.”

Cansino was particularly interested in performing Baroque Mexican and Latin American music “given my own Spanish background, our city and the Western Hemisphere,” he said in 1986.

Edward M. Cansino III was born in Hollywood on Oct. 20, 1947, the first child of Edward Cansino Jr. and Teresa Eliades Cansino. His grandfather was the Spanish classical dancer Eduardo Cansino and his aunt was actress Rita Hayworth. His father also acted in theater, movies and early television in the 1940s and ‘50s.


Cansino wanted to be an artist “but had a musical awakening in high school” after joining a school choir, his wife said. He studied composition at Los Angeles City College and UCLA, where he met famed chorale director Roger Wagner. He left UCLA in the early 1970s without graduating.

Cansino and Jeannine Wagner formed I Cantori after meeting at UCLA and singing in the Los Angeles Master Chorale conducted by her father.

I Cantori’s performances over the years included a 12th century opera, a new score to the 1928 silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc” and a multimedia production of a Gore Vidal play, “Visit to a Small Planet.”

Cansino was a versatile composer, having completed operas, a ballet with narration for children, and vocal and instrumental pieces for I Cantori. He also taught at Occidental College during the 1990s.


“He always had the performers in mind and what their strengths would be. It certainly didn’t sound like the guy next store would have written it,” Jeannine Wagner said.

The Pasadena Conservatory of Music held a musical tribute to Cansino’s work earlier this month, including his compositions dating to 1976. He could not attend but was able to watch a tape of it, said his wife, who sang in many of Cansino’s concerts with I Cantori and other groups.

Wagner said she was astonished when she attended the tribute and “heard the range of music he created.”

“Some of it is atonal, but not all of it. A lot of it has whimsy, kind of like Ed. It’s difficult, kind of like Ed, " she said with a laugh. “He was a challenging musician who always went for excellence.”


In addition to his wife, Cansino is survived by a daughter, Arianne Dawson Cansino, from his first marriage to Rayne Dawson; brothers Raoul of Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., and Raymond of Post Falls, Idaho; and his mother, Teresa, also of Post Falls.