28 January 2004
Professor Emeritus of Music Joaquin Nin-Culmell, an internationally known concert pianist and composer, died Jan. 14 at a Berkeley nursing home. He was 95. Nin-Culmell suffered a heart attack on Christmas night, according to his niece, Gayle Nin Rosenkrantz of San Francisco, and did not recover.
Rosenkrantz recalled that her uncle’s Cuban mother and Spanish father, both musicians, married in Cuba but lived in Europe. When Nin-Culmell’s mother, singer Rosa Culmell, took him to Europe when he was 15, after he’d been in New York for nine years, he dropped out of high school and immersed himself in music, said Rosenkrantz.
Nin-Culmell attended the Schola Cantorum and the Paris Conservatory, receiving a first prize in music composition there in 1934. He also studied in the early 1930s with Manuel de Falla, Spain’s foremost composer.
The brother of writer Anais Nin, he contributed prefaces to her four-volume Early Diaries.
Nin-Culmell moved to the United States in 1939. He taught at Middlebury College in Vermont for two years before joining the music department of Williams College in Massachusetts. He stayed at Williams for a decade before coming to Berkeley.
Nin-Culmell joined the Berkeley faculty in 1950. In addition to academic duties, he conducted the UC Symphony Orchestra and appeared as a pianist with numerous Bay Area musical groups. He performed as soloist in his own Concerto in C Major with the San Francisco Symphony in 1952 and was the symphony’s guest conductor in March 1953.
Typical early compositions were variations on Cuban or Catalonian folk songs. As he matured, his musical themes shifted from a regional flavor to the religious. He was commissioned by France to write music for the organ. St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco commissioned Nin-Culmell to compose music for its dedication Mass in 1971.
His career took him to concerts in France, Italy, England, Switz-erland, Cuba, Spain, and Denmark.
After Nin-Culmell’s retirement in 1974, he continued to compose and play music and mentored many young pianists in the area, “essentially giving them free lessons,” says longtime friend Ed Dugger, an emeritus professor of music in the College of Letters and Science.
Survivors include his niece; a nephew, Charles Thorvald Nin of Mexico City; and their children and grandchildren.
A funeral mass was celebrated last week. Memorial contributions may be sent to St. Albert Priory, 5890 Birch Rd., Oakland, 94618.
— Kathleen Maclay