Dennis C. Kain, longtime Baltimore Symphony Orchestra principal timpanist, whose career spanned more than four decades, died Saturday of colon cancer at his Hamilton home. He was 73.
"Dennis was not only a wonderful musician and timpanist, but also a beloved member of the BSO family," said Marin Alsop, the orchestra's music director.
"His love of music and his fellow musicians always shone through, and he tackled life and music with a positive, open and inspiring attitude," said Ms. Alsop. "We will all miss Dennis tremendously."
"Dennis Kain's death will cause a gap in the music world that can never be filled as he was a unique artist," David Zinman, who was BSO music director from 1985 to 1998, wrote in an e-mail.
"Sometimes one meets a musician who not only plays an instrument in his orchestra but lives the music throughout every moment of his day," wrote Mr. Zinman, now music director and chief conductor of the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich.
In describing Mr. Kain, he wrote that as a timpanist, "a finer player you could not find," and that his work will live on in the recordings he left.
"He was sensitive, brilliant technically but above all he was a kind and gentle man who never drew attention to himself," he wrote. "I will never think of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra without seeing him there. I thank him for all he gave me."
The son of a mechanical engineer and a homemaker, Dennis Calvin Kain was born on Staten Island, N.Y., where he began his timpani studies with the Staten Island Symphony.
"While living on Staten Island, his father would take him to the New York Philharmonic," said his wife of 39 years, the former Susan Sibley, who is a violinist.
"He would later go by himself to purchase records and this would entail riding the ferry and taking the subway," said Mrs. Kain. "His father purchased his first set of timpani, two hand-turned drums. He was so dedicated that he would sleep under his drums."
He later moved with his family to East Aurora, N.Y., where he graduated from high school.
Mr. Kain was a 1961 graduate of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and did graduate work at the New England Conservatory of Music, where he studied four summers at Tanglewood, and one year with Vic Firth, the noted longtime Boston Symphony Orchestra timpanist.
He also studied at the Manhattan School of Music before beginning his career as a timpanist with the San Antonio Symphony and then with the St. Louis Symphony. Mr. Kain came to Baltimore in 1966 when he joined the BSO, and at his death ranked third in orchestra seniority.
"As a musician, he was phenomenal. I think Dennis was one of the most expressive and intuitive timpanists I've ever seen. I thought the world of him," said Marilyn Rife, a timpanist and the orchestra's director of personnel.
"The stereotype of the timpanist is that they're loud and crass, and Dennis was such an example of why that stereotype is wrong," she said. "He was a splendid musician. Truly. I was very much in awe of his playing."
Ms. Rife added: "His death is a huge loss for us and the community as well. You always want to offer the best in tympanic music and Dennis was at the top of the list."
Chris Williams, the BSO's principal percussionist, performed with Mr. Kain for 34 years.
"Dennis was great to work with and some of my best times in the orchestra was playing with him," said Mr. Williams. "He was easy to play with. He concentrated on the music, and was always prepared. You could always rely on Dennis, who was the heart and soul of the orchestra."
"He was a master musician who could get from the timpani anything the music — or conductor — asked for," said Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun's music critic.
"So many of the exultant codas to symphonies that audiences cheered drew much of their effectiveness from how expertly Mr. Kain wielded those sticks; in many pieces, the subtlest tones he coaxed from the timpani could be just as compelling," said Mr. Smith.
"On the BSO European tour with Yuri Temirkanov in fall 2001, just after 9/11, he was wonderful to observe in action night after night," he said. "I referred to him as a Rock of Gibraltar on that tour, a steady, reliable and ever-expressive presence."
A 1988 article in The New York Times said that as his "Beethoven-period predecessors did, Baltimore timpanist Dennis Kain plays with small, hard mallets; when he's not worried about the effect of Baltimore heat and humidity on animal-skins heads, he actually uses an early 19th-century set of timpani."
Mary C. Plaine, the BSO's principal librarian and secretary-treasurer of the Musician's Association of Baltimore, Local 40-453, of the American Federation of Musicians, described Mr. Kain as a "quiet man who was a well-respected fixture in our orchestra."
Mr. Kain had been on a medical leave from the orchestra for the past two years because of his illness.
When he wasn't performing or playing music, Mr. Kain was an ardent baseball fan and enjoyed attending Orioles, Frederick Keys and Bowie Baysox games. He was also an avid gardener.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Kain is survived by a daughter, Heather Watson of Bel Air; a sister, Sheila Rouglios of Las Vegas; and two grandchildren.