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Kurt Rohde’s Long Goodbye to Left Coast Chamber Ensemble

January 28, 2019

Composer/violist/music professor Kurt Rohde is known for being out — mostly ahead — of the mainstream. His compositions, number of top grants and honors, his advocacy on behalf of new music ... all that and more set him apart. And so it’s no wonder his pending “retirement” is unusual, to say the least.

Surely Katharine Hepburn was not the first or last to have years of “farewell performances,” but even so, Rohde’s eight-year project to retire and donate his viola may raise a benevolent eyebrow.

Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, which Rohde founded (and led until Anna Presler took over), will next feature “Kurt’s Farewell Tour Part Two,” with six more parts/seasons to come until 2028, when he will retire from playing in performance and donate his instrument “to some talented whipper-snapper who wants to play viola.”

The concert will be held first on March 3 at 7:30 p.m., at the Hillside Club, Berkeley, and repeated the next day at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak Street.

The program consists of commissioned works for viola and electronics from Elainie Lillios, Tina Tallon, and Peter Van Zandt Lane, along with Rebecca Clarke’s 1919 Viola Sonata and David Conte’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano.

“The medium of solo viola and electronics is vibrant and immensely rich — so much so that you have to hear to believe it,” says Rohde. “I cannot think of a better way to begin what I hope will be my own ‘long goodbye’ by saying ‘hello’ to these remarkable new works and bringing them to audiences.”

Three of the works are world premieres: Tallon’s excision no. 2: they didn’t know we were seeds for Viola and Live Electronics; Lillios’s Liquid | Crystal | Vapor for Viola and Live, Interactive Electronics; and Lane’s Décalcomanie 2 for Viola and Electronics.

Performers are Rohde (viola), Jerome Simas (clarinet). and Eric Zivian (piano). Of the Clarke sonata, Rohde says “on its surface, [the work is] cast in a conventional sonata format, familiar in scope and sound. However, inside of this instrumental convention, she manages to reformulate and re-imagine previously unexplored approaches to what it means to create a sonata.”

Back to Rohde’s grants and honors — yes, he received all these: the Rome Prize, the Berlin Prize, a Radcliffe-Harvard Institute for Advanced Study Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Lydian String Quartet Commission Prize, and commission awards from the Barlow, Fromm, Hanson, and Koussevitzky Foundations, and New Music/USA.

Rohde, the Jan and Beta Popper Professor of Music at UC Davis, has also received the Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Recent projects include new works for the Lydian Quartet, Brooklyn Art Song Society, cellist Rhonda Rider, pianist Genevieve Lee, cellist Michelle Kesler, and Ensemble Échappé.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].