Kurt Rohde wins Lydian Quartet Commission Prize

University of California faculty member rises to top of 430 applications

University of California-Davis music professor Kurt Rohde

Award-winning classical music composer Kurt Rohde of San Francisco won Brandeis University’s inaugural Lydian String Quartet Commission Prize. He was chosen from an international field of 430 composers – twice the number of entries that organizers expected to receive.

The $15,000 prize was established last year by Brandeis computer-science professor emeritus Martin Cohn, and his wife, Marjorie, to encourage creativity and enhance string quartet literature. Rohde will compose a large-scale (15 to 30 minutes), original work to be premiered by the Lydian String Quartet in spring 2013.

“It is gratifying that so many members of the arts community see Brandeis and the Lydian String Quartet as focal points of the art world,” Brandeis President Frederick M. Lawrence said. “The University considers the performing, visual and cultural arts to be foundational elements of a true liberal arts education. We thank the Cohns for helping provide composers a source of support and encouragement for their work.”

An accomplished composer with a long list of awards to his credit, Rohde has received the Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

“When I write music now, I tend to write for people I want to write for,” Rohde said from his office at the University of California, Davis, where he is a member of the music faculty. “When I saw the Lydians were sponsoring the competition, I wanted to enter because I felt it was time for me to really try and compose a string quartet I was happy with, and I especially wanted to compose a new work for them. I am elated to win this prize.”

Although the competition was anonymous (composers submitted CDs and application forms separately), the Lydians actually ended up choosing a winner they knew. In 1998, Rohde won a competition for young composers that the quartet sponsored.

“It was an utter shock to us that Kurt was the winner,” said Lydians violist Mary Ruth Ray, chair of the music department at Brandeis. “It shows the affinity that we have for his work. He clearly understands strings and string instruments.”

The award was established last year by the Cohns, who plan to provide additional funding to sponsor future prize competitions.

“We are so grateful for Jerry and Marty’s generosity,” said Lydian second violinist Judith Eissenberg. “They came to us and said, ‘What would you like?’ We couldn’t think of anything more worthwhile than creating a prize to support new work. It’s like having a child; it’s a stake in the future.”

Said the Cohns, “We had two objectives in establishing the prize: to re-affirm to Brandeis and the larger community the value of the Lydians, and to foster the composition of new chamber music and to reward its authors. We thank Judy for the concept, and Mary Ruth for its execution."

The first round of judging was conducted by three composers on the Brandeis faculty (Yu-Hui Chang; Eric Chasalow, the Irving Fine Professor of Music; and David Rakowski, the Walter W. Naumburg Professor of Composition) and three outside composers (Derek Hurst, Keeril Makan and Scott Wheeler).

Each of the six first-round judges chose up to three works, which were forwarded to the members of the Lydian String Quartet for final judging. Together, the Lydians listened to the 17 finalists before reaching a unanimous decision to award the prize to Rohde.

Rohde already has some thoughts about the work that he will compose for the quartet.

“In this particular case, I’m thinking of writing a piece that might focus on musical interests of the particular players,” Rohde said. “I know Dan (Stepner, first violinist) is interested in early music and Judy is interested in music from Asia. Those types of things will play into the piece directly or obliquely.”

Categories: Arts

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