Christopher Rouse and Marin Alsop
Irreverent and Profound—Remembering Christopher Rouse (1949-2019)
Christopher Rouse and Marin Alsop (all photos courtesy Marin Alsop)

Irreverent and Profound—Remembering Christopher Rouse (1949-2019)

The passing of Chris Rouse is an enormous loss.  Chris was not only one of the great composers of our time, he was also a great friend and colleague.

I first met Chris in the early 1990s when I programmed his Trombone Concerto. I was first drawn to the piece because of its dedication my mentor and teacher, Leonard Bernstein, but quickly fell under the spell of the brilliant music itself.  I decided to program it at the Cabrillo Festival, marking the start of a deep and long lasting relationship between the Cabrillo Festival and Chris Rouse. (I think I remain the only conductor to program an all Chris Rouse concert!)

The Trombone Concerto remains one of the trickiest and most challenging pieces that I ever conducted. But, wow, what a payoff. And that’s how I would describe most of Chris’s music: unbelievably challenging, but worth every second of the work required.

Chris’s music: unbelievably challenging, but worth every second of the work required.

Chris came to Cabrillo almost every summer and the musicians and audiences couldn’t get enough of his crazed creativity.  When they saw I programmed a Rouse piece, the musicians immediately bumped up their practice exponentially! His modesty and biting wit were always present, yet his kind heart ever evident.

Marin Alsop and Christopher Rouse during an outside pre-concert talk at the Cabrillo Music Festival

Marin Alsop and Christopher Rouse during a pre-concert talk at the Cabrillo Music Festival

Little did I know that I would end up Music Director of Chris’s hometown orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony, and that we would live just 2 miles away from each other. What a special treat to be able to run over to his house to grill him about a Prokofiev Symphony or get his programming thoughts on Orff, or bring him Oreos when desperation struck. We developed a deep friendship that would span almost 30 years.  I loved his irreverence and his profundity.

Chris was a collector, and a collector of unexpected things: meteorites, records, guns. He started collecting composers’ signatures when he was a kid and amassed what I imagine is the largest private collection of composers’ autographs in the world. He knew how much I loved Brahms ( because we argued about Brahms regularly) and gave me his Brahms autograph last week…kind hearted to the end.

His music is not just wild and crazy, it also grabs our hearts at the most fundamental and human core.

Chris had an encyclopedic knowledge of music (and many other things, too!) from rock ‘n’ roll and pop to many overlooked composers of the past.  But his music is not just wild and crazy, it also grabs our hearts at the most fundamental and human core and moves us to feel the profundity of our existence. Many listeners have come to me after a Rouse performance to share that they finally feel relief from a tragedy or a trauma. His music captures our souls, expresses our vulnerabilities and gives us comfort.

This is what music is all about – this is the power of music.  And this is how I will always remember my dear friend, Chris Rouse.

Christopher Rouse and Marin Alsop holding hands on stage in front of members of an orchestra.

Christopher Rouse comes on stage to take a bow with Marin Alsop and the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra


Marin Alsop sitting in a chair with arms crossed.Marin Alsop is an inspiring and powerful voice in the international music scene, a Music Director of vision and distinction who passionately believes that “music has the power to change lives”. She is recognized across the world for her innovative approach to programming and for her deep commitment to education and to the development of audiences of all ages. Her outstanding success as Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) since 2007 has been recognised by two extensions in her tenure, now confirmed until 2021. As part of her... Read more »


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One thought on “Irreverent and Profound—Remembering Christopher Rouse (1949-2019)

  1. Lee Passarella

    I would like to relate an anecdote about Chris Rouse that nobody except me knows about. But it shows what kind of man and composer he was, and I am grateful that I can relay it. I’m a poet with a tiny reputation compared to Chris’s, of course, but I’ve had for many years an idea about a libretto based on Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener.” I happened to get in touch with Chris and told him that he was my favorite contemporary American composer and asked if he would like to consider a libretto on this subject. He told me candidly that his tastes and talents did not run to opera and that an opera based on this text had already been written by an American composer (an obscure one, as far as I was concerned, but not to Chris, of course). Yet what struck me and what I will always recall is that he did not dismiss the project–or me–out of hand but accepted that a minor poet he had undoubtedly never heard of had a serious idea for a collaborative effort, and he seemed flattered that I would think of him in that connection. So, naturally, as a lover of music I mourned his passing, but the loss was very personal to me.

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