[Ed. Note: For the past week, the new music community has been reeling from the sudden suicide of Jorge Liderman, composer and professor of music at UC Berkeley. Jorge will continue to live through his remarkable music which seemed at the cusp of reaching a broad audience. His extensive discography remains a tribute to his life and work. Below are a series of memories and tributes by students, colleagues, and friends. If you would like to add something here, please write us. —FJO]
I studied composition with Jorge in 1994-1995 and in 1997-1998. He was both a friend and a teacher, and I felt especially connected because we shared many things in common, such as our undergraduate studies at the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem and the influence of Jewish tradition in our music.
The first words that come to mind when I recall his teaching are respect, integrity, and care. Jorge respected my music and my musical ideas, and in return, I not only respected him as a teacher, but his teaching has proved extremely valuable to my music. I recall one lesson in particular, and I would like to share it as an example of his teaching.
I was working on the middle movement of a large orchestral piece, trying to figure out which musical process(es) I would use to get from an oboe ostinato to a climax point for the whole orchestra in about 45 measures. When it was time for the lesson, I hadn’t made a choice yet and had multiple processes going on at the same time in my score, none of them leading through. As I showed Jorge my work, he exclaimed: “This is a mess, but this ostinato is great.” Then I explained to him what it was I wanted to achieve. And instead of sending me home with a “clean-that-up-and-come-back-next-week,” he spent the entire session working with me on the score, as if the score was his no less than mine. In one hour, he helped me do what would have taken me a week to figure out, caring for me and my music, and being honest with the organization of the score. All the while he was pointing out the musical ideas that he liked.
In my creative work, I often use techniques I learned from Jorge’s teaching. I also try my very best to treat my own students in the same way I was treated by Jorge, as well as teaching them the very valuable tools I learnt 10 to 12 years ago. And I will continue to do so as a continuous tribute to Jorge.
Around ten years ago, Jorge Liderman refined the language that he had been tweaking for some time. Being his student meant for me absorbing parts of that language, from the more conceptual (processes, surprises, letting go) to the more concrete (off-accents, modes, milongas). But if I stopped composing today and had no more use for these things, I would hope to live by Jorge’s true teaching: that you stick to what works for you, downplay the trends, make no apologies, and get to work.
I don’t qualify as a student of Jorge’s, since by the time Jorge arrived at UC Berkeley I was finishing my Ph.D. with Andrew Imbrie, and I never took a class, etc. with Jorge. But I did spend a little time with him.
In particular, I remember when we both had works being played in Sacramento in the mid-1990s, and I caught a ride with him from Berkeley. I was having trouble with my dissertation, and he simply asked me, “Pero, cómo es?” (“But, what’s it like?”). Actually trying to explain my dissertation to him in Spanish words was helpful, and it “gave me permission” to talk about Neruda and Latin American influences on my music, which I was loathe to do in English, because I really disliked, at the time, being labeled as anything (including “a Latin American” composer). I also mentioned that I was teaching harmony at Laney College in downtown Oakland while finishing my Ph.D. and he said that he had taken a carpentry class there. When I asked why, he said “Me gusta trabajar con las manos” (“I like to work with my hands”). For some reason, I felt that I knew him better when he said that.
Anthony De Ritis
Jorge Liderman was my composition teacher, dissertation advisor and weight-lifting buddy for four years at the University of California, Berkeley (between 1993 and 1997). I think of Jorge Liderman as one of the three important teachers that I’ve had. Ten years after graduating from Berkeley, I find myself utilizing his process methods in order to stimulate my thinking, and to get out of a compositional bind. What I appreciated most was that Jorge taught composition from practice, technique and method; not from subjectivity and vanity. He did not treat me as a disciple, rather a partner sharing an investigation—he taught me how to evaluate a compositional context and he gave me a bag of tools with which I could survive the trek.
Jorge’s birthday, November 16, was the same day as my PhD orals, so I never forgot it, and I always called him on that day to celebrate both events. I’m a violinist and violist, and he often asked me about my opinion regarding a particular string passage that he composed, “Can I do this?” he would ask… His ego didn’t require that he was always the teacher and I, the student. I carry this spirit with me when I teach my composition students today at Northeastern University—from now on November 16 will be a day of rememberance.
Although I never took individual composition lessons with Jorge, my very first class when I entered Berkeley for grad school was his Ligeti seminar. Although I was apprehensive about going back to school to do a grad degree, his course and teaching methodology reassured me that I had made the right decision—he had us analyze the material from a very musical point of view, and always treated us as esteemed younger colleagues and fostered a friendly and relaxed class atmosphere. It became surprisingly easy to make the effort to wake up early on Monday mornings knowing that discovering new music and new ways of looking at that music were awaiting me in his seminar. His enthusiasm for the music we were studying definitely rubbed off on me. I finished the course a real fan.
My last composition lesson with Jorge Liderman was on January 31 of this year. Sadly, it was only my second lesson with him, as we had only just started to work together. I came into his office late, flustered, spilling over with scores and recordings, and he sat patiently while I pulled myself together, asking sympathetically what my schedule was like this semester, smiling a little at my evident disarray. Jorge had seemed to me to be introverted and at a low ebb when I had encountered him in recent weeks, so I was pleased at how engaged he was during lessons; quiet, focused, perceptive, a superb listener, a swift understanding of what I was getting at even if I hadn’t got there. His insights, whether technical or more structural/philosophical, were telling and will continue to feed my work. At one point he said, “It seems that all the players are each in their own world, and I am not sure of the significance when they come together.” This seemed to me an acute observation, with resonance for me beyond the piece, beyond music even. The hour passed swiftly, and I was reluctant to have to go to my next commitment. Both lessons ended with one of us saying, “See you next week.” I was looking forward to our continued conversations. My encounters with him were significant, and I am grateful for them.
I must have been Jorge Liderman’s first graduate student in composition at UC Berkeley. I met Jorge soon after my arrival to the Bay Area in the fall of 1990. This was probably shortly after he had been hired as an assistant professor himself. When I introduced myself he asked me whether I was related to André Hajdu, the Israeli composer whom he had met during his composition studies with Mark Kopitman. My positive answer might have helped to establish a rapport which eventually led me to choose him in 1992 as my private instructor after doing composition seminars with Andrew Imbrie and John Thow (all of which, sadly, have died within one year).
I recall my first lesson with him: After I walked into the room, he pulled this little tray out of the green industrial-strength metal desk that all offices of the Berkeley music professor were outfitted with (it’s a public school after all), prompting me to place my music there. This was strange, as—after dozens of lattes and burritos as well as many games of racket ball—I realized that he was my professor after all. After I pointed this out jokingly, he immediately kicked the habit, so our lessons continued as if among equals. This is where his pedagogical strength lied: Being a sincere person, he never pretended that he knew all the answers; instead of giving recipes, he listened to his students and tried to understand their compositional motivations to find answers from within their system—even if this style or approach was foreign to him. When I presented a sketch that lacked a certain density, he suggested I create a second process to control the compositional surface structure, and this made it work. In 1993, after my orals, I told him I was going to write an opera as my dissertation. He immediately got excited about the idea (calling it “very ambitious”), and supported it as much as he could. Any other reaction could have been detrimental in this critical phase.
Jorge was also instrumental in orchestrating György Ligeti’s visit to Berkeley in 1993. After it became obvious that the music department didn’t have the funds to support a performance of Ligeti’s first piano etudes by Volker Banfield, Jorge approached Robert Cole of CalPerformance and found an ideal partner in him. Ligeti finally came to Berkeley and left a lasting impression. As with Henze, Ferneyhough, and Steve Reich, Jorge was attracted by great composers as well as by the quality they represented, and sought their friendship.
We continued being friends even after I had moved back to Germany. I also remember a visit to California when we met in a café in North Berkeley: He told me that he hadn’t been feeling too good recently and needed to see a doctor; a little later I learned from my friend Tony De Ritis with whom Jorge had gone to the gym practically every day for a long time, that he had stopped teaching in the middle of the semester and had gone on sick leave. I suspect that this was already a symptom of the condition that would take his life on February 3, 2008. Sadly, we lost touch with each other a year after I assumed my new job at the Hamburg music school in 2002. The last time I saw him fleetingly was at Peet’s coffee on 4th street a couple of years ago. He asked to call him on my next trip to California. This would have been in four weeks…
As a teacher he challenged me. One lesson remains most vivid. After showing him the beginnings of a rather banal piece, he became very animated and chose some well placed expletives to emphasize his criticisms. It shocked me from the droopy attitude that I had assumed in the few months preceding. I learned again that composition is hard and demanding and that is why I love it. Composers have to embrace the struggle. Jorge knew it and taught it. I am glad that I can call him teacher.
I am terribly saddened by the sudden death of Jorge Liderman. I want to express my concurrence of feeling with all the composers who studied with him and knew him as a friend, to his current students and colleagues who will miss him terribly, and especially to his wife, Mimi.
When I was a much younger composer, Jorge was a tremendous beacon of support, who encouraged me in ways that, without exaggeration, simply changed my life. When I was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, Jorge was my harmony teacher for four semesters. He was a wonderful teacher of harmony and counterpoint, as any of his pupils could attest. But the day that remains the most clearly impressed was a day where we did no classroom work, but listened, as a group, to Antigona Furiosa. If I recall, Jorge had just won a significant German prize for that work, and he simply played the piece for us. For those who know this striking work, you will have no trouble understanding the impact it made.
A few years later, I found myself (a dedicated jazz musician) getting interested in composition, and I ran into Jorge at a concert. Almost on a whim, I naively asked if he taught privately. This initiated a long course of study with Jorge, where I had the privilege of becoming familiar with his musical mind through his insightful criticism, his ruthless editing of the extraneous, his love of formal organization and perceptible processes, his wit, and his musical intelligence. He introduced me to many of his favorite pieces and composers. I recall an analysis of Ligeti’s 10 Pieces for Wind Quintet where he nonchalantly pointed out it’s features, which both spoke to his intense appreciation of the music of others and his uncanny gifts at analysis—a skill to which he so rarely drew attention.
He invited me to sit in on his seminars, helped me find musicians to perform my student works, and even gently pulled me back to UC Berkeley, encouraging me to apply as a graduate student, eventually chairing my dissertation (perhaps a small case of “in my beginning is my end”). Once, I recall him suddenly asking me in the middle of a lesson, “Are you Jewish?” Puzzled, I hesitated to reply, “Yes.” “Good,” he laughed, “Now we can speak freely!”—a joke he later told me that Ralph Shapey had pulled on him. But, of course, being Jewish really had nothing to do with it. Jorge’s gift as a teacher, as other students will similarly attest, was his ability to show you how to speak freely as a composer, following the inner demands that make all of us pursue this bizarre and complicated form of life.
Those inner demands obviously led Jorge down a variety of paths. His music traversed a course of radical transformation over the decade in which I knew him well, from the political allegory of Antigona Furiosa to the lavish exuberance of The Song of Songs, littered along the way with small, fascinating works like his melancholic Chaconne for vibraphone, piano, and cello. His music often retrieved from the musical past ideas and structures to be re-thought and re-invented in the present, like Hoquetus, Ut Re Me Fa Sol La or, in a different manner, his settings of Sephardic and Jewish melodies. I always felt that this demonstrated more than simply musical intelligence but rather a tremendous love of music, in all of its social and historical breadth.
But the same demands also led in other, perhaps unspeakable directions. While being so generous, Jorge could also be so incredibly reserved. If Jorge, without cliché, let his music speak for him, how could we have not heard the message it was telling us? I doubt that anyone realized the depths of his sorrow.
Jorge, I am grateful to have known you, and I’ll miss you.
In 2001, I was asked to write a letter describing my experiences studying with Jorge for a promotion case at UC Berkeley:
Professor Liderman has the uncommon ability to look at a student’s score and determine where the composer has not been self-critical enough. By being able to recognize the potential of one’s materials and learning how to make the most of them, Professor Liderman sets the student on to his or her own compositional path. In addition to the knowledge of how to take one’s compositional ideas and exploit them to their fullest, he is able to provide the student with the technical skills necessary to write the music envisioned.
In my case, I came to study with Professor Liderman at a time when I had a notion as to what sort of aesthetic I was interested in exploring, but without a clear idea of how to go about realizing it. This aesthetic, one of extreme reduction and juxtaposition, was one for which he had sympathy, which allowed me to take chances in my composition that I may not have taken if I were working with someone who was less understanding. What he taught me that has had the most lasting impact upon my compositional life was the ability to look at my own scores and determine if I was being true to the ideas embodied within them. Once I became aware of this level of self-criticism, I was able to propel myself to more advanced and meaningful levels of musical thought. The involvement that he took in our lessons is evident from a comment he once made to me after we had been working together for a half-year or so. He said that he had had a breakthrough in his own music because of our lessons together. This openness is a rare quality in a teacher and one that makes the student-teacher relationship a more substantial one.
The quality that stands out for me in his music is its union of inventiveness and rigor. His music plays with rhythm and a pseudo-modality that is magical in its ability to confound the ear as to its construction but satisfy the listener in its sense of direction and purpose. He is an important voice of his generation that has found a way to meld modernist construction with the perceptual experiments of the minimalists and the immediacy of tonal composers.
My relationship with Professor Liderman has been one of the best and most indispensable aspects of my Berkeley education. He is a mentor that has helped me realize what it is to be a composer. His influence in my composing is very real, and I am happy to admit that it is there.
Seven years later these words ring truer than ever. In my own teaching, I strive to do for my students what Jorge did for me. If they can learn to be their own teachers, then their formal education has come to fruition. I oftentimes play his trio Draft for my students, to show how far you can take one idea, and the cognitive effect of immediately juxtaposing contrasting material.
Losing Jorge is a tragedy that I have yet to comprehend. Like so many others, I will miss his friendship, his warmth, and his music.
My heart goes out to his wonderful wife, Mimi.
I studied with Jorge while finishing my doctorate at UCB. He had just started teaching there, and was wonderful to work with, as we quickly become friends with whom I could share more than just the details of a composition lesson. With all his students he was more a colleague sharing ideas, not “faculty”—a dynamic I consciously seek in my own teaching.
He stood between several cultures. Having myself come from a varied background living in different countries, I felt we shared that in common. He always encouraged me to explore and experiment, and was solely influential in turning my interest to European new music by his references to developments there in his own teaching (eventually I ended up living there for several years).
On one of his marathon biking tours, he visited Colorado one summer when I was studying at Aspen. He was totally into the mode—the tour would set up camp at 5 p.m., get up at 5 a.m., and bike through the high Rockies for hours; the tour would set up tents in local parks or fields. How he had built up his athletic stamina and sheer determination from having started biking just for fun was a real eye-opening inspiration to me.
I still have the toaster he gave to me as a wedding present; he was a great cook, and quite the epicure! He helped me gain some much-needed perspective after I returned to the Bay Area after living in Europe, myself newly single. His gentleness and subtle humor I will miss most of all.
Professor Liderman was a wonderful teacher, mentor, and composer. As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, I was very fortunate to both take courses with him, as well as work with him over a summer with an undergraduate research fellowship (which, lucky for me, also provided many opportunities for Jorge to critique my work). While I consider many of the things that I learned from Jorge as essential to who I am as a composer, I consider myself lucky to have also learned so much about how to teach from him. Jorge was rigorous. While playing through counterpoint exercises, for instance, he made sure you heard and understood where there were problems. But what struck me most were the moments he would take when something may have been a mistake for an exercise, but held the promise of something interesting to modern ears. I realize now that these comments held in them the history of music and its constantly changing aesthetics, and that the way to learn this was to trust in my teacher, who learned them from his teacher, who learned them from his teacher, etc.
In Jorge, there were hundreds of years of knowledge that he passed down to his students. Now I am trying to pass that knowledge on to another generation. I am sad that I won’t be able to talk to him again about recent work or accomplishments (in the way that a student always looks for approval from a mentor). But I take comfort in the fact that as a teacher and composer, I am continuing the lineage that he passed on to me.
As I sit down this morning to prepare for my weekly analysis seminar, I’m thinking of Jorge, as I often do. Even if I am not showing his music in class, or mentioning his ideas, he is still there, in the very way I think about music.
I remember once, during a lesson with Jorge, I asked him how he started a new piece. He paused for a moment, then opened his desk drawer and pulled out a worn piece of paper. It was a xerox of a xerox of a xerox, but still showed an intricate and elegant pattern of lines, a graphic representation of Euler’s solution to the famous “Bridges of Königsberg” mathematical problem. “They all start from here,” he said.
Jorge had an amazing way of perceiving and conceiving music. Countless students, like myself, were inspired by his desire to have something perfect and beautiful at the core of every composition. But at the same time, part of Jorge’s genius lay in his ability to mask this, to create elaborate systems of perturbation around a perfect structure.
I hear music differently, compose music differently, and believe in music differently because of Jorge. I also teach music differently, and for that I am more grateful than I can say.
Ronald Bruce Smith
I met Jorge in 1989. We both arrived at Berkeley that year: he as a new assistant professor and me as a graduate student. During my time there as a student, I didn’t study with him and I didn’t begin to get to know him until some time in my second year. At that time, he was working on an opera that had been commissioned by the Munich Biennial.
Some of our first conversations were around the technical procedures associated with a type of modernism that was becoming more in vogue with some younger composers at that time. He had always held a fascination with the technical side of composing and many of our conversations for the next 17 years would involve something of that nature. I remember some time around 1997 when the style of his music took a decisive turn. Unlike the opaque surfaces of some of his work from the early ’90s, the music became bright and buoyant with driving rhythms and a clear melodic focus. It was in this music that Jorge found his expression. He had found a way to compose a music that satisfied him both intellectually and emotionally.
Jorge was a friendly, welcoming, and gentle person. It was rare to see him get angry, and when he did he would often dispel it by ending with a chuckle. I can’t imagine what could drive such a person to end their own life and in such a violent manner. I last saw Jorge in November. He attended a presentation at CNMAT at UC Berkeley that David Tanenbaum and I gave on a project we had been working on. Afterwards, we went out for lunch and David and I later dropped him off near the Berkeley music department. I watched him walk the path from the street toward the music department. It’s a walk we had taken together countless times in the past after getting coffee at Caffé Strada before heading back to the department to attend a talk or a concert. That image is now burned in my memory. I still can’t believe he is gone.
Jorge Liderman, whose suicide has shocked the music world here, was a kind, gentle man with a ready smile. He was also a composer of vigorous, rhythmically vital music—the kind of composer that guitarists cherish.
Jorge first called me about ten years ago to talk about his writing for guitar. We knew each other by then from various events in the Bay Area but did not yet call ourselves friends. Jorge said that he had wanted to write a guitar piece for years, that he played some but had been blocked trying to write for the instrument. “Perhaps I’m too close to the guitar,” he said. He had heard me play recently, and thought I could be the catalyst.
And so we began. I gave him CDs to listen to and scores to study. I showed him examples of what I thought was great guitar writing. Meanwhile, I began to study his work. I found a style informed by his native Argentina, but mostly by Europeans like Stravinsky, Ligeti, and Henze. He seemed least influenced by his immediate surroundings: the tonality of California composers like Lou Harrison, or the composers in academia. There was a scintillating rhythmic vitality in his music that pervaded everything, there were transparent textures and long lines. He didn’t bother to welcome the audience at the beginning of a piece or wave goodbye at the end: the music seemed to begin in mid-sentence and end there, too, as if we got to wade into an endless running stream at some random point and wade right back out some time later. I admired the unique sound world he created, and I thought the transparency, the rhythms, and the lightness could all work well on the guitar.
The great British guitarist Julian Bream said you always want to get the second guitar piece from every composer. And it was indeed with that first piece that we struggled most. It ended up being a solo called Waking Dances, and the work continued after the premiere, even after the recording, when Jorge cut an already recorded movement that he decided didn’t fit.
Working with him was fascinating. When he listened to his music, he seemed to be hearing it for the first time. He listened with his head tilted and a little bemused smile on his face. Sometimes that look would turn into puzzlement. He was much more lenient with me as a player than he was with himself as a composer. One felt that we were never done with a piece, that it was always subject to change, that the pieces themselves were also part of some running stream.
We met for lunch often, to talk about music, projects, politics, anything. At one point he told me that he was lonely and wanted to meet someone, and soon enough Mimi entered his life and brought him happiness. Jorge and I would sometimes ride bikes around Berkeley together. One enduring image I have is of Jorge riding down the middle of the street, helmet askew, riding forwards but looking backwards to make some musical point to me, oblivious of all the horns blaring at him.
Once he got that first guitar piece written, he couldn’t stop. He wrote two hours of music for guitar and violin, and three more works for me: Open Strings for guitar ensemble, Swirling Streams for guitar, bass clarinet, and string trio, and Imaginary Tunes for guitar and string quartet, which I premiered with the Cuarteto Latinoamericano at his 50th birthday concert just three months ago.
And now, this incomprehensible news. He went in mid-stream, the day he was scheduled to give a public talk, the day before a world premiere, a month before a CD release. He didn’t say goodbye, but I will. Farewell, my friend. We will all miss you.
The lingering, numb shock that Jorge is gone makes the recollection of him and what he offered as a teacher wrenchingly difficult. The involuntary flood of memories—joking with Jorge that I’d loan him the eagerly awaited new CD of the Ligeti Horn Concerto if he signed off on my dissertation in the few hours before the filing deadline, or seeing him so often at Yogurt Park—can’t be stemmed. But so many facets of his teaching are worth recalling now because they can help us carry on doing what he did so well. In talking to students, he always paid particular attention to craftsmanship and technique and showed by example how to listen critically to one’s own music. Jorge was remarkably frank and sincere in his evaluations and comments. Sometimes these could be quite critical, but on the other hand, they made one realize that his compliments really were meaningful. And while he was a very reserved person, he was also so generous of time and spirit.
When he was a featured composer at the Berkeley Edge Festival in 2005, he programmed half of his concert with works by recent students, and the diversity of those pieces was further testimony to just how much he could share as a teacher. In the article that broke the devastating news to many of us, Joshua Kosman noted how devoted Jorge was to teaching, “despite feeling not entirely at home in academia.” This is a particularly fitting and salutary way in which I’d like to remember him, because for Jorge it was always music and people that were important, not ideology, politics, power, or bureaucracy. I hope in time we’ll remember him less for the sad, painful circumstances of how he left us and more for the legacy of what he left us: his music, his teaching, our memories of him. It’s a legacy to be performed, listened to, shared, and continued, transmuted in our own work.
Jorge and I had a somewhat uneasy relationship—we disagreed about many things and often butted heads during the year that I studied with him. But I benefited a great deal from this interaction, in ways that were not apparent to me at the time. Four years later, when I was about to leave Berkeley, I showed him a piano piece I’d written. He was pleasantly surprised to see that it had been influenced by his music. “This has a lot to do with my stuff, doesn’t it?” he asked me. “I suppose it does,” I said. I like to think that the unfamiliar look he gave me was something like pride.
One image keeps coming back to me: when I went to Jorge’s house, I noticed that he had posted little signs everywhere—over the toilet, on the refrigerator, on his computer monitor. They all said “Abandon Hope.” At the time I thought they were a somewhat eccentric, but basically harmless exhortation to self-discipline. Now I’m wondering whether they were evidence of something more serious, a deeper pain he concealed from his students. I wish I’d had the courage to ask.
In the weeks following composer and professor John Thow’s death, the composition faculty at UC Berkeley took it in turns to cover his seminar for first years, of which I was a member. Jorge asked that we bring in work samples, and at the end of each piece, he asked us how we thought about rhythm. What followed was a challenging, wide-ranging discussion, gently mediated by Jorge about the notion of silence and its different possible uses/meanings, about the idea of pulse as a rhythm and a texture, about the idea of sculpting a listener’s experience in time, and on and on. At the end of class, he shared a few of his own recent works, and I asked him how he thought about rhythm. With a smile that was partly self-deprecating and partly mischievous, he said, “In twos and threes.”
I loved studying with Jorge because of his sly wit and his keen insight, all the more striking because of his quiet, gentle personality. He was a generous teacher, preferring to mediate rather than to lecture, preferring to listen rather than to dictate, absorbing your thoughts and mulling over them before emerging with a comment that was piercing and concise. He had a real interest in his students as composers and as people, taking the time to learn about us outside of academia (often during a mid-class break at the coffee shop across the street). He had a way of making you feel like you were a colleague more than a student, of so clearly respecting your voice that he passed that respect on to you. I’ll miss him very, very much.
Michael F. Zbyszynski
I think many composers have an imaginary committee of people that they use to audition their music while working. Certainly, I do. I still imagine showing a piece in progress to Jorge, noticing what parts he would take issue with. While I don’t always listen to him, I do always take time to try to hear my music through his ears, which invariable led to some improvement, some intensification or further burnishing that I would have overlooked had I not studied with him.
Lessons with Jorge were usually all business, dealing with the notes on the page. He was not prone to long tangents about the meaning of music or life, rather he spoke succinctly to the specifics of the work at hand. I was lucky that he and I were writing music using similar methods; he was very interested in musical process, but also in expressivity and dissonance. Lessons would focus on exactly how I was generating material, how I was planning my piece, what worked and what did not, and what possibilities I had to continue my thoughts. Studying with him hugely expanded my library of techniques, unburdening me from problems of my own musical language and enabling me to write music that said what I meant.
After working with him for a year, I left to study in Poland for the next year. I realized at that point how much I had been relying on him to put his finger on the exact place where my compositions needed attention. To fill that need, I started trying to picture a lesson, and trying to intuit what he would have said to me if he had been there. I wrote quite a bit of music that year, and I was eager to show him when I returned. At our first lesson, I went into his office and handed him a string orchestra piece, which he proceeded to examine. This was the typical beginning for our lessons, minutes of uncomfortable silence while he would scrutinize my work. He would page through a score slowly, often turning back suddenly to remember a detail. In this case, he made it to the end of the score and looked up. “What happened?” he asked. “You got good while you were away.” That was probably the most direct compliment he ever gave me, and it really sticks with me.
I realize that in addition to techniques, he taught me both the courage and the discipline I needed to write my own music. I am grateful to have worked with him, and will always carry his memory with me; he has become my musical conscience.Sign up for our monthly NewMusicBox newsletter