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On The Death Of A Composer

February 6, 2008

I didn't think anything of the announcements about delays on the northbound line as I was taking the train in the opposite direction, from Oakland to San Francisco, on Sunday morning. But when I read the news about the Berkeley composer who was killed by a train shortly before I embarked on my journey, the announcements suddenly swung sharply back into my conscience, like a dissonant chord.

Jorge Liderman was a prominent local composer and a professor in the music department at UC Berkeley. The 50-year-old composer allegedly jumped in front of a moving train as it approached El Cerrito Station in the East Bay just before 10am on Sunday morning, an apparent suicide.

"Liderman was a fixture on the Bay Area's classical music scene since joining the Berkeley faculty in 1989," wrote classical music critic Joshua Kosman in an article about the composer's death for the San Francisco Chronicle. "His music - full of melody, rhythmically vital and scored with a keen ear for instrumental color - was performed regularly both here and abroad, and his discography included almost a dozen CDs."

The composer died the day before the world premiere of "Furthermore...", a chamber concerto that he wrote for violinist Carla Kihlstedt and the San Francisco Chamber Contemporary Music Players, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

Kosman's review of Monday night's concert is touching in its description of the music and atmosphere at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Rarely does the Chron's critic write such sensitive prose:

"And then the music began, and for the moment at least, the shadow vanished, as if powerless to hold out against the infectious high spirits of Liderman's writing. As the title with its trailing ellipsis suggests, "Furthermore ..." ushers its listeners into a discussion - or perhaps even a party - that is already in progress. It sets the solo violin against a spangly seven-member chamber ensemble in a continuous friendly debate over how to proceed. At issue, as so often in Liderman's music, is rhythm, and particularly its relation to expressivity. The question is this: Should we unroll crisply repeating rhythmic patterns, depending on their shimmery colors and catchy grooves to beguile the audience? Or should we opt for a more songful and heartfelt melodic vein?"

Kosman doesn't proffer any personal theories about the cause of the composer's apparent suicide in either article. He may not have known Liderman well enough to do so and perhaps it's too soon after the death to write about such things. But the lovely prose of the review does hint at the sadness, or at least the indecision at work in the composer's music.


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