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Obituary
Jorge Liderman

06 February 2008

Jorge Mario Liderman, a distinguished composer and music professor, died suddenly on Sunday, Feb. 3. He was 50.


Jorge Liderman (Wendy Edelstein photo)
 

A native of Argentina and the grandson of European immigrants, Liderman began playing and writing music when he was just a child. His music - described varyingly as sophisticated and primal, imaginative and uncompromising - is said to have been influenced by the music of his home country as well as by his Jewish roots, by Stravinsky and Bartók, as well as contemporary composers such as Steve Reich and György Ligeti.

Born in Buenos Aires on Nov. 16, 1957, Liderman began his formal musical studies at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem, under the direction of Mark Koptiman. He earned a bachelor of music degree with honors there, and then his master's and Ph.D. degrees in composition in 1988 from the University of Chicago.

Liderman taught at Chicago's American Conservatory of Music for a year before joining Berkeley's music department faculty in 1989 to teach composition and music theory.

"He loved to teach the craft of composing," said Bonnie Wade, chair of the music department, describing Liderman as a superb craftsman who took a very hands-on yet intellectual approach to teaching composition.

He attracted numerous graduate students from Latin America and Mexico, Wade said, and his connections to musicians and conductors in those regions as well as Spain provided a nice complement to the department's lively French and Italian connections. His music, she added, was quite personal and lyrical.

Liderman's compositions have been commissioned and performed with increasing frequency around the world by such major ensembles as the American Composers Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Sinfonietta, Cuarteto Latinoamericano, Boston Musica Viva, Mila Divertimento Ensemble, and Radio France; by such individual artists as Diego Masson, David Tanenbaum, Oliver Knussen, and Esa Pekka Salonen; and at festivals such as Tanglewood, Osaka's Expo 90, Music of the Americas, and London's Viva.

Liderman won awards from the Guggenheim, Harper, Gaudeamus, and Fromm foundations, along with the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the University of California President's Fellowship program.

His first opera, Antigona Furiosa, a setting of playwright Griselda Gambaro's surrealistic version of Sophocles' Antigone, won the 1992 International Music Theater Prize at the Third Munich Biennale, and a chamber piece, Yzkor, won the Argentine Tribune of Composers' Prize.

Young love, blossoms, spices, and bird songs

Liderman worked with Chana and Ariel Bloch following publication of their lyrical English translation of "The Song of Songs," a famous love poem in the Hebrew Bible. He composed an eponymous, hourlong, three-part cantata for the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and the UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus that premiered in 2002 at Cal Performances.

"The passionate intensity of the Blochs' translation, its richly sonorous language and strong supple rhythms, clearly invited a musical setting," Liderman wrote in a Song of Songs program. He said he was struck "by the joy, warmth, and color of the song - the passion of young love, the exhilaration of a first sexual encounter, the blossoms, spices, and bird songs of springtime. These impressions translated themselves almost immediately into sound.."

The New Century Chamber Orchestra performed the world premiere of Liderman's Rolling Springs in March of last year, and Cal Performances celebrated his 50th birthday in November with a concert dedicated to his chamber and vocal music.

The world premiere of his chamber concerto, Furthermore, written for violinist Carla Kihlstedt and the San Francisco Chamber Contemporary Players, took place on Monday, Feb. 4, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.
"He had a particularly musical language that people could access, but he wasn't by any means playing down to the masses," said Robert Cole, director of Cal Performances, who called Liderman "a very, very gifted composer."

Composition as prayer

In a 2005 interview with the Berkeleyan, Liderman compared composing to an act of devotion or prayer, and a way of entering a deeper spiritual realm. He lamented that contemporary music has become divorced from its audience, thanks to "a ghetto of composers writing music for other composers."

Liderman said in the interview that he sought "to write music that is visceral, that can move you not just intellectually but also emotionally and physically. I think something has to grab you on a subconscious level in the music. In my case, it's usually the music's rhythm."

"Jorge was a wonderful, kind, and loving man, a brilliant composer and musician," said Liderman's wife, Mimi Wolff. "He had an extraordinary talent for expressing himself through his music. He will be deeply missed, and we know that his legacy lives on in his music and the many people he touched with his talent and generosity."

"Our department has suffered the loss of a valued colleague and friend. Jorge taught and inspired many students over the years," said Edmund Campion, a music professor and co-director of the campus Center for New Music and Audio Technologies. He called Liderman "a gentle soul and full of love, a person dedicated to music and music composition."

Survivors include his wife, Mimi Wolff, of El Cerrito, and his mother, Sarah Liderman, and sister, Claudia, both of Buenos Aires.

Plans for a campus memorial are pending.

- Kathleen Maclay