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UC Berkeley composer Jorge Liderman wins Guggenheim award

– Jorge Liderman, a composer and professor of music at the University of California, Berkeley, is a winner of a 2003 Guggenheim Latin American and Caribbean Fellowship Award.

The 45-year-old Buenos Aires native, who has been playing and writing music since he was a child, said his fellowship plans call for still more compositions - including an opera about Sor Juana, a feminist nun in Mexico in the 1600s.

 Jorge Liderman
Jorge Liderman

Liderman's music - called sophisticated and primal, remarkably unusual, imaginative and uncompromising - has been featured around the world, including at such music festivals as the Munich Biennale, Osaka's Expo 90, London's Viva, Tanglewood, New Music Chicago and Music of the Americas. His music has been performed by the London Sinfonietta, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Arditti String Quartet and other leading ensembles.

His first opera, "Antigona Furiosa," won the 1992 International Theater Prize at the Third Munich Biennale, and his chamber work "Yzkor" won the Argentine Tribune of Composers' Prize and represented Argentina at the International Rostrum of Composers in Paris the same year.

A recent effort was the creation of music to accompany a new translation of the "The Song of Songs," a famous love poem from the Hebrew Bible. Liderman worked with translators Chana Bloch and Ariel Bloch, musicians and Cal Performances to present a collaborative performance of "Song of Songs" at Hertz Hall on the UC Berkeley campus in 2002.
 Listen to excerpts of Jorge Liderman's compositions (select Works for MP3 samples)

Liderman said he was struck by the lyrical new translation, and almost immediately interpreted it into sound with three instrumental ensembles, a female chorus and three soloists seated among clarinets, violas and horns. His work also featured two pianos and two marimbas, and a third ensemble including a flute, violin, oboe, bass, and trumpet.

"I spent a lot of time with the text," Liderman said, "talking to Chana (Bloch) about my ideas and impressions, and benefiting from her intimate knowledge of the Song. Among other things, we discussed the cyclical structure of the poem, marked by refrains and repetitions, and by the recurrence of lovers' meetings and partings, songs of praise, moments of longing, and celebrations."

The result, he said, was an hour-long cantata covering almost the entire text and divided in three moments, with each scene displaying distinct musical and dramatic qualities.

At the moment, Liderman is working on an orchestral piece, commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard University, for La Camerata, one of the leading orchestras in Mexico.

"I am also working on a new work for two pianos and have plans for a violin concerto," he said.

But Liderman's big project is creating an opera based on "El Sueño y la Agonía" by Mexican playwright and scholar Carlos Elizono Alcaraz. The play is about the life of Sor Juana, a Mexican nun who wrote three volumes of poetry and plays and spoke out against popular religious doctrines of her era.

"What I want to do is use the play and some of her poetry," said Liderman, who has already begun selecting excerpts of her work.

"This exciting new project of Jorge's is a natural sequel to his two major vocal works, 'Antigone' and 'Song of Songs,'" said Wendy Allanbrook, chair of the UC Berkeley music department in the College of Letters and Science. "I'm thrilled that the Guggenheim committee liked the project; the award will allow him to take a full year off so that he can get a good start on the third part of this quasi-trilogy."

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation announced the Latin American and Caribbean awards today (Thursday, June 5). Some 37 artists, scientists and scholars were chosen from a field of 737 applicants to receive grants totaling $1,150,000. Fellowships are based on demonstrated exceptional creative ability or capacity for productive scholarship.

Liderman earned a bachelor of music degree with honors from the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem. He holds a master's degree and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, where he studied with composers Ralph Shapey and Shulamit Ran.

Liderman also studied composition at the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts with George Perle and Oliver Knussen.

After a year teaching at Chicago's American Conservatory of Music, Liderman joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1989 to teach music theory and composition, and contemporary music. He and his wife live in Richmond.