Kurt Rohde, assistant professor and resident composer in the department of music, was awarded a prestigious fellowship for music composition from the American Academy in Rome on Apr. 10.
Rohde also serves as the co-director of the Empyrean Ensemble. He will be conducting research in the Italian capital on the Venetian Puppet Orchestra for 11 months beginning this September.
The Academy, known primarily as a research and arts institution, houses American scholars and artists to whom they have awarded fellowships. Rohde, who has just joined the music faculty in fall 2008, is the first UC Davis composer to win the Rome prize.
“This is a hugely prestigious and well-merited award to a distinguished young composer of apparently limitless promise,” said UC Davis music professor D. Kern Holoman.
UC Davis department of music chair Anna Maria Busse Berger expressed similar sentiments about Rohde, calling him one of the most promising composers in the United States as well as “very imaginative, sensitive and thoughtful.”
Rohde’s research in Rome predominantly involves a study of the Venetian Puppet Orchestra, a genre prominent from the 1650s to the 1680s that uses nearly life-size human puppets in performances. While in residence, he plans to compose his own puppet orchestra modeled after the traditions in the genre, but with dancers standing in for the puppets and costumed instrumentalists to interact with singers and dancers.
“The point of this project is to do something I have never done,” Rohde said in an e-mail. “To just go into a new realm without preconceptions and just compose the piece. It may be quite dramatic, wacky, eclectic and hopefully good!”
Rohde’s musical love affair began when he stumbled across an LP in his mother’s collection. Inspired by a college course in musical theory, Rohde’s mother had built up an assortment of classical tunes, and Rohde soon found himself listening to the Philadelphia Orchestra on repeat – particularly Beethoven’s Symphony #3 as conducted by Eugene Ormandy.
“I put it on and it was the most outrageous thing I’d ever heard,” he said. “Listening to it transformed everything. I must have listened to the record 10,000 times. To this day, I cannot hear that piece without having the history of my life and of music come flooding back.”
Now a violist, composer, co-director and teacher, Rohde’s inspiration comes from a combination of these sources. With teaching being his most recent endeavor, he said that it has done much to revive and increase the joy he finds in music.
“I love my students. They have such varied and fresh perspectives, and they keep me on my toes. They make me want to be as good an inspired guide and informant as I am able to be.”
Fortunately for both the students and the department, Rohde will resume his post as assistant professor of music composition and theory, as well as Empyrean Ensemble duties, in September 2009.
For aspiring musicians and composers, Rohde provides his pearls of wisdom: “Find the part of the music world you are drawn to, work like gangbusters to grow and excel in it and see what happens. There is not a clear path: the best things about a life in music are the unexpected.”
JAYNE WILSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.