5 Questions: Music Alumni Alexander Kahn ’08

Credit: Rick Peckham

Alexander Kahn graduated from UC Berkeley Music with his Ph.D. in 2008. After a stint at Gettysburg College, Kahn now serves as Director of Orchestral Activities at Sonoma State University.

1- You note your father Eugene was a big influence on your passion for music. How did he and your family nurture your interest?
I come from a long line of musicians. My father was a professional violinist and high school orchestra and youth orchestra conductor. His father was a violist in the Philadelphia Orchestra, under Eugene Ormandy. Other relatives include the composers Erich Itohr-Kahn and Roy Harris (by marriage), and the cellist Julian Kahn, who fled Nazi Germany and played in the Hollywood film studios.
2- You studied French horn as an undergrad (as well as comparative lit) at the University of Indiana. How did your background in performance influence your scholarship once you started working on your Ph.D. at UC Berkeley?
Like many college students, I changed my mind regarding “what I want to be when I grow up” many times. As an undergrad I first leaned towards French horn performance, than towards comparative literature, and finally towards musicology. By the end of my college career I realized that I could combine my knowledge about music with the critical theory and analysis skills that I gained as a student of comparative literature. At Berkeley, I continued to perform on French horn and studied conducting with David Milnes; these activities kept me grounded in music as a living, breathing art form.
3- How did your time serving as Assistant Conductor for UCBSO under David Milnes influence your approach as an Orchestral Director/Conductor?
David Milnes was quite simply the best conducting teacher I have ever had; although I went on after graduating from UC Berkeley to study with more “big name” conducting teachers I owe David an incredible debt of gratitude for giving me a rock-solid background in musicianship, aural skills, score study, rehearsal technique, and rhythmic acumen.
4- You’re active as a scholar as well as a conductor, and your thesis at UC-Berkeley focused on a community of musicians who fled to L.A. during World War II. Where has your research taken you lately?
These days my professional life is mostly focused on conducting; while during graduate school I had intended to have a career as a scholar-performer I find that I simply don’t have time to pursue both scholarship and performance at a professional level in addition to my heavy teaching load and the demands (and pleasures) of family life. However more and more I am in demand as a lecturer on the benefits of mindfulness meditation for musicians, and am hoping to write a book on the subject when the time is right.
5- What drives your passion for music?
The desire to connect with others through beauty.

Pacific Rim Music Festival Ensemble Korea, new music

Sang-hun Kim performs a solo ajaeng in a premiere performance of "When He Was 600 Years Old" by Hi Kyung Kim

Sang-hun Kim performs an ajaeng solo in a premiere performance of When He Was 600 Years Old by Hi Kyung Kim

A recent April noon concert featured Pacific Rim Music Festival Ensemble Korea, in the Bay Area for this and additional concerts at UC Santa Cruz, to be followed by a performance at the Italian Academy, Columbia University in New York. The program featured both preview concerts of new compositions by composer Shi-Hui Chen, chair and professor of composition at the Shepard School of Music at Rice University (When He Was 600 Years Old for ajaeng solo) which was about Noah’s Ark, as well as Berkeley Music Department chair and composer Cindy Cox (Naseon II), which is Korean for “spiral”. The instruments revolve around a central pitch, becoming increasingly embellished as the piece progresses. Naseon II is the second part of a larger work; the first part features an extended solo for the haegeum.  Cindy Cox visited Seoul in the summer of 2015 as a Fellow at the National Gugak Center, and while there studied traditional Korean music. She learned first hand about the gayageum, geomungto, and ajaeng, all zithers, but played in completely different ways. The large audience in Hertz Hall enthusiastically responded to the varied instruments and sounds of the colorful performance.

Naomi in the news

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik about Angélique Kidjo’s concert at the Nourse Theater: :


Naomi on CalDay addresses the crowd before the performance.

“(The concert) was as expected, a leap-from-your -seat and shake your booty op, and by the time she sang her last song, the audience had swarmed the stage and the aisles. Near the end of the show, she sang while walking through the audience, then invited folks to join her onstage. One of those was a young blind woman, a strawberry blonde you’d take at first glance to be Nordic, who took the stage with the guidance of a man in African dress. She was one of the individual fans who stepped forward to dance with the drummer. When the show seemed to be over and the audience began to leave, she lingered onstage to talk with Kidjo, a chat that spurred a concert addendum. The woman spoke a bit of Yoruba, had studied the singer’s music, and said she wanted to sing a Kidjo song to Kidjo. The audience, half out by then, turned to listen, as the “amateur” belted it out , Kidjo listening with a stunned expression on her face. There was huge applause, of course.

As we left, I caught up with the woman, who is Naomi Scott, 22, an African American studies student at UC Berkeley. She identified herself, in response to my inquiries, in precise African-accented English, her speaking voice sounding much—to my untrained ears—like Kidjo’s. “I want to teach traditions,” she said of her academic goals. “It’s good to be connected to your ancestral heritage.”

Naomi is a member of the African Music and Dance Ensemble directed by C.K. Ladzekpo, in the Department of Music. Their last concert was on Saturday, April 2, in Hertz Hall.

Elevating Berkeley's creative culture, an idea whose time has come.

Students from many academic disciplines at Berkeley are the focus of a new arts and design immersive initiative that introduces science, technology, engineering, and math students to arts and design, via a new Big Ideas course,  “Thinking Across the Arts and Design at Berkeley,” but of a major new effort at Berkeley called the Arts + Design Initiative. Its many ambitions include making exposure to the arts and design essential to the undergraduate experience, developing students’ creative skills for today’s workplace and establishing Berkeley as a world-leading arts institution. Read more in the article by Gretchen Kell in the March 10, 2016 issue of the UC Berkeley News.

Ensemble Intercontemporain

In addition to working with graduate student composers noted Parisian Ensemble Intercontemporain traveled to the Bay Area to perform works by Berkeley composers in a concert sponsored by Cal Performances. On two consecutive nights in November, November Cal Performances concert In Hertz Hall, they presented

Noted Parisian new music group Ensemble Intercontemporain traveled to the Bay Area to participate in two concerts in Hertz Hall sponsored by Cal Performances. They performed recent works by Berkeley composers, including a We met as Sparks by music faculty composer Franck Bedrossian and Cluster X by Edmund Campion/Kurt Hentschlager. While at Berkeley, they gave readings of student works, appeared in composer colloquia, and on two consecutive nights in November, participated in a concert in Hertz Hall.

Under the artistic direction of composer Matthias Pintscher, the 31-member ensemble lent its “bracing expertise” (The Guardian, London) to two programs of 20th-century gems on November 6 & 7 in a concert sponsored by Cal Performances. Included in the concert programs were the American premiere of a new work, We met as Sparks, by Music Department faculty composer Franck Bedrossian, (part of his cycle of pieces inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson). In addition, Berkeley faculty member Edmund Campion premiered a new work with live video, and the ensemble’s founding father Pierre Boulez was represented with sur Incises, his magnificent reimagining of his solo piano piece Incises, for three concurrent trios of piano, harp, and percussion. While at Berkeley, they did readings of student compositions and participated in composer colloquia.

The Mendelssohn Project at the Magnes

Photo of Nick Mathew by piano

Professor Nick Mathew with the Erard piano at the Schumann Bicentennial in Hertz Hall

Spring 2016 marks the opening and launch of the Mendelssohn Project at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life. One exhibition, two historic pianos, and fourteen lectures/performances sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Arts and Humanities, the Departments of History and Music, and the Magnes Collection. An exhibit curated by Francesco Spagnolo, “From Mendelssohn To Mendelssohn” reawakens 18th-century intercultural dialogs and the history of the Mendelssohn family in a salon-like setting animated by Oppenheim’s painting, Lavater and Lessing Visits Moses Mendelssohn (1865), ritual, art, paints, books and manuscripts from the Magnes Collection and the Erard piano, a historic piano on loan from UC Berkeley’s Department of Music. Built in 1854, it is a seven-octave grand piano, approximately eight feet long. In 2001, Charles Rus, organist at the Episcopal Church of Saint John the Evangelist, San Francisco, purchased the piano from a moving and storage company where it had been abandoned by its previous owner. In the spring of 2007, Rus sold the piano to the Department of Music of the University of California at Berkeley. » read more »

EZ Music Conference: Interdisciplinary perspectives

Nell Cloutier and Melanie Gudesblatt

Nell Cloutier (top) and Melanie Gudesblatt (bottom) are PhD candidates in Music History and Literature.

March 11 – 13, 2016
Elkus Room, 125 Morrison Hall, UC Berkeley campus

Nell Cloutier (dissertation topic: the reception of early 19th-century Italian opera in Paris and London, focusing on celebrity cultures, consumption of repetitive novelties, and social geography) and Melanie Gudesblatt, PhD candidates in Music History and Literature, co-produced a conference sponsored by the Department of Music that introduced interdisciplinary perspectives to the study of quotidian or “easy” music”: simple, generic, kitschy, or trivial music, usually for amateur performers or listeners.

EZ Music Conference link

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John Roberts identifies new music by Handel

Professor Emeritus John Roberts

Professor Emeritus John Roberts

Professor Emeritus John Roberts recently tripped over an important discovery that others had missed, an early version of Handel’s cantata Tu fedel? tu costante?, HWV 171, when examining a manuscript from a collection belonging to Dutch keyboard player, conductor, and collector of music scores Ton Koopman.

Three of the four arias in the cantata were completelphoto of music scorey new, likely to be written in 1705 or 1706. Koopman conducts the cantata in Amsterdam on April 9. Professor John Roberts plans to attend.

See article by Kathleen Maclay, UC Berkeley Public Affairs


Orchestra musicians perform with the Danish String Quartet

Cal Performances invited the Danish String Quartet to perform at Zellerbach Hall in February. Quartet members also performed with UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra principals for an appreciative capacity crowd in a free Friday noon concert. The program included the Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy Octet in E-flat major, op. 20. The talented and fortunate few orchestra members who performed were Lucia Petito, concert master; Peter Hintz, violin; Jane Kim, viola; and Mosa Tsay, cello. The crowd cheered when Mosa caught the bouquet with one hand, thrown from opposite side of the stage; her other hand was holding the cello (see Mosa easily catching blurred flowers in photo above).

The Berkeley Carillon at 100


Campanile and gingko tree

Sather Tower was completed in 1915, and so for the past year or so the university has been celebrating its hundredth birthday with a wide-variety of events. Celebrations began right after school began with a multi-media event with sound, light, and the participation of the earth in “Natural Frequencies,” a collaboration between several departments on campus. The department’s composer Edmund Campion created a musical composition involving two carillonists (University Carillonist Jeff Davis and Assistant Tiffany Ng), and the vibrations of the earth during the moment of performance, filtered through an electronic version of the Class of 1928 Carillon. The program was produced several times, and the audiences were in the thousands.

A contest, ‘Hack The Bells,’ invited anyone to produce a work of art involving the Campanile. Many of the submissions were various takes on music, and the winning work, Harmonize Place, was written by one of the department’s graduate students in composition, Rama Gottfried.

» read more »

Marika Kuzma Retires

Marika Kuzma

The chorus presented Marika Kuzma with a clear glass bowl engraved wtih

The chorus members presented Marika Kuzma with a clear glass bowl engraved with a message of appreciation.

(Professor, Choral Director)
On Dec 9th in Hertz Hall on the University of California, Berkeley campus, Marika Kuzma led two concerts that marked her retirement from the university choirs. It was one of many crowning moments in her twenty-five years of teaching in our Department of Music.

The 2014–15 year marked several milestones in her career as a choral director and Slavic Music scholar. Her edition of the Bortniansky Choral Concertos will soon be published by the international publisher Carus Verlag in Germany. Her compact disc of Bortniansky’s music on the prestigious Naxos label won rave reviews and an extensive interview in Fanfare Magazine.

Kuzma and the Music Department choirs enjoyed several ChCh_Kuzma2triumphs this last year. On the concert stage: in early April, the Chamber Chorus peformed J.S. Bach’s Mass in B minor to two sold out audiences. In late April, the University Chorus and Chamber Chorus performed with the Berkeley Symphony under Joana Carneiro in a concert featuring the Mozart Requiem and choruses from John Adams Death of Klinghoffer with famous composer himself attending rehearsals and the concert. In September, the UC singers joined several choirs for a Beethoven 9th Symphony performance with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel that was broadcast internationally. In November, Kuzma conducted West Coast premieres of music by UCB alumnus (and her former assistant) Trevor Weston and the Mendelssohn Lobgesang Symphony-Cantata with the combined choirs, full orchestra, and soloists Jennifer Ashworth (UC alumna), Tonia D’Amelio, and Simon Peterson.

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Bonnie Remembers Berkeley

Photograph of Bonnie Wade playing the koto on the UCLA campus on a pathway over a pond.

Ansel Adams made this photograph of Bonnie Wade playing the koto while at UCLA. It was later included a book of his work titled,”Fiat Lux”

My first acquaintance with Berkeley was the summer of 1967. I was a graduate student in ethnomusicology at UCLA and came up to spend part of the summer working on my Master’s thesis and also attending performances at the World Music Center funded by the Scripps family. I made a tour of the Department of Music. I also, with typical graduate student naiveté, asked at the office if there were any teaching possibilities. None.


David Boyden

My next acquaintance with Berkeley was in the summer of 1969. I had finished my fieldwork for my dissertation and had begun writing. I was also looking toward the future and wrote to the chairman of the Department, at the time Larry Moe, to see if there might be any possibility in future of hiring an ethnomusicologist. He wrote back to say that they had no plans, at present, to do so. Interestingly, I had been aware that many years earlier, when Mantle Hood was in the process of setting up a program in ethnomusicology, UC Berkeley and UCLA were in the running. David Boyden later told me that Berkeley wanted Hood to come and establish a program. Mantle later told me that he chose UCLA because its then Chancellor, Franklin Murphy, would provide more resources, which it did, and UCLA became the premier place to study ethnomusicology. I finished my dissertation and began teaching at Brown University, which for me was ideal. It was less than an hour from my family in Connecticut, only an hour from Boston, a city I loved and where I had done my undergraduate work (at Boston University), and a comfortable ride down to New York. I immediately and happily settled in with no idea of ever leaving. That became reinforced when, during my first year at Brown, I was courted by and received an offer from Yale which I turned down, despite close proximity to family in Stonington, Connecticut, and a nibble from Columbia, which I chose not to pursue, despite its being in New York. Brown was my place.  » read more »