by Carl Kruse
My friend Carson Kievman is gone. He was 72. Originally from Los Angeles, Carson lived his last decades in Florida, mostly in Miami. He had a stroke in 2020, and later doctors discovered two cancers. He had long lived with diabetes.
Carson left an indelible mark on South Florida (and on me). He was a composer for the Florida Philharmonic in the 80’s, writing his 2nd symphony for that group, which was subsequently performed by several other philharmonics.
Carson Kievman. Photo: The Princeton Alumni Weekly.
After PhD work at Princeton, Carson came back to Florida and founded SoBe Arts, an institution offering music and art lessons to all. Notably, Sobe Arts exposed disadvantaged children who otherwise could not afford a music education to the classics. Many accomplished musicians were instructors.
The students, faculty and performances of Sobe Arts. Slideshow by Carl Kruse.
The school was also the base for producing Carson’s major works, including Tesla, Intelligent Systems–The Surrender of Self in Mystical Contemplation (commissioned by a fellowship from The National Endowment for the Arts ), and Fairy Tales: Songs of the Dandelion Woman.
In 1987, the legendary theatrical producer Joseph Papp commissioned Carson to compose a work based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Papp’s final commission for the New York Shakespeare Festival). Sadly, not long after, Papp was diagnosed with cancer and died, ending plans for the production. However, in 2012 – after 21 years of gestation — Hamlet premiered at SoBe Arts.
Carson also organized in 2011 the American Masterworks String Festival in 2011, which brought such vanguard artists as Matt Haimovitz (cello) and violinists Lara St. John and Kim Kashkashian to Sobe Arts in a week-long feast celebration of American classical music.
Carson’s work followed an independent trajectory that blended new music with the theatrical, visual and literary arts. His symphonies, operas, chamber music, music-theater and experimental works were performed internationally from SoBe Arts (Miami) to the Berkeley Art Museum; Ysbreker (Amsterdam), the Pennsylvania Ballet (Philadelphia), The Public Theater (New York City), the Rote Fabrik (Zurich), the Tanglewood Music Festival (Lenox), and the National Theater Mannheim (Germany). His works were broadcasted by the BBC, Nord Deutsche Rundfunk, Berlin; Radio France, Paris; National Public Radio (NPR) and other media outlets worldwide.
Carson created various large scale orchestral works, including Symphony No. 2 (42) (1991), Symphony No. 3 (Hurricane) (1995), Symphony No. 4 (Biodiversity) (1998), Symphony No. 5 (2010) and Symphony No. 6 (No Man’s Land) (2014). Symphony No. 2 (42) was commissioned by the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra to honor the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s death, recorded in 1996 by the Radio National Symphony Orchestra – Poland, and the Radio Choir of Krakow. The recording was selected by Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times as one of the Top Classical CDs of the year and received radiant reviews including, “Original in its outrageous flights of fancy” (Los Angeles Times), “A truly original and artistically sensitive work” (All Music Guide) and “It provides one of the most powerful musical experiences I have had in recent times.” (Spoleto Today).
Prior to his years in Miami, Carson had music residencies in Paris, where he worked with French composer Messiaen and he also enrolled at the summer program in Darmstadt, a place where renokwn composers gathered. There he associated with composers such as Luigi Nono, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio and Mauricio Kagel. He was a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center in 1977 where his score for Wake Up, It’s Time to Go to Bed was performed to much acclaim. Carson became composer and director in residence at New York’s Public Theater in 1978, where he created new works for the renown Joseph Papp.
His was a unique musical voice and his contribution to South Florida’s cultural life was significant. Carson once told me that he tried through his work to tap into a higher state of seeing, evoking something otherworldly, ethereal, of reaching out to non-verbal brightness, getting nearer to the “luminosity of life’s intangibles.”
I sat on the board of Sobe Arts between 2010-2014 and organized a series of fundraisers for the organization at my home — “Kruseville” — in Miami. Carson taught me much about life and music and I am heartbroken he is no longer with us.