by Carl Kruse
My friend Carson Kievman has died at age 72. He was originally from Los Angeles, but lived his last decades in Florida, mostly in Miami. He suffered a stroke in April 2020, and though surgery was successful, two cancers were subsequently discovered. He had long lived with diabetes.
Carson left an indelible mark on South Florida (and on me). A resident composer for the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra in the late 1980’s, he wrote his Second Symphony for that ensemble, which was played by several American orchestras.
Carson Kievman. Photo: The Princeton Alumni Weekly.
After PhD studies at Princeton University, Carson returned to South Florida and established the SoBe Arts Institute, a music and arts school that offered financial assistance and teaching to gifted middle and high school students. Notably, Sobe Arts exposed disadvantaged children who otherwise could not afford a music education to the classics. Many accomplished musicians formed his faculty.`
The students, faculty and performances of Sobe Arts. Slideshow by Carl Kruse.
The school was also the headquarters of SoBe Arts, Carson’s production company, which staged his ambitious music theater 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 the American Masterworks String Festival in 2011, which brought such vanguard artists as violinist Lara St. John, cellist Matt Haimovitz and violist Kim Kashkashian to Sobe Arts for a week-long feast of works by American composers.
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 Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra, and the Polish Radio Choir of Krakow and released on New Albion Records. 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 two residencies in Paris, where he studied with renowned French composer Olivier Messiaen and he also attended the renown Darmstadt summer course, a gathering place of avant-garde composers. There he worked with such luminaries as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luigi Nono, Luciano Berio and Mauricio Kagel. He was a 1977 Bernstein fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center where his music theater score Wake Up, It’s Time to Go to Bed was produced to critical acclaim. In 1978, Carson became composer and director in residence at New York’s Public Theater, writing new works and incidental scores for plays under the direction of legendary producer Joseph Papp.
His was a singular musical voice and his contribution to South Florida’s musical life was unique and enriching. Carson once told me that he tried through his work to tap into a higher state of illumination, evoking something otherworldly, striving to touch the non-literal and pre-verbal incandescence, a closer contact with 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.