Karl Kohn

Happy 90th Birthday to THE PROFESSOR

I've just discovered that the composer Karl Kohn, my dear Professor of Music at Pomona College, celebrates his 90th birthday today, so this entry SIMPLY MUST be dedicated to him. Professor Kohn was the towering figure of the music department for years, and for good reason. Born in Vienna he escaped to the U.S. with his family as a teen, was educated at Harvard, and has received numerous grants and fellowships, as well as being on the board of the famed "Monday Evening Concert Series" of mostly new music in Los Angles for 20 years. His works are published by Carl Fischer, among others.

At Pomona, he received us as freshmen: lumps of unformed musical material with extremely little culture (for someone from Vienna, especially), and through patient if occasionally dramatic means somehow, by senior year, turned us into near-musicians! (I suspect he'd have loved to begin teaching us at exactly the moment we graduated!). We heard Ligeti for the first time in a duo-piano performance with his also-gifted-pianist wife, Margie, and it was ELECTRIFYING. We discovered that Machaut and Josquin were just as clever as Stravinsky, rhythmically. We were taken to task if we turned in illegible work (pre-computer era): "You expect musicians to have time to try to read this garbage?" followed by the sound of your score being torn to shreds! Or, "you expect professional musicians to sit on stage and play 10 notes in the entire piece?? Write them something to play!". We eventually got the idea!

Now he is a Distinguished Emeritus Professor—retired with benefits—and is still busy composing and leading a life in music. I was honored to perform at a concert at Pomona last February, and in a way, knowing he was in the hall was all I needed to know I had to play my best. Thank you dear Professor Kohn, and many happy returns of the day!

Composer Karl Kohn with Raj Bhimani, piano soloist and member of Syrinx: XXII in February 2016

Composer Karl Kohn with Raj Bhimani, piano soloist and member of Syrinx: XXII in February 2016