Paul Zukofsky (1943–2017)

I last saw Paul, for as it now turns out the last time, in Hong Kong a few years ago. He took Zhimin Li and me out to dinner, a French bistro, and we had a fine time talking into the night and about all manner of things, including his life in Hong Kong. I had first heard Paul play in the part of “Einstein” (the violin part) in Glass’s “Einstein on the Beach” in 1976, a stellar evening at the Metropolitan Opera House. But I only met Paul, in New York, in the early 1990s, and we remained friends since. When I was editing his father, Louis Zukofsky’s, selected poem for Library of America, Paul very much wanted to include “4 Other Countries” — I asked him to write something to explain why, and in his response he goes way beyond that. Here it is. Other articles/essays (on music) by Paul Zukofsky at Musical Observations.

Obit at Slipped Disc with many illuminating comments, including this one by Bob Ludwig: “In July 1981, I was privileged to be with John Cage as I recorded Paul playing his ‘Freeman Etudes I-VIII’ at a studio in Port Jefferson, NY, where Paul was living. I don’t think Book 2 had been finished yet. An incredibly difficult work, on the border of impossible to play, John would continually tell Paul ‘your mistakes are more beautiful than what I wrote!’”

Obit at The Strad, including this comment by Don Krishnaswami: “I had the great honor of working closely with Paul for a couple of years or so right after I received my Master’s from Juilliard. Paul was a wonderful, highly intelligent and intellectual mentor who really made me think about my approach in musical analysis and interpretation. While some may have been a little scared of and intimidated by him, I found him to be a very caring, gentle, and nurturing soul. And he gave me some wonderful opportunities, such as a performance of the complete string quartets of Vincent Persichetti (with Josh) at the Kennedy Center, and the (rather intimidating) opportunity to perform the music of John Cage with Cage himself sitting FOUR FEET from me the whole time. One thing I remember very well is how Paul liked to play musical figures with the bow going in the most logical direction (downbow or upbow) for that figure, even if it meant a bunch of retakes. The normal bowing convention is to follow a downbow with an upbow, but Paul would take many consecutive downbows (or upbows) if that was the most logical bow direction for each consecutive figure. While I now find that unconventional approach a little extreme, I do remember how it impressed my young self with the importance of making logical decisions about the optimum bow direction. My gratitude to Paul for his impact on me and for the opportunities he gave me is unbounded.” [Comments left on the obit were subsequently removed from the site.]

Richard Kostelanetz wrote a profile of Zukofsky for the New York Times magazine, March 23, 1969. He notes that by the time Paul was four, he was able to read musical notation and play Bach. His first Carnegie Hall recital was when he was thirteen. According to the article, he was home-schooled after second grade, partly due to illnesses and partly temperament. Through his parents, he met Williams, cummings, Creeley, Duncan, Ginsberg, and Jonathan Williams. He played Bach for Pound at St. Elizabeth’s.

New York Times obituary.

Mark Liberman on Paul Zukofsky at the Bell Labs in the mid-1970s and on the Times obit.

This obituary was provided by Musical Observations:

The American violinist and conductor Paul Zukofsky died on Tuesday evening, June 6, 2017, at the Sanatorium Hospital in Hong Kong. His death was confirmed by surviving board members of his foundation, Musical Observations, Inc. The cause of death was Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was seventy-three. 

Mr. Zukofsky was known for his high standards of musical integrity and for his work in promoting contemporary classical music. As a violinist and conductor, he premiered music by Milton Babbitt, John Cage, Elliott Carter, Philip Glass, Morton Feldman, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Jo Kondo, Roger Sessions, Artur Schnabel, Yuji Takahashi, Charles Wuorinen, and many others. He made more than sixty recordings, both as violinist and as conductor, for Sony, Camerata, CRI, and for his own label, CP2. He also held numerous professional and academic posts and published many articles on music. 

Born in Brooklyn, NY, October 22, 1943 to “Objectivist” poet Louis Zukofsky and composer and musician Celia Thaew Zukofsky, Paul grew up in the New York City area and studied violin with Ivan Galamian at the Juilliard School of Music, where he earned a Diploma in 1960, followed by a Master’s of Science and a Bachelor’s of Music. In 1954, aged eleven, Paul was taken by his parents to visit Ezra Pound, who was confined at St. Elizabeth’s prison hospital, and at the poet’s request Paul played Bach solo pieces and Jannequin’s “Chant des oiseaux” on the asylum lawn. 

In 1965, Paul won the Young Concert Artists International Auditions and also won prizes at the International Paganini, Thibaud, and Enesco Competitions. Nominated three times for a Grammy Award, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, an Albert Spalding Prize, and a Jascha Heifetz Fellowship, as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and others. 

In 1975, he founded his recording label, CP2 and Musical Observations, Inc., a body to promote his research into issues of music notation. Among the numerous schools and institutes where he taught were the New England Conservatory, Juilliard School, Swarthmore, Princeton, and the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. Also, for ten years beginning in 1976, he was a resident visitor at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, and from 1980, he spent a decade as program coordinator of the “American Portraits” concert series at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC From 1987 to 1996 he was Artistic Director of the New York Museum of Modern Art Summergarden concert series. From 1992 to 1996, he was director of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, where he also held the post of professor of violin, chamber music, and conducting. 

He had close ties to Iceland over many years, where he founded the Youth Orchestra of Iceland in 1985 and the Zukofsky Youth Orchestra. For this work he received the Knight’s Cross, Icelandic Order of the Falcon, in 1990. 

In 2009 he moved to Hong Kong to focus on research and writing, much of which concerned the minuets of Josef Haydn. A number of his articles will be published posthumously on the Musical Observations website. 

It was Mr Zukofsky’s wish that memorials and expressions of sympathy take the form of donations to his foundation, which can be made via the Musical Observations website. Contributions will be used to preserve his legacy of recordings, writings and scores.