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Carson Kievman, innovative composer and educator, has died

Wed Oct 20, 2021 at 12:53 pm

By Lawrence Budmen

Carson Kievman founded and managed the SoBe Arts Institute in Miami Beach.

Carson Kievman has died at age 72. The Miami-based composer-educator-producer, who had moved to Sarasota after decades in Miami Beach, suffered a stroke in April, 2020. Although surgery was successful,, two cancers and a body-wide neuropathic condition were later discovered.

Long a presence on the South Florida music scene, the Los Angeles-born Kievman was 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 and recorded. 

After doctoral studies at Princeton University, Kievman returned to South Florida and established the SoBe Arts Institute, a music and arts school that offered financial assistance and instruction to gifted middle and high school students. Numerous former New World Symphony members and  area freelance musicians and vocalists formed his faculty.

The school also formed the headquarters of SoBe Arts, Kievman’s production company, which staged his ambitious music theater works.

While a concert version of Kievman’s 1970’s setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet proved uneven and somewhat stylistically dated, the premiere of his seventy-minute music drama Fairy Tales: Songs of the Dandelion Woman was a ground-breaking tour de force. A portrait of mental illness that traversed atonality, electronic music, operetta and Schoenbergian sprechstimme, the work had devastating impact. 

Kievman’s Intelligent Systems–The Surrender of Self in Mystical Contemplation produced in 2015, was a visionary spectacle that combined film, dance, high tech multi-med simulations and musical theater to tell the story of nothing less than the birth, destruction and rebirth of planet Earth. 

When the expansion of the Miami Beach Convention Center resulted in the demolition of the SoBe Arts campus, Kievman moved to the Colony Theater, where he produced Tesla in 2017. Based upon the story of the pathbreaking scientist and his experiments with electricity in the 20th century, the opera proved a compelling fusion of music and narrative drama.

Kievman also presented the American Masterworks String Festival in 2011, which brought such stalwart artists as violinist Lara St. John, cellist Matt Haimovitz and violist Kim Kashkashian to his Collins Park campus for a week-long feast of works by American composers and master classes.

Prior to his years in Miami, Kievman studied with Earl Brown at the California Institute of the Arts. During two residencies in Paris, Kievman studied with renowned French composer Olivier Messiaen and he also attended the famous Darmstadt summer course, a gathering place of 1960’s 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 public and critical acclaim. In 1978 Kievman 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.

Kievman’s output includes ten operas, eight symphonies and much chamber and choral music. His was a singular musical voice and his contribution to South Florida’s musical life was unique and enriching.

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