Sketch of Kurt Erickson
by Nancy Perry, BCCO soprano since 1998
Kurt Erickson is known to us primarily as the winner of our composition competition to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra in 2015-16. His composition was chosen from over 100 applicants from across the country, and we are finding it rewarding and challenging to master. I talked with Kurt to provide the chorus community a closer look at this talented composer.
Kurt is from Fresno, born there 45 years ago. His father was in real estate, but his true love was golf, which he played just below the professional level. Kurt’s mother was a teacher. A brother, 4 years older, became a mechanical engineer.
Kurt’s personal website is currently being rebuilt, but if you go to the Consumnes River College website you will be impressed by the list of accomplishments, awards, and commissions earned by Kurt, and the variety of places he has done fellowships and residencies, all devoted to composing. He teaches four levels of piano, as well as Musicianship, Theory, and Composers Ensemble courses at the college.
I was prompted by the long list of accomplishments to ask Kurt if he had been a prodigy. He said he can admit to possessing innate talent but maybe not at the prodigy level. The line of questioning led him to tell me this incredibly charming story: Kurt was 4 years old and the family was watching Lawrence Welk on TV as so many of us did back then. The song Suwannee River was played on the show, and then little Kurt walked over to the family piano and just played it, just picked out the notes pretty much in one try. Soon after, it was decided to give him piano lessons, a good call! The first piano teacher was not the inspirational one. Kurt and his first teacher decided by the time he was in junior high that he had surpassed her.
Kurt was to find his truly inspirational teacher next, and then was to lose him to cancer by the time he, Kurt, was 20 years old. Their relationship was so important to Kurt that he attended college near home in order not to leave his teacher before he died. His name was Philip Lorenz and he was an acclaimed touring pianist who took the position of Professor of Piano at Cal State University, Fresno, in 1969. After the loss of his mentor and teacher Kurt decided to leave home to continue his education. He found his next piano teacher at Stanford, completed a Master’s Degree in piano performance at Notre Dame University (choosing to experience a different part of the country), then did further graduate work at Mills College in composition.
From a previous marriage, Kurt is the father of two children, a 10 year-old daughter and an 8 year-old son. Kurt’s fiancé is award-winning soprano Heidi Moss, who will perform with us as the soloist for Kurt’s piece, “I think I Shall Praise It.” She has two daughters the same ages as Kurt’s children.
I will end this sketch by letting Kurt speak for himself in telling us a bit about the origin and meaning of the piece we will be singing. But first, I asked what Kurt likes to do besides his life in music, and he replied that he likes to exercise, specifically, he uses a punching bag for his favorite workout. Your hands! I exclaimed, as most everyone does, he said. Kurt likes to think of his hands as just hands, like anyone else’s.
Here are some of his remarks about the piece we will sing soon in celebration of our 50th Anniversary. He references his choice of three poets who had ties to Berkeley, as the inspiration for the three movements of the composition.
There is something raw and wild inherent in the act of artistic creation, this I know firsthand. The messiness and chaos so necessary for creation seems to have a parallel in the spirit that pervades the city of Berkeley itself. Kizer was a feminist icon with a brazen personality, bristling at the idea of subservience in her personal or artistic life. The boldness of the poet, open and unashamed of her sexuality, reflects a spirit and an attitude that dares to be seen as an equal among her contemporaries.
While the First Movement celebrates the BCCO explicitly, the Second and Third movements present a kind of yin and yang of human experience, appealing to both the angelic and devilish aspects of our existence. A healthy society embraces both, and Berkeley is certainly a city that doesn’t shy away from the difficult or complex. I hope this explanation helps the Chorus to embrace the work and the sentiments it embodies.