Kurt Rohde, composer

Kurt Rohde headshot

Kurt Rohde plays viola, teaches and composes, and lives in San Francisco on unceded Ramaytush Ohlone land with spouse Tim and dog Hendrix. Kurt is fascinated with finding ways to incorporate notions of failure and catastrophe as part of the pursuit of making something beautiful. Kurt is Artistic Advisor and a violist with the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Artistic Director of the Composers Conference, a curator at the Center for New Music, and teaches Music Composition at UC Davis.

Kurt has received the Rome Prize, Berlin Prize, fellowships from the Radcliffe-Harvard Institute for Advanced Study and Guggenheim Foundation, and awards from American Academy of Arts and Letters, Barlow, Fromm, Hanson and Koussevitzky Foundations, and Chamber Music America and Creative Capital. Kurt has spearheaded two initiatives to help create opportunities for composers: The Kurt Rohde Commission Fund is an ongoing commissioning project supporting composers at different stages of their creative life, and Kurt Rohde’s Farewell Tour Project – PARTS 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6 targets underappreciated creative voices in the new music community by commissioning new works for viola.

Kurt Rohde's piece the hardest folksongs never written premiered with the Grossman Ensemble on May 19, 2023. 


Program notes:

I have been thinking about the end of the “world” since childhood. Since then, I have been thinking about the end of my desires, my dreams, my oddnesses — the end of beauty, the end of the body, the end of sex, the end of truth (or at least the end of the use for truth), the end of love, the end of music, the end of queerness (which is in large part about ending things). All these spaces approach endings — when one ending is reached, there is always another ending beyond it waiting. Endings can be beautiful. And aching.

Alternative scenarios fascinate me. Something that has been very seductive to me is imagining microcultures where a community that otherwise has never been allowed to thrive to flourish in the light of promise. I ponder: An eco-pessimist culture that honestly embraces the reality of full eco-collapse, also known as the end of the world. A fully genderrich, or emptied, range of countless identities. A world where valuing the truth is the most prized of currencies, or the least. An understanding that some of us possess an endless urge to control, to place everything into an order, to spin in place. A time when queerness is not quite normative (then it would be, by definition, not queer), but kind of being there “just because.” And I imagine if all these “cultures” had their own folksongs.

At times, it feels very hard to imagine new realities. These imagined folksongs for these existing microcultures have not existed until now. The songs are very easy to sing if you know the words. The words are not easy to remember. The music that goes along with the tunes and the words — well, that is the hardest part of all!

In short, these are pieces conceived for cultures that I want to have folksongs. The words are mine — the prosody, the tunes, all mine. The songs are theirs, whether they want them or not. In these folksongs, the human voice and the words are rarely heard, and only emerge as if unable to be contained.

This piece is dedicated to the ever kind and deeply conscientious Gusty, and with deep gratitude to the highly collaborative Grossman Ensemble musicians, the marvelous and thoughtful conductor Tim Weiss, to the visionary Dr. and Mrs. Grossman, and the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition at the University of Chicago and its dedicated partners and donors. Thank you for being so very kind to me (to all of us on this program, in fact) in a field where it is very easy to do things for some but not for many. Your generosity and consideration is gratefully recognized by many of us. And it matters.

The folksongs are:

I. 6/7ths. of the way to the end of the world

II. engendering [a]round [a]n end of gender

III. post-truth/post-love lullaby

IV. puzzling is fitting pieces that do not fit

V. queer chant [shadow subsong with chorus] Tonight, folksongs 1, 2, and 5 will be premiered.

Their texts follow.


6/7ths. of the way to the end of the world

Twirl and hurl and whirl to the brink

The rough, rough sea sings grey, grey songs

A rapid, rapid tune blurs our ears.


Tip the point,

Sound the alarm,

Sailing along the edge!


Swirl and twirl and hurl to the brink

The red, red sky cries dark, dark hymns

A hot, hot tune burns our eyes.


Tip the point,

Sound the alarm,

Sailing along the edge!


Hurl and whirl and curl at the brink

The dry, dry field blows loud, loud hisses

A white, white noise is our crop for the year.


Tip the point,

Sound the alarm,

Sailing along the edge!


Curl and whirl and it’s a pearl at the brink

The sudden, sudden rain floods the arid, arid plain

A toxic, toxic mud feeds our weary, weary mouths.


Tip the point,

Sound the alarm,

Sailing along the edge!


A pearl, its glowing calm past beyond the brink

The distant, distant future is our current, current life

Its rapid, rapid pull carries us over the final, final falls.


Sailing over the edge.

Will we take flight and soar away?


engendering [a]round [a]n end of gender

it’s not a number — 1, 2, and threeze

nor a color — red, blue, and blued

it’s a feeling — knowing how you know.


why it matters — you, me, us

how it matters — life, death, memory

it’s an aching — knowing how you know.

genderfuturism is 0Î, Z} and ?

genderpresentism is __, __ and ‡¸Ô◊¿

it makes a feeling aching — knowing how you’re



queer chant [shadow subsong, with chorus]

breaking [things]

throwing [things]

making a fall-apart [an altogether]



standing [on the side]

walking [out of sight]

laughing [different laughs]



worship [for one is not worship for another]

dogma [for all is dogma for none]

orthodoxy [is always heterodoxy]

point a finger



we break and throw

we stand and walk

we fall-apart

we sing



cracked [open]

baring always more [to reveal]


Grossman Ensemble premieres Kurt Rohde's "the hardest folksongs never written"