Paul Zukofsky

Paul Zukofsky

Conductor • Violin

• 1943 2017


Violinist, conductor, and chamber musician Paul Zukofsky was generally associated with the advancement and performance of modern music, having premiered and recorded works by Wuorinen, Glass, Carter, Babbitt, and numerous other 20th century composers. But he also divulged a sympathy for the music of Bach in his well-received recordings of the solo sonatas and partitas.

Zukofsky showed interest in music before the age of three and started taking his first lessons on the violin at four. His skills advanced so rapidly that he began studies with Ivan Galamian when he was just seven. His résumé as a child performer was equally impressive, having given his first public concert at six and his first with an orchestra, the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, when he was ten. Three years later, he gave a recital at Carnegie Hall. By the mid-1960s, Zukofsky had become well known in both solo and chamber repertory. In the latter genre, he would team up with Gilbert Kalish for many concert appearances and recordings over the years. He also began conducting orchestras, often chamber-sized ensembles and usually in modern repertory. He served as music director (1978-1987) of the Colonial Symphony Orchestra, a Madison, New Jersey-based ensemble. In this post, he also conducted works by Beethoven, Mozart, and other mainstream composers. Zukofsky also led the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble beginning in the 1970s, becoming its conductor in 1984. Starting in the 1970s, Zukofsky developed a relationship with the Reykjavik College of Music in Iceland, regularly appearing in concerts and conducting seminars there. He also appeared in many concerts as conductor at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in the last two decades of the 20th century, often leading the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble and the Juilliard Orchestra.

Zukofsky became a close friend of composer Philip Glass and assisted in the recording of his opera Einstein on the Beach (1976). The character Einstein does not sing, but plays the violin instead. Zukofsky inspired Glass to write his Violin Concerto (1986-1987) and gave the work's premiere on April 5, 1987, with the American Composers Orchestra under the direction of Dennis Russell Davies. In 1985, Zukofsky founded the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Iceland (Sinfoniuhljomsveit Aeskunnar). From 1992-1996, Zukofsky was director of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at the University of Southern California. As both a conductor and violinist, he remained active into the new century and made over 60 recordings for a number of labels, including Sony, Camerata, CRI, and one of his own, CP2, of whose parent company, Musical Observations, Inc., he was president. He recorded extensively for this label beginning in the early 1990s, issuing performances of works, often in premiere issues, by Cage, Feldman, Xenakis, Glass, and several other modern composers. Zukofsky died in Hong Kong in June 2017; he was 73 years old.