In Memoriam: Robert S. Bloch
Professor Emeritus of Music
Robert S. Bloch, UC Davis professor emeritus of music, died on November 4 at age 89. He was a member of the faculty from 1974 to 2000, primarily teaching violin and music theory in addition to giving concerts. The UC Davis Music Department remains grateful for the musicianship Bloch shared on stage and in the classroom. Theodore Karp, a prior faculty member (1963–73) who went on to teach at Northwestern University, previously described Bloch as “A quiet man with a ready, genial wit.” He was also self-admittedly restless, which showed in the breadth of his endeavors.
Bloch’s associations with Davis began well before his professorial appointment. In the 1960s, Bloch was invited to play with the New Music Ensemble, which was an incubator for composer-performers who were experimenting with different methods of creating contemporary music. Its core members included Professor Richard Swift, Larry Austin, Stan Lunetta, and others. UC Davis was the ensemble’s home thanks to Swift, who knew Bloch from their early days studying composition together at the University of Chicago. They initially performed in beatnik hangouts, playing music composed by their own members. Karlheinz Stockhausen, an early artist in residence on campus, took notice and was impressed with the ensemble’s contemporary improvisation skills. The New Music Ensemble took several forms over time. Today, the department’s professional contemporary music ensemble is called the Empyrean Ensemble.
Orchestral work was a natural fit for a violinist of Bloch’s capabilities. During his service as a member of the U.S. Army’s Seventh Orchestra, he was stationed in Germany from 1958 to 1959, and played concerto solos and often filled the concertmaster seat. After coming to California, he became a violinist in the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera Orchestra. He would later serve for a time as the principal second violinist of the Minnesota Orchestra. Bloch toured with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to Germany, England, and the former Soviet Union. He also conducted the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra in its earliest days and later performed several concertos with the orchestra.
Chamber music attracted Bloch’s musicianship. He formed with Elizabeth Gibson, Tom Stauffer and Duncan Johnstone the Robert Bloch quartet, which first appeared as artists in residence at UC Davis in 1980, and later as a formal quartet in residence. The quartet performed regular recitals on campus and would read new student compositions. Bloch taught chamber music as one of his primary teaching duties.
For a few years, Bloch joined the faculty at Cornell University, where he developed an interest in playing the Baroque violin and in early music performance practice. He collaborated with harpsichordist Louis Bagger, with whom he had a long association. They performed together at Carnegie Hall on more than one occasion. He also served as a visiting faculty member at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music when his wife at the time, harpsichordist and musicologist Susan Erickson, was teaching there.
Bloch’s career awards include a Premier prix avec distinction from the Royal Conservatory of Music, Brussels, as well as a First Prize in the Young Artists Contest of the Society of American Musicians, the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis, and an Alfred Hertz Memorial Fellowship. He recorded for Pathe-Marconi, Musical Heritage, Monitor and Redwood Records.
Bloch is survived by Susan Erickson, to whom he was previously married, and two daughters — Julia Bloch (Syd Zolf) of Philadelphia and Sarah Modrow (Jonathan) of Sacramento — and three grandsons: Isaac, Dominic, and Rafael.