UC San Diego's Department of Music

May 22, 2015

  When he takes the stage at Mandeville Auditorium on June 4, Robert Zelickman will conduct the UC San Diego Wind Ensemble for the final time after leading the band for the past 23 years.

Zelickman, who is retiring in June, began teaching in the UC San Diego Department of Music in 1983 and has since mentored hundreds of students. He is also a first-call clarinetist who has performed and recorded with SONOR (the original new music ensemble in the music department), the San Diego Symphony, San Diego Opera, San Diego Chamber Orchestra (he was a member for 23 years), Starlight Opera, the Mexico City and Veracruz symphonies in the early eighties, and the Second Avenue Klezmer Ensemble.

Known for his dry sense of humor, he smiles when one of his peers calls him Bobby Z., after Bob Dylan a.k.a. Zimmerman. Zelickman is a gregarious teacher and performer who is popular with his students and peers.

"Robert is one of the truly fine musicians and performers I've had the pleasure of meeting and working with," said soprano and emeritus music faculty Carol Plantamura, who performed with Zelickman in SONOR and in other settings.

"I remember Tom Nee [founding music faculty member and longtime La Jolla Symphony and Chorus conductor] coming into my office when I was chair and telling me he had gone to a Wind Ensemble concert and that Robert was a tiger! The first piece I performed with Robert was Pierrot Lunaire, conducted by Keith Humble with Jean Charles Francois on piano. Robert was always there with his elegant playing. His humility regarding what he does so well is touching."
While some musicians specialize in one genre, Zelickman has eclectic interests. He has performed and recorded CDs such as The Music of Will Ogdon, SONOR Ensemble Plays Steiger, classical music and dozens of traditional Yiddish songs with the Second Avenue Klezmer Ensemble.

He said that the Wind Ensemble, essentially a class in performance and music history with a rehearsal once a week and a concert each quarter, explored music from all over the world, including great works from the classics, jazz and folk music as well as contemporary pieces composed by students and professionals. The group often featured prominent soloists from the San Diego  community alongside talented students here at UCSD. Bringing students and community members together in the shared experience of playing great works has been the most rewarding aspect of his work at UCSD, he said. In addition to the Wind Ensemble class, he taught courses on The Symphony and Jewish Music.

Zelickman is among the last faculty in the music department whose experiences date back to founding faculty composers such as Ogdon and Robert Erickson. He often premiered, performed and recorded music by Ogdon and Erickson as well as faculty including Pulitzer Prize-winner Roger Reynolds, Brian Ferneyhough and Joji Yuasa.

Students frequently took private clarinet lessons with Zelickman, learning both traditional techniques and methods of producing the unconventional sounds utilized in a variety of new and experimental music.

Born in Detroit and raised in the Los Angeles area, he began studying clarinet at 10 and has considered himself a musician ever since. He earned a BA in composition at UCLA and an MFA in performance at California Institute of the Arts where he studied with Michelle Zukovsky.

Zelickman has performed Klezmer in California and throughout the Southwest since 1986.  In 1991, he and singer Deborah Davis formed the Second Avenue Klezmer Ensemble. He said that "the music has a special place in my heart. I am at my freest when I play Klezmer. Perhaps it's because the music's soul is so approachable, so straight-from-the-heart. When I play it, I soar--I am in a different world. I can reach people and make them happy, and that's enormously gratifying."

He had been performing regularly with such Klezmer groups as Robboy's Jewish Orchestra, Yale Strom's Zmiros, and Zelickman's Klezmer Ensemble until his group formed the nucleus of the Second Avenue Klezmer Ensemble (which also included contrabassist Bertram Turetzky of the music faculty).

Zelickman met his wife Joan, a violinist, when they were both with the Mexico City Philharmonic. Their daughter Diane is a violinist in the Memphis Symphony.

In retirement, you probably will not find Zelickman on a cruise or a golf course or in a recliner watching sports. He said he plans to focus on performing chamber music with friends and coaching and conducting student groups around the country.

The June 4, 8 pm Wind Ensemble concert in Mandeville Auditorium is The Music of German Composers. Tickets are $15.50 general, $10.50 for UCSD faculty, staff, alumni and Friends of Music, FREE for students one hour before concert with ID. Box Office: (858) 534-3448. Tickets also available at the door.

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