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Andrew Imbrie, 1921- 2007

UC Berkeley music professor, prolific composer

December 12, 2007|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Andrew Imbrie, a prominent Bay Area composer and noted UC Berkeley music professor who was perhaps best known for his 1976 opera "Angle of Repose," has died. He was 86.

Imbrie died Dec. 5 at his Berkeley home after a long illness, according to his friend Robert P. Commanday.

"His music is unique and individual . . . recognized by its very personal, often passionate expressiveness and the underlying vocal nature of his melodic impulse," Commanday, a retired San Francisco Chronicle music critic, wrote last week for the online magazine San Francisco Classical Voice.

Imbrie's compositions included symphonies, concertos, string quartets and many chamber and choral scores.

He was on the UC Berkeley faculty from 1949 to 1991 and taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music from 1976 to 2004.

"Angle of Repose," his largest work, was commissioned and premiered by the San Francisco Opera. Based on Wallace Stegner's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, it tells the story of three generations of Californians. The score made poignant use of American folk tunes and manipulated "nervous orchestral textures with masterful fluidity," Times music critic Martin Bernheimer wrote in 1976.

The San Francisco Symphony premiered six of Imbrie's works, including "Requiem" (1985), written in memory of his younger son, John, who died of heart failure at 19. A recording of the work was nominated for a Grammy in 2000.

Imbrie was born in New York City in 1921 and grew up in Princeton, N.J. He began studying piano when he was 4.

In 1942, he earned a bachelor's degree at Princeton University, where he was greatly influenced by composer Roger Sessions. A string quartet he composed for his senior thesis was recorded by the Juilliard String Quartet in the late 1940s.

During World War II, Imbrie served in the Army in Arlington, Va., and trained to be a Japanese translator and cryptanalyst. After the war, he studied with Sessions at UC Berkeley and earned a master's degree.

In 1995, Imbrie was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for "Adam, a cantata for mixed chorus with soprano solo and small orchestra." He won two Guggenheim fellowships for composition.

Acknowledging that his decades in the West may have contributed to his music being lesser-known, Imbrie told the Boston Globe in 1991, "Sometimes I think it's good to transplant a tree; it grows better when it is not crowded."

Imbrie is survived by his wife, Barbara; and son, Andrew Philip, of Santa Clara, Calif.


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