Ken Goldsmith, ‘pillar’ of Shepherd School strings department, dies at 81

Ken Goldsmith, a recent retiree from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music who shared his passion with hundreds of musicians throughout a long and distinguished career, died June 26 in Houston. He was 81.

Photo credit: Rice Shepherd School

Described as a “pillar” of the Shepherd School’s strings department by Dean Robert Yekovich, Goldsmith was a respected practitioner and teacher for more than half a century before retiring in May after nearly 30 years at Rice.

“Ken Goldsmith was an invaluable colleague and an elegant human being and musician,” said Paul Ellison, the Lynette S. Autrey Professor of Music, professor of double bass and co-chair of the Shepherd School’s strings department. “We are all wiser as well as markedly better people and musicians for having had the gift of sharing our lives and careers with him. Though Ken’s absence is palpable, his impact has profoundly enriched the legacy of the Shepherd School of Music.”

“The world is diminished with the departure of my dear friend Kenneth Goldsmith,” said Norman Fischer, the Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Cello at the Shepherd School. “He had a lively mind, a ferocious curiosity and supreme joy in his music making.”

During six decades as an active chamber musician, soloist, concertmaster and teacher, Goldsmith performed with many of the world’s finest artists. He studied baroque and classical style at Stanford University in 1966, and he was one of the earliest teachers of those styles of violin in the U.S.

Goldsmith’s illustrious career included performances with major conductors and soloists during the 1960s and 1970s, and memberships in prestigious chamber music groups including the Fromm Foundation Quartet, the American Arts Quartet, the Camerata Quartet, the Nashville String Quartet (Blair Quartet), the Claremont Festival Quartet, the Lyric Art Quartet, the Stanford Chamber Players and the Da Camera Society. He performed as a soloist and chamber musician in 40 U.S. states, Canada and Mexico, in addition to Europe and Asia.

These experiences had an indisputable impact on Goldsmith’s role as a pedagogue and mentor to hundreds of students, many of whom have gone on to respected careers of their own with  prestigious orchestras and ensembles throughout the U.S. and in Europe and on the faculties of higher education institutions throughout the U.S. Prior to his tenure at Rice, he served on the faculties of the Blair Academy of Music (now the music school at Vanderbilt University); Stanford University; California State University, Fullerton; Pomona College; the University of California, Irvine; Grinnell College; and the University of Houston. Additionally, Goldsmith taught for many years in the Michael P. Hammond Preparatory Program along with its founder, former Shepherd School Dean Michael Hammond.

His life’s work is documented in an extensive discography including recordings on ABC, Genesis, CRI, Audax, Gran Prix, Innova, Cinnabar Records, TR Records, Bay Cities, Varese Sarabande, Music and Arts, Zephyr and Albany. He received a Grammy Award nomination, a Stereo Review “Recording of Special Merit” and a “Record of the Year” citation from the Village Voice. His other career accolades include winning the Young Concert Artists Competition and the Concert Artists Guild Competition in New York in 1962, and receiving a special award at the Kennedy-Rockefeller Violin Competition in Washington, D.C., in 1980. He was a finalist in the Naumburg Chamber Music Competition in 1976 with the Mirecourt Trio, with whom he played from 1973-1993.

“When I just close my eyes and think of him, I can see that seraphic expression of glowing contentment while we played some trio or quartet,” Fischer said. “Again, joy was at the center of everything, and he was eager to share, enormously generous and extremely loyal.”

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.